Ana Ristović: My poems are mine as much as other people’s
Ana Ristović is a poetess and literary translator. She is currently based in Berlin, and the DAAD scholarship which she receives enables her to write there, although writing is “not only what is put on the paper, but also a personal experience of the world we live in”. Ana has published nine books of poetry, and she has just finished a new collection which will be soon published by “Arhipelag”. Milena Ilić Mladenović talked with Ana about this collection, as well as about many other interesting topics.
Translated by: Jana Živanović
Recently it has been talked a lot about literary awards. You are a laureate of several prestigious poet awards. How does that type of recognition influence your work?
The awards I have received for my work have had an impact on me insofar that the level of responsibility towards future readers and future poems is increased. If someone trusts me, I try not to betray them. However, we also witness that numerous prizes have been devalued due to non-literary reasons that are related to the awarding policy. They are often based on “from me to you – from you to me” exchange, or “let’s give it to him/her, it’s high time”. Still, the major award for a poet is the vibe the poem brings to a reader, the way in which he is moved, intrigued and awoken. If the poet or writer does not see it that way, but cares only about awards – then – to the hell with such writers and poets. And my advice to all the future award candidates is to read first an amazing book by Tomas Bernard, “My awards”. It is an excellent, auto-ironic and ironic piece of reading about our vanities which at the same time looks like the writer’s personal confrontation with a handful of hypocrisy that is dominant in culture, and is hilarious.
Your poems live outside the paper. You take part in international poetry festivals, and your poetry is translated into several world languages. What is the feeling of saying verses in a language that is not “theirs”? When the poems are translated, do you feel as if you sent them into the world and that they lead their own life? Or as if they were slightly less yours?
Once you write a poem and publish it – the poem is no longer only your property, but shared with others. It finds the audience, or not – but as many readers, as many interpretations and recognitions of others in your poem. And when it comes to a poem or poems translated into other languages – they continue to live in an entirely new linguistic identity, be they recognized or not by new readers, readers of other languages. Every poem leads its own life from the moment you read it to the first human being, from that point it is no longer the matter of your “drawer”, i.e. your notebook, or laptop. Its life goes on through other people. That is the essence of poetry, in its constant, different journey through souls. There is no clear or accurate interpretation of any poem – everyone will be able to discover it in their own way, each way being the right one. My poems are mine as much are they are others’ – because the point of writing is to write so that someone reads it and interprets it in their own way. Mine are exactly as much as they are – others’. If they weren’t others’, they would no longer be mine, because they would no longer have any sense.
How the cities in which you create influence your work? Are there poetic nations? Are there cities whose energy is more poetic than the energy of other cities? What does it look like to be a poet in Berlin and in Belgrade?
This way or another, I stayed in many cities and countries, but what I can infer from the “poetic-travel” experience is that the most poetic nations are those of Latin American countries. They cherish letters very much, and festivals are not only well-visited, but every village has its own poetry festival. The country which is an absolute winner in glorifying letters and in giving them special importance is Uruguay. We should also remember that the former president of this country is Jose Mujica, known as “the poorest president in the world”. I guess it all has something to do with poetry and meaning assigned to it. Living in Colombia for about two weeks, and taking part in several poetry festivals, I realized that their children learn not only children’s poems, but also poems written by the greatest poets “for adults” from early years. There was a group of children at each and they recited those poems. There is a festival in that country, in the city of Medellin, which gathers around 50,000 visitors yearning for poetry.
I’m currently living in Berlin for a year on a major scholarship by the DAAD foundation. In fact, it is the greatest European residential scholarship for all artists, which already ensures a year in this city and that enables me to solely devote myself to writing, which is by all means an honour that happens once in a lifetime. Berlin is an extremely stimulative city in terms of inspiration, but also a city which is, in a way, the mirror of the person who lives in it or stays for a longer period of time. It is interesting that it is mostly remembered for its clubbing scene and for being a city that never sleeps. To me, it first and foremost leaves an impression of a city with beautiful natural oases, parks, lakes and places where you can feel the nature. It is a city where you are woken up by birds’ chirp. They are said to be blackbirds.
And when it comes to the feeling of being a poet in Belgrade… huh. Some other time.
“You haven’t been writing for a year, maybe even more, and then, suddenly, a poem a night. And you get scared.” Is there anything like a period of observation, learning or accumulation in your work, or you write all the time?
I never write all the time. But who does? What does that mean, that a poet writes while they, for example, make lunch, drive a car, or take a shower? Maybe if we are talking about some poet maniacs. Although, if we see writing as a never ending process of accumulation and inspiration – then yes, we keep writing, because that apple which fell on Newton’s head can always fall on our heads as well, and it does – at all possible places. And when we are talking about the physical process of noting down poems, there are some periods of several months when I don’t write a single poem. It all depends on what else I am doing at that moment. I’m torn between many duties, work at school, constant translating, so my poems are made as I go by. Even if it wasn’t the case, I’m not one of the writers who would publish a new poetry collection every year, or every two years. I believe one should change, acquire, absorb and let the experience echo inside of you. It’s easy to have a scheme and then make the same poems for years. There are such poets, but I personally find them boring. They find a matrix and then play by it for decades.
If your books are small zebras “whose back bends under a finger”, who are the riders that wouldn’t be thrown back?
That poem was written more than ten years ago. I have no idea! Do you think a poet knows everything about the content of their writing and that they have an interpretation for each and every verse? Find the answer yourself! 🙂
There is a poem where you describe spouses who mail each other in the same room, communicating that way. They are so quiet in the dialogue that the furniture eventually becomes louder than them. It is about the fear of closeness. Can we save ourselves?
No. We live in times of a complete alienation and the alienation will be growing with the development of new technologies and the human need to communicate with others in a quicker and simpler manner. And it is exactly why the communication will become more and more rare, while a proper get-together between two people will be considered as a rarity. Equally paradoxical is how much we are attacked by information about anything that happens worldwide – therefore, we are enabled to communicate with the world regularly – and that information pass through as with the speed of the light and do not stop for a second. This is the age when it is ever easy to be smart, yet ever difficult. Human mind is becoming a beautiful paper lamp that is on, but just a slightly stronger light burns it easily.
In the poem Words, the lyrical subject is afraid of people who are words without words. Tell me something about those who are words.
People who are words are those who don’t utter phrases while conversing with others and whose communication is not boiled down to them. But if you started noting down daily communication between people, you would realize it actually comes down to it, to phrases, to repeated formulas, to patterns, to commonplaces. People who are words are those to whom words matter and can talk, not falsify what they have heard many times. Such people are, unfortunately, in minority. However, if there wasn’t for those who go on with phrases and commonplaces, everyday life would be far more difficult to go through. Imagine not saying a word when you meet a neighbour in the elevator. That would be a disaster. What’s more, silence is one of the crucial aspects both in human communication and ordinary life. It is the space outside words, spoken and imagined.
Your poetics has been changing since “The Dream water” to “Cleanness”. Yet, it seems that only “Cleanness” is cleaned of some poetic forms and ornaments that were an integral part of previous collections. No title, no rhythm, it’s more raw and harsh. The reality is becoming a reality in another, more naked manner. Is it really a clean, new space that screams to be tattooed, with permanent makeup? Or is it its inevitability?
I don’t know. I think that an author’s interpretation of their own poetry is false, an attempt to answer the question by showing how smart he or she is and by thinking up the answers they didn’t think about while writing it. It is up to you, readers, to decide. It’s true that I change between the periods of two collections. Cleanness is the space that enables a more legible view on what spreads below us; it is a little hill that offers another perspective. The fact that poems have no title is nothing new; I had it in my second poetry collection “The Sand Rope”, as well. Poems in the next collection will have titles. There will be more changes. Nothing yet thought up.
Does it mean that a new collection is planned?
I’ve just finished a new poetry collection which will be published by “Arhipelag”, like the previous one. And the residential scholarship I am currently receiving has enabled me to write intensively. Apart from that collection, I’m working on another book, of poetic prose. That is a book made of short texts about archaic objects or objects about to be abandoned (audio cassettes, video cassettes, floppy disks, long plays, the writing machine, postcards, New Year cards, etc.). The process of writing that book seems to never end, because it seems that the advances of technology and industry rapidly increases the number of items we used yesterday, and we no longer use. But that book will certainly be over this year, too.
The theme of this issue of Libartes is awakening. Does poetry make us more awake?
It makes us question the world we live in and question ourselves. Unfortunately, it is just a presumption, because – if all people in this world read poetry, would that world be better? I don’t know. There are so many people who sincerely enjoy art among dictators and destroyers of people’s lives. Hitler himself wanted to become a painter.
And for the end, is there a daily dose of poetry?
The daily dose of poetry for every individual, even if they don’t read poetry, is the specific way in which they will meet a new day. It is in whether they will capture a view which could be miss otherwise, or if they will simply overlook it, abandon it… It is in the ability of an individual to see, to look. A poem is not only the word on the paper but the personal experience of the world we live in.
Ana Ristović: born on April 5, 1972 in Belgrade. Graduated from the department of Serbian literature and language with World literature at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade.
She published books of poetry:
Snovidna voda (eng.Dream Water) (Književna omladina Srbije, Pegaz, Beograd, 1994)
Uže od peska (eng. Sand Rope) (Gradac, Čačak, 1997)
Zabava za dokone kćeri (eng. Fun for Bored Daughters) (Rad, Beograd, 1999)
Život na razglednici (eng. Life on the Postcard) (Plato, Beograd, 2003)
Oko nule (eng. Around zero) (Narodna biblioteka “Stefan Prvovenčani“, Kraljevo, 2006)
P. S. (izabrane pesme) (eng. P.S. selected poems), (Narodna biblioteka “Stefan Prvovenčani”, Kraljevo, 2009)
Meteorski otpad (eng. Meteor trash), Kulturni centar Novog Sada, Novi Sad, 2013.
Nešto svetli (eng. Something shines), (izabrane i nove pesme), Gradska biblioteka „Vladislav Petković Dis“, Čačak, 2014.
Čistina (eng. Cleanness), Arhipelag, Beograd, 2015.
She is a winner of “Branko’s prize” for the book Dream Water, 1994; “Branko Miljkovic” prize and the book fair prize in Igalo for the book Enterntainment for Bored Daughters, 2000; German prize “Hubert Burda Preis” for young European poetry, “Milica Stojadinovic Srpkinja” prize for the collection P.S., 2010, Dis’ prize in 2014 and Desanka Maksimovic prize in 2018.
Her poems have been translated in many languages and are included in many national and foreign anthologies, while individual books are translated into German (So dunkel, so hell, Jung und Jung, Salzburg, Austria, 2007, translated by: Fabjan Hafner), Slovenian (Življenje na razglednici, LUD Šerpa, Ljubljana, Slovenia, translated by: Jana Putrle i Urban Vovk) and Slovakian (Pred tridsiatkou, Drewo a srd, Banska Bystrica, Slovačka, 2001, translated by: Karol Chmel).
Apart from writing poetry, she also translates from Slovenian, from which she has translated 13 books of contemporary poetry and prose so far.
She is a member of the Serbian literary society, the Union of Literary Translators of Serbia, P.E.N. Centre of Serbia and of the Slovenian Writers Society
She lives in Belgrade.
Interviewed by Milena Ilić Mladenović: Born in 1986. Graduated from and completed her master’s studies at the Department for General Literature and Literature Theory at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade. Writes short stories and long poems, incompetent essays, and competent recipes. Records stories of her sons.
Translated by Jana Živanović
Jana Živanović was born at the beginning of the last month in 1992 and from the early years she has been inclined to public speaking and creative expression. Started speaking English at the age of five; at the age of eight she played first notes on the violin. She completed musical school and was a member of Dadov theatre during the period of going to primary school. Her passion towards teaching methodology made her finish undergraduate and master studies at the Faculty of Philology, English department. She is now a PhD candidate, teaching English as a subdsidiary course at the department and she teaches English to students of psychology at the Faculty of Media and Communications. She is a fan of conferences and other types of scientific and professional development and in her leisure time she is an active volunteer. Apart from engagement in Libartes, she has been translating for four years for the movie festival Seize the day. She was one of coordinators and translators in the group Translator’s Heart which translates medical documentation free of charge and she has been keeping that tradition for two years after she stopped being a member. She supports the idea that translator’s heart is not a matter of team membership, but the state of mind and advocating the ideology that health and everything related to it should be free of charge and available for everyone.