Life, Novels

The Art of Taming Volcanoes
He survived all the eruptions of youth and learnt to saddle a tiger. He reached the point where poetry gilds the world. Where it becomes a form of love, a ritual, a salutary deviation. Preparation for departure. He wrote sixteen collections of poems, four novels, one book of auto-poetic essays. He was translated into eight European languages. Winner of more than fifteen Serbian and international awards. Still, he repeatedly continues checking the key for Slavic and Mediterranean codes he carries within

By: Branislav Matić
Photo: Guest’s Archive

His inner poetic landscape is built of images of faraway suburbs and sights of the metropolis. He loves dovecots, wells, mansards, flea markets. Amidst all that, he built his house of Bach’s music. He is a ”purebred natural monk”, hermit of his large library and paintings’ collection, his personal museum. He knows that artificiality has the seducing power of a mermaid, whom, prior to the gold of matureness, he often couldn’t or didn’t want to resist. Later he studied the symmetry of whirlpools, controlling volcanoes, the eros of transgression. He understood the secret of repeating words and images. He penetrated the surrealism of everyday life. With his black ink and German ”Senator” fountain pen, he continuously upgrades the world, serves to the Creator. In trains, hotel rooms, in a pastry shop in Požega, in Dorćol, Belgrade, during his journeys through Europe. He stepped out several times and perceived our nest over the abyss. Brought us his correct phantasms.
Dragan Jovanović Danilov (Požega, 1960) is one of the most important Serbian and European poets today. We have been talking with him and his book ever since the young shaggy years of the previous millennium.

Beginnings, crossroads. My parents worked as teachers in the remote villages of Sandžak, and then settled in the village of Godovik near Požega, where I spent my childhood. Of course there were some books in our home, but the fact that I come from a teachers’ family didn’t support my personal myth about the literary world. Since I was a good football, especially mini football player in my youth, my father heartily supported me in it. I was very close to going to Baltimore, U.S. in the early 1980s, upon the recommendation of Srboljub Stamenković, legend of our mini football, to become a professional player. I had an invitation from the people there, but at the time I was already reading serious books, painting, visiting exhibitions in Belgrade, writing essays about painters. Today I’m intimately proud of staying here. Finally, every choice is the only choice.

Our nests over the abyss. It is good for a sensitive boy to grow up in a small town. The life in Požega truly shaped my identity. And the fact that my parents were teachers. My language, my friends, my aspiration towards French culture, the streets I pass every day, my daughters, my library, paintings’ collection, all this deeply shapes my identity. The center of events is where your home is, your library, garden, the woman you love, your children. My greatest treasure is the time I created for myself for reading and writing. Nowadays we all live in our own small private nests hanging over the abyss.

Shaped by small towns. I don’t have the Ulysses complex of wandering. I love being in one place, concentrated on my work. In my poem ”Room Carried on Wings”, there is a verse: ”I’m a passenger when I don’t move from my place.” Miljenko Stančić, painter close to my heart, nicely said: ”The province is my measure.” A small town truly has its measure and its character. One is surrounded with dimensions close to human proportions, such as those that existed in healthy cities of the past. There is a Hellenic wise saying that a city mustn’t be larger than the reach of an echo of the human voice. A small town is a kind of a mandala, archetypical cosmogram. And an archetype can never be exploited. Today, when spiritual movements are mostly epidemic, staying in the loneliness of endemism is most of all an issue of aesthetic honor. The hidden strength is in human solitude, where only restless thought and passion can fire up language.

Views of Belgrade, external and internal. I live both in Požega and Belgrade, so I’m half Požega, half Dorćol writer. I intimately experience Belgrade as a loved one and a city for self-contemplation. Actually, Belgrade is not something material for me. It is more of a feeding life force, an authentic place in which one can still have dreams.
Belgrade has been preoccupying me for a long time. In terms of civilization, it is one of the richest cities in the world, a city that offers enormous possibilities for literary shaping. A city with sediments of numerous identities. I attempted to offer a vertical sounding of those identities.
In order to be able to write about Belgrade, it had to become my inner city. I also experience it as a dream dictionary, a catalog of collective subconscious, a unique encyclopedia, whose pages I leaf through with greatest excitement. We all create our own Belgrade. I love the fact that Belgrade is not perfumed and precious, packed and polished, such as, for example, Zurich. It’s neither flirty nor cold. It has a kind of naturalness and genuineness, a kind of patina and charm. It is the central point of a fateful area. Despite all, as I already said before, it is the biggest Balkan gathering point of ideas, a lens that magnifies the unity of diversity and diversity of unity. A view of the whole world spreads from Belgrade, from Kalemegdan.

With sparkle in the eyes. While I was a student in Belgrade, I never set foot in the then famous night clubs, such as ”Akademija” (they used to call it ”The Hole”), ”Zvezda”, ”Nana” or ”Duga”. I wasn’t interested in such places. What I was interested in were antique shops, libraries, green markets and flea markets. A city needs a fair, market, bazaar, theater to be joyful and blazing, a ritual that will revive and save it from boredom. That is why I love Bajloni and Kalenić markets, especially the spacious flea market in Zemun on Sundays from 4 to 9 a.m. There, in the markets, you can best see how poorly Belgrade lives today. You cannot live without a sparkle in your eyes. A sparkle in the eyes is the only thing that cannot be forged.

Nonconformity. I have, basically, always been a loner. I’d define my relation to the world as a kind of painful nonconformity. I found it very hard, especially in my youth. During my studies, I felt deep disgust towards academism and collective infection. I studied at the Faculty of Philosophy Art History Department and at the Faculty of Law, and dropped out of both. Already then I knew that the only real education for a writer is self-education. I began writing poetry out of fear from everyday life, which I couldn’t handle easily. I believed that a poet has to keep himself from the determination of a social group, from the world he was entangled in, whether he wanted it or not. That no law iss applicable to the one who is differentiated and separated.

Mysteries of the heart. We, Serbs, don’t find ourselves in the scale of the Caucasian race, humans with strong nerves, bright mind and joyful confidence, destroying chaos and dark magma. We have passionate, vigorous blood, we are easily irritated, so that even small things can make a storm in our physis. We purify everything in our heart. Wounds are the best way to feel the world. A poem bursts suddenly, like an illness. Everything in poetry is so unmasked and vulnerable. Thus a lyrical poem is a cruel literary truth. Writing poetry is ice-cold noting of what is essentially fire. I believe that what I write comes from the intuitive comprehension of religion, music and light. I say I believe, because the things I write are vague and unknown to me as well. Poetry, by its nature, must be erotic, like music. Genuine, living poetry stands opposite from any sexual coldness. I experience poetry as pansophia, omniwisdom, religion, because it provokes a feeling of complete addiction in me. A human isn’t given to fathom the mysteries of justness, gentleness, love, God, poetry. They are not visible. They are only known to the human heart. The psalmist, remember, mentions ”the thoughts of the heart” (the place of unwritten law), meaning that God gave humans a heart for thinking. I believe that one good poem can heal the reader. Schleiermacher sees the ultimate limits of the possible in poetry. We can go even further and say: when we write a genuine, powerful poem, we step out of time.

Embrace of life and death. I see my poems as dialogues with oblivion. As small human truths that either hurt or light up. As a poet, I am deeply pervaded with Mediterraneanism and Hellenism. In my work, I want to unite and reconcile the Slavic Dionysian fury and Germanic dedication to work. The sight is actually a differently shaped reality, with which our imagination gilds the world. My poetry writing technique is almost painting-like. When I have a sharp, clear sight, I can draw an entire poem from the darkness to the light of the day.
The biggest problem of a poet is how to bring strictness and freedom into harmony. Before, I had many things loose, in blossom, baroque fioriture and ornaments. I longed for a spectacular image and good ornaments. In time, somehow by themselves, poems were hewed, polished and became sharper. My laws in writing today are: complete control over emotional enthusiasm, preciseness of verse and, before all, truthfulness of the testimony. Real poetry must show the embrace of life and death.

Consecration of the world. My ideal in poetry is a poetic text as a magical spiritualization of life. A poem that will be alive like the pounding of a human heart. A poet invests his entire soul, and the poem returns, as an echo, something he didn’t even anticipate exists. Good, living poems travel through time. Only dangerously intelligent people can write great poetry. Only lots of love and sorrow or enlightenment can ascend a being towards great poetry with general value.
Poetry for me is a form of mystical experience, a prism to express intransient beauty and mediate an almost new form of religiousness. Poetry does not replace life. It denies and transforms it. Writing poetry is not a game. It is a serious choice and salutary deviance. A refined form of compassion. It has to express the warmth that makes us humans, the glow ”from beyond this world”. Poetry hallows the vegetative-animal-social world. It is the fine thread between wish and death. Each poem is a form of saying goodbye to life. For me, poetry is the highest degree of preparing for the departure from this world.

Handwritten, at dusk. I feel comfortable with the handwriting process. I love the process when black ink dries on the paper. (Unfortunately, there are less and less good inks. Germans make the best ones, by the way.) I wrote some of my best poems in the train, since I frequently travel from Požega to Belgrade and back. I don’t have the energy for writing twenty-four hours a day. So I wait for the moment when I’m concentrated inside, which is most often at dusk. That’s when I’m most sensitive for writing poetry. It is the magical hour when it’s neither day nor night and when light and darkness hand over mysterious fluids to each other. Therefore I try to grab the time of dusk for myself.

The crisis of male and female. Whether highly demanding or completely unambitious, a woman radiates with her being and thus almost unnoticeably influences history, the world, plants. Not to mention the supreme biological mission of a woman. She gives birth to life. She is a mother, sister, mistress, wife, daughter, goddess, poetess, artist. A female artist or poet is a double being, worthy of greatest respect. I am a male feminist, matriarch and motherophile, so I have the right to despise extremely feminist women. With so many conflicts and wastage in the world, why have another one – between man and woman? A woman is the essential grace of life. Intelligent artists cultivate their sensibility through relations with women. My ideal is a noble, refined woman, who will carve a new face of a man with her intelligence, virtues and high demands. However, we live in a time of feminized men and mannish women. This is not a time ruled by female virtues, which proved to be tragic.

A woman that has. Love is a complex emotion, combination and reconciliation of egoism and altruism, a feeling that no one has managed to explain for centuries, despite so many books and libraries. It’s not easy to accomplish complete love, therefore we are always in search for it. I don’t like poets who idealize and beatify a woman in their self-illusive trance, who ascend it to a pedestal of an unapproachable, surphysical spirituality. That is, in fact, running away from a woman. The only beautiful woman for me is the one who is real and physical, a woman who is not a dark deception, illusion, mask, pseudos. I see a woman as the physical and mental Venus. A woman is most beautiful when the long forgotten heavenly, ancient being of a woman wakes up in her physicality. I found such love in Andrijana Videnović, actress and diction professor, with whom I’ve been sharing my life for several years now.

Digital apocalypse. There is a nice old saying: ”A child is the father of a man.” It is a deep truth. The poem ”Our Children”, which provokes most reactions when I read it at poetry evenings, speaks about the destructive potential of aggressiveness and manipulation of our children, mostly turned towards a world of false values. It indicates that goodness and humaneness in life are checked as gold in fire and raises a question about our responsibility in all this. We are leaving our children closed museums and open internet, which can be compared to the appearance of atomic energy in the 1950s. We are living in a time of digital apocalypse, becoming post-analphabets, when reading is mostly replaced with search engines. Books teach us how to be alone and how to concentrate within, with ourselves.

Roots of derangement. The history of culture is nothing but a history of the ancient conflict between rationalist and esoteric lodges. Rationalism spread to France from the English mainland (I mean Lock) and conquered the European soil through enlightenment philosophers. Positivism and existentialism, two philosophical stands within contemporary academic philosophy, made a real plague. God does not exist for existentialists, a life which is basically meaningless belongs only to the human and the human is responsible for his choices. Positivism relies on the fact that everything can be understood through science and mathematics. Both exclusive philosophies are completely unfamiliar with the great spiritual truths of mankind. By the way, it seems to me that it is no accident that the ideas of enlightenment philosophers had a crucial influence on the founders of America (the dogmatic secular super-state) Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine or Benjamin Franklin.
Both existentialists and positivists despise mythology, alchemy and mysticism. Same is with contemporary philosophy and science. With their narrow views, existentialists and positivists are powerless to recognize the existence of an entire continent of mystic experience. Pretentious philosophical speculation, completely alienated from the values of everyday life, is repelled by mystical experience, because it defies ”pure mind” in all levels. Contemporary philosophers and scientists, always quick to underestimate religious and metaphysical traditions, simply don’t understand the true nature of alchemical symbolism, representing the spiritual transformations possible in a human. Therefore we find representations of diseases and European derangement behind the illusions of rationalism and enlightenment.

Agony of the worn-out world. The twentieth century turned to be a century of destruction in many realms of human life. Rational and technological thought repressed the magical. Today people have forgotten that art is an alchemic activity and that a poem is a psychological area of a being. We are today living an eerie agony of a worn-out and exhausted world. This is not even an era of decadence. It is a time clearly showing how much the primordial sources are exhausted. Furthermore, enormous gaps were created between generations. I know the curse of ”scholar culture” well, but how good would it be if our culture were as scholar as, for example, German. Germans are good teachers in how to admire and assume.

It’s not too late. It’s sad that the lottery of history has granted us the most wonderful area on earth, yet we didn’t use it for our economic prosperity. Work, duty and discipline are axes around which the world revolves, not reality shows and temporary pleasures of life. We became tragically undone, obscured with demonolatry, prone to pessimistic despondency which, luckily, still hasn’t turned into nihilism. Serbia as a metaculture didn’t achieve even the tenth part of it potentials. We, as a nation, have a pretty difficult metahistorical process ahead of us, steps towards illuminating consciousness. We’ll either descend to even deeper magmas or ascend to high layers and transmyths.


Waking Up of Small Towns
– It is true that Belgrade has a crucial importance for Serbian metaculture. However, Serbia is not just Belgrade. Serbia cannot go forward before it invests into its many small cities, towns with small dimensions, yet important centers, because they have bright orientations and enlightened souls.


– Plotinus gave the most wonderful definition of beauty. He said that beauty is ”blossoming of a being”. Beauty excites because it’s elusive and because we are completely unprotected from it.


Salubrity of Defeat
– Every human, naturally, likes praises, because they inappropriately bloat our self-respect and strengthen our ridiculous certainty that we are important and that eternity must definitely count on us. Awards can also socialize writers in a terrible way, making them make-believe dignified personalities. Oh, how worthless our victories are and how we’re blessed only with our defeats! Poets are not there just to receive gifts, but to give them to others as well.


Art of Football
– Football is a game with much poetry, a merge of male sharpness, supreme refinedness and poetics. What Borges once said about literature is also convenient to say for the art of football. Truly, football is the impersonation of order and adventure. Besides presenting the chosen selection of life, the greatest football players such as Cruyff, Zico or Maradona, are in a way the last romanticists with a fantasy (like great writers) and the power to elevate the football game onto a higher, spiritual level.


Raven and Thunders
– While writing my poem ”Thunders”, I projected a dynamic energy state, which pervaded me already in my childhood, when I, hidden at the attic, listened to the powerful roaring of thunder. On one hand, I felt fear, and on the other wished to hear the powerful sound again, with which I obviously had a sensual, even erotic connection. Later, as a young man, I found such force while reading ancient poets. I’d feel as if affronting something enormous and dizzying. I was greatly astonished when, while reading ”Popol Vuh”, I discovered that the raven, a bird that obsesses me, is actually the herald of thunder and lightning.


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