Can You See Your Heart?
This is what it’s about, only that, while we walk down the path given us. We write because we have to, and we have to because we need a bearable place. The so-called ”resourcefulness” of man brings pain and sorrow because of the general fall of beings which were often very close to us. All values are dilapidating, poverty is knocking on the doors of many people, illnesses of body and soul are threatening us. In such a situation, when meaninglessness is invading from all sides, the attitude towards culture and art must be completely different. A poet must establish his own ethical laws in everything. Those rules are actually the longing for the divine

By: Vesna Kapor
Photo: Personal archive

One of the most reputable contemporary Serbian poets and experienced editor for poetry in the Publishing of the Stefan the First-Crowned Library in Kraljevo, as well as in the local Povelja magazine, Živorad Nedeljković, is a valuable speaker. Carefully weaving language, deep and unexhausted, he helps us find our ways ”in the impassable areas of reality”, and understand all these ”tremors of the earth and heart” better.

Already since your first book of poetry, you were noticed and accepted in the literary world. In one of your early poems, you wrote: I know: when it rains and when the wind is howling, / Life is a jug of poetry too, / From that dish I drink. What has entered the three decades of writing down about the world?
Thank you for choosing these verses. They are part of the prologue poem from a book for children created a long time ago and published a few years ago. With playful verses I wanted to initiate, among other things, young readers to think about what a jug of poetry is, what it could be. If there is a jug there is a spring, and they are literally everywhere. It is certain that the jug will never break. Every one of us carries it within ourselves.
Writing down is a very beautiful syntagma. It reminds me of the time teachers wrote down who of the students is absent. Perhaps the answer to your question could enter that area of growing up, when there were rules, schedules, genuine evaluations, and finally fear of being written down due to a mischief. And the world, the world has always been written down, both when it was absent and when it was there, by my side. It missed numerous classes of poetry I have attended, as well as classes of ethics, mercifulness, dedication and exchanging gifts. On the other hand, it was sometimes meek and accommodating, quiet and silent, perceptive and challenging. I have written down some of it, most often about my unrest, especially happy because of its presence, with a wish to find about myself and it as much as possible; without wishing to be a teacher.

In one of your poems, you say: if I were born in Čačak, where you actually live, everything would’ve been different… How much does a place of living or birth determine a man-poet-you?
Essentially, the poem is based on the idea that the place of birth is not particularly important, and that the place of living always has a great role. Especially if you change your place of living, when a newcomer doesn’t know much about the place they arrived in and its inhabitants. A person is differently formed when they grow up in one place and grow into it, when they learn the basic postulates about life in it, when the life of the community and poetry of the community influence you, and it’s different when you grow up in several places. When you’re an adult, changing the place you live in doesn’t have to necessarily be difficult to accept and dramatic, but a period of adjustment is certainly necessary. Finally, only longing and running away into the impossible are important for a poem; that running away is primarily running away in language.


How much do migrations of people from nature to megalopolises change their essence?
We could now continue speaking about migrations, about various movements. About a transition from one into another lack of understanding. Our lack of understanding of natural laws and changes which request a cold head and respect is unforgivable. A megalopolis is what it is. People say that such cities are jungles, but jungles also have a kind of a clear order. Big modern cities lack order. Therefore, it is certain that living in them bears risk for the very human essence. However, contemporary man is aware of the risks we are mentioning. They seek sanctuary, oases in which they can be alone with nature, themselves. Parks are such oases, as well as suburbs which have forests and lakes, meadows full of flowers, does and birds. Oases are inside of us, the scent of grass remembered in the childhood, murmuring of water under ice, dandelion and rose, snail and woodpecker. And most of all the thought warning us that we shouldn’t move away from the harmony we have with ourselves and with the Other within us.

In one of your poems you say: Cities, warm spacious cities, / Are spreading their arms. When I arrive, I wish / I were living in them. It seems that your attitude towards the world is sometimes romantic?
If it weren’t for such an attitude, it wouldn’t be easy to accept the world as it is. I always believe that the cities here, in my country, are spacious and warm, and that they, as a beloved one, spread their arms when they see us. I believe it, although I know everything about poverty, everything about lawlessness, predators, about dilapidated written facades, about the hypocrisy of the rich. And perhaps I don’t know anything, thus the wish to convince myself that there are cities which fit in verses and spread their arms, really spread them. In this regard, I am deeply convinced that someone who spends their entire life in one place, perhaps in just one room, must make the biggest adjustments.

Your poems are in deep, often invisible movements of the world; they are always a story, and the language is primal, networked, rich. What is language to a poet?
It is really crucial for a poem to make movements situated in a question both deep and invisible at the same time, or perhaps unfathomable at first glance. I believe it is about sparing the world; it is really moving, there are earthquakes everywhere, actually tons of explosives; volcanoes are throwing out boiling lava everywhere, actually grenades. Rage created in union with the unholy is growing. Man destroys and devastates, nations are crossing borders looking for salvation. Language testifies about movements, about migrations, notes the most subtle tremors of the earth and heart like a seismograph. At the same time, with imaginary or perhaps genuine easiness, it crosses borders in incredible connections. The language preserves the greatest treasures, it is itself the greatest treasure.


What are the keywords of your poetry and the epoch we are living in, and what are the keywords of the essence of the world? (Do they match?)
It is a bit paradoxical that actually all keywords can be reduced to one. To the word I. However, the meanings of that word in three stated cases are completely different. It seems to me that the pronoun I is dominant in my poetry. Even when the lyrical hero is in third person, it is clear what it is about. There is no egoism in addressing yourself or the world, if I may say so. I believe that the little, insecure I is always equaled with we, either when we are only the two of us, or when we turns into multitude, because the poem is turned towards plurality. It then indicates details of general importance, when it creates its little worlds, when it uncovers, or transforms into prayer. Due to constantly addressing the world, with various forms and tones of addressing, the word world is also a keyword. Therefore, I and world, in that relation everything is crucial, especially words. The epoch we live in is an age of vulgar egoism, and it can happen that we don’t have to say anything else about the little pronoun, so humiliated and miserable. The world is enormous, and when we confront it, there is no other way out but to say: I on one side, his I on the other. And say as often as possible: what a wonderful world. Despite everything, it really is wonderful, one wonderful I we are part of, so ours and real.

In a game, I broke cities / Like a slava cake with the priest. / Those were endless poems. Belonging to one world, one traditional frame, can be felt through your entire opus. Is that a reflection of personal identity, and are differences in literature necessary and enriching?
For an author, there is perhaps not a more valuable praise that the one accentuating recognizability. We don’t always have to be aware of the traditional frame, it is up to us to place a picture into that frame, a picture with the mentioned keyword, pronoun in the foreground. In the picture, just like in the mentioned comparison, there can be a slava cake, symbol of unity, gathering, loyalty and faith. Symbol of hope that the I is a worthy successor, grateful son. The picture can also include every fulness, every joy for preserving family values, and also, in a wider perspective, for preserving values of the nation we belong to. Joy for preserving our own being, despite the years painted in dark colors.

Through your poems, seemingly quiet, linguistically tame, and lavishing, the entire world is passing. We can hear changes of the epoch; but the essential question seems to be: Can you see your heart?
While we are moving down the road given us, which we ourselves have chosen to a great extent, as through poems, the entire world is passing. We sometimes choose what to remember, we sometimes remember and unwillingly participate, or are perhaps removed from everything we deem important. If nothing, we can stop and silently ask the one who created everything whether he can see his face. Can he see where this world is going, the one passing through us and around us. We ask, while hunger is raging dry plains, while mines are tearing bodies to pieces, while we are watching the live broadcast of the disappearing of cities whose streets poets and revolutionaries, sailors and astronauts walked. We ask, and the creator asks us if we can see our heart. What was up to him, he did it; now our soul, our heart remains. Where is the soul, can we see our heart? That’s what this is about, just that, while we are moving down the road given us.


There is no dismissal in reality, / But only creating in illusions / A bearable place to live in. Is writing discovering a way to understand the world, to survive, or can it be a place of changing the consciousness of the wider community?
If we want, we can watch a live broadcast of blood flowing and skyscrapers becoming dust, with a question constantly echoing inside of us whether we understand anything and where the need for destruction and death comes from? Maybe exactly because of the live broadcast. The thing is that there were no cameras or satellites until recently. There were violent deaths since the beginning of time. Whenever anyone gained something, someone else wished to take it away from them. Hunters abducted prey from more skillful hunters, families and clans exterminated other families and clans, the faithful burned the unfaithful ones, states confiscated prairies and steppes, jungles and deserts, gold and diamonds, milk and honey. By the way, is it merely accidental that the words ”imetak” (asset in Serbian) and ”metak” (bullet in Serbian) are almost identical? So much pain, so much incomprehensible suffering, so much pleasure in other people’s despair at the very shore of the sea of blood, so much laughter and rage before the nothingness taking away flesh and bone. And what would happen and how beastly it would be if there weren’t poetry in the very human essence. It is difficult to understand the purpose of wars, which are the only constant in history. We write because we have to, and we have to because we need a bearable place. Entire art and entire poetry are that: a bearable place. We create it, joyful if it becomes a sanctuary for someone else. While blood is flowing through us, and the storm is raging on the sea of spilt blood.

Olivera Nedeljković, extraordinarily sensitive literary and critical voice, is your life companion. In your poems, you note intimacy and family pictures, quietly, warmly, sometimes painfully. What is the life of two strong literary natures like?
We are living like most people, we have worries and loans, frauds and lies directed toward us like poisonous arrows, small joys and celebrations. There is poetry, both ours and from books: sedatives which enable us to pass through troubles easier, catch a glimpse of a road in impassible areas. Even if we’d want to, we cannot separate from poetry. And we think it would be nice to move away from seemingly endless, desolate areas all around us.


In liberal-capitalist dictatorship of the market, where sales, likes and clicks are becoming the crucial criterium, and showbiz and self-marketing the basic methodology, can genuine poetry survive, can it preserve value and dignity?
We already said that poetry is far in us, yet so close. And it really is. We said that it gives strength to the one writing it, but not only them. It also gives strength to readers. There is so much supreme poetry written in this language, so healing, so wonderful, wise, admonishing. And that poetry is there, somewhere close, on library shelves, one just needs to go and take the thin books. It seems to me that poets themselves are not doing enough to make poetry reach more readers, at times turned towards survival among the alike with whom they share the same troubles, and at times turned towards latent egoism. An enormous number of people who read, who are highly educated, feel an unbased fear of poetry. And poetry is everything but a bogey, it contains freedom and purity, a better world inside of it.

A Soviet politician used to say: ”We need to help the talented ones. The untalented are resourceful anyway.” How does it seem and sound to you in Serbia today?
It has always seemed to me that the nice syntagma being resourceful is humiliated in the context you are mentioning. So much that I feel compassion for it. There were situations when people used to tell me that I wasn’t resourceful in circumstances when the worst human features dived out to the surface. I replied that I don’t want to be resourceful, that I don’t want to participate, although I know the price. Resourcefulness of others brought me pain and illness, and sorrow because of the general fall of beings who were often very close to me, with whom I shared both time and space. It seems that the worst thing is when untalented people are showing resourcefulness by moving aside, often persecuting the talented, using all available means. It is happening in all areas of human actions and creations. It is happening in literature, in poetry, where it shouldn’t be happening, because a genuine, true poet, is so vulnerable that even when they can fight back, they don’t. Because they would only hurt themselves.

In Radio Vrnjačka Banja and Radio Kraljevo, you have edited the Scent of Words show for almost half a decade. What does all this around us, in Serbia and in the world, in the strange and uncertain year before us, smell like?
The show was broadcasted for two years within several years. It was a wonderful experience; it was dedicated to poetry. Then, as who knows how many times before, I convinced myself that people want poetry, want to hear it, as well as to hear contemplations about it. There were wonderful reactions and even now, after two long decades, I hear people telling me that they would like to hear the show again and ask me why it’s gone. One of the many whys to which we mostly know the answers. We also know that the threat of the pandemic isn’t gone, and that the first symptom of almost everyone who had caught the corona virus was losing their senses of smell and taste. I think I cannot determine anymore what something smells like, what it reminds me of, what it tastes like. Of course, it’s not because of the illness; the illness now, when it’s not such a threat as it used to be, is a metaphor of infirmity. Infirmity to determine the scents of time or predict what will be, originates from the up to recently unthinkable galimatias, from the turmoil and madness waving a scythe and bringing death. It’s difficult here, and even more difficult in war zones. If only wars could stop, only that, scents and tastes will be easy to handle.


In Short
Živorad Nedeljković (Kraljevo, 1959) completed elementary school in the villages of Podunavci and Vraneši, and the gymnasium in Vrnjačka Banja. He studied law at the University of Kragujevac. Since 2002, he has been editor of the Stefan the First-Crowned Library Publishing in Kraljevo and ”Povelja” magazine. He published about twenty books of poetry, from ”Wrong Forecast” (1991) to ”Abducted Landscape” (2022). He won a series of the most important Serbian poetry awards: ”Zmaj”, ”Branko Miljković”, ”Đura Jakšić”, ”Meša Selimović”, ”Jefimija’s Embroidery”, ”Vasko Popa”, ”Rade Drainac”, ”Dis”, ”Gračanica Charter”, ”Žiča Chrysobulls”… He was translated into English, Polish, Spanish, German, Russian, French. He lives in Čačak.


Nature and Poetry
It has never been more necessary for man to turn to nature, to perceive how much bad they brought and destroyed the beauty their descendants had given them to guard. Then, they should see in the mirror of nature how much evil they had imposed on themselves by submitting to orders of the technological civilization which, either way round, cares only about profit. Then, then… And, first of all, to understand that the poetry of nature is their poetry too. Poets have been writing about that equation since the beginning of time. In that sense, it seems to me that relatives are all those who understood that nature, just like poetry, is a wonderful miracle and the greatest secret, equal to the secret of each of us. We don’t have to reveal any secrets, it is not possible, it is sufficient to admire the renewal and harmony of nature, to read, unriddle warnings, always looking into ourselves.


Questions and Dedications
Poetry places numerous questions before the one who writes it, and at the same time gives them answers they had never asked for. The questions refer to everything the poets do, their very existence, and make them not little under the stars. They force them, through constant reviewing, to deprive themselves of everything that could destroy their dedication. To establish their own ethical laws, rules which often restrain them in everyday life. Those rules are actually longing for the divine. Thus come the answers, miraculous radiances.


Here, Deep Inside of Us
Without any doubt, the position of high culture today is not envious at all, euphemistically speaking. Culture and art were never comfortable here, but it may be that now is the most difficult time, perhaps partly because of global phenomena and trends. All values are collapsing, poverty is knocking on the doors of an enormous number of people, we are threatened by illnesses of the body and soul. In such a situation, when meaninglessness is approaching from all sides, the attitude towards culture and art must be different. Perhaps it is easy to unriddle why the attitude is not different. If we remember that I is the keyword of our time, then it’s obvious where so much egoism comes from, why there is no empathy, why so few people think of moral principles, why shameless hyenas are grinning and mocking us from all around, why the poison of authoritarianism is spreading. Why, why, why… I am deeply convinced that it is so because poetry has been on the margins for a long time, and to be honest, it is becoming more and more distant from the margins either. It is so far away inside of us, far away, inside of us who write, and yet so close, the barrier against hopelessness.


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