Tag Archives: Bulgarian literature

Death of a Poet

Everyone has their own way of dealing with the death of a friend or relative. I am very quiet on such occasions, turned inwards, and want to be left alone with my mourning. And certainly, the idea to exhibit my friendship and emotional closeness with a recently deceased by posting about it in social media is something alien to me, something I cannot understand at all.

Now that the news has become known that a very talented Bulgarian poet, Nikolai Atanasov, has died at the age of 41 years only, dozens of my FB friends expressed their grief and shared poems. But many also wrote very detailed personal reminiscences, anecdotes, descriptions of experiences, the respective person has had with the deceased, analyzing his life, his poetry, his health, his sexual orientation, his character, and what not.

What struck me and made me infinitely sad: out of everything what the friends of the deceased wrote, one thing became clear: here someone had died, who for a very long time was very sick, poor and socially completely isolated, someone who had practically no emotional support, according to many of his friends, someone who over the years showed clearly signs of poor and deteriorating physical and mental health. I would have wished that among those who claimed to have been friends with the deceased only one would have proved to be a true friend, and would have done something to save the poet from the abyss in which he now obviously perished. Maybe he would be still alive.

But that’s the way it is: once an artist or poet has died in misery, those who have let him/her down and who didn’t extend a helping hand when it was desperately needed, celebrate themselves and their “great friendship” with the dead post mortem. I wonder if at least one of these friends feels ashamed?!

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

18% Brown: the downfall of a Bulgarian intellectual

The countries of Eastern Europe continue to struggle with the classification of their history and the people and currents that shaped it. This is especially true for the legacy of the time immediately before the Communist seizure of power. In many Eastern European countries, since the 1920s, there were fascist or openly National Socialist groups that enjoyed widespread popular support; they generally combined radical anti-communism with a totalitarian idea of society and eliminationist anti-Semitism modeled after German National Socialism.

From these groupings, the Nazis gained before and at the outbreak of WWII many fanatical supporters for their policy of violence and extermination, a policy that aimed at the complete eradication of whole races, especially the Jews and Roma. The prejudices and social exclusion that had prevailed for centuries, as well as the existing willingness to use violence against these population groups in Eastern Europe, were taken up by the Nazis and made serviceable for their barbaric extermination project. The anti-Semitic and fascist organizations of the “elites” in these countries disappeared apparently later with the Communist seizure of power, but the persons and attitudes of course remained largely unchanged.

While many leading members of fascist groups settled in the West in time, and others being executed or sentenced to lengthy prison terms in trials that were usually not according to the standards of constitutional democracies, there were also many who remained undisturbed. Among other things, the collapse of the communist bloc in Eastern Europe led to the formation of political groups that deliberately leaned towards pre-war organizations and that see themselves as following the values of such organizations. As a rule, the anti-communism of these pre-WWII groups is emphasized, but the totalitarian-fascist and anti-Semitic tradition is often concealed or relativized.

Hard-boiled anti-Semites and racists who have survived the communist regime and who are still proud of their (mis)deeds against Jews, and who in some cases spent decades behind bars in a communist prison, were suddenly revered by many despite (or perhaps because of?) their open advocacy of the ideology of their youth as anti-communist martyrs and heroes and role models for 21st century youth. And frequently, there are willing intellectuals who wholeheartedly support this revisionist narrative.

I want to report on such a case here. The focus is on the Bulgarian writer Zachary Karabashliev, whose novel 18% Gray is also available in English translation.

What is it all about? On his Facebook profile Karabashliev describes a visit to a 97-year-old retiree, and he provides photos and explanatory text. This encounter has, in his own words, strongly impressed him. The old man, apparently still astonishingly vigorous for his age, was harassed several times by intruders in his home and probably also physically abused. Karabashliev demanded in a letter from the competent ministry a better protection and an increased pension for the war veteran, who also spent many years in a prison of Communist Bulgaria as a regime opponent.

So far so good. There is no one who does not regret the poor living conditions of pensioners in Bulgaria, and also the frequent lack of recognition that many innocent victims of the communist system (in)justice have received in today’s Bulgarian society. So quite a noble action, which honors also the initiator, one could believe at first glance. Another picture, however, comes to light when you are digging a bit deeper.

The old man, whom Karabashliev praises, and whom he has repeatedly dubbed in public statements – even on television – as a hero, is called Dyanko Markov. Markov was imprisoned in communist Bulgaria for political reasons and was rehabilitated in the years after 1989. He was then a member of parliament for a right-wing party and became the most prominent living symbol of the political Right in Bulgaria because of his strong anti-communist stance. Markov wrote his memoirs, he often appeared as a speaker at public events (for example at the European Parliament) and was repeatedly interviewed. He is not just any pensioner, but in Bulgaria a well-known figure of public life. We are dealing with someone whom many – Karabashliev, for example – consider to be an exemplary hero and as such he was and is always present in the Bulgarian public.

In the first version of his Facebook post, Karabashliev also mentioned in detail and admiringly a part of the biography of Markov, which he interestingly later edited and completely deleted. This section referred to Markov’s membership in the so-called “Legions” and his alleged heroic deeds during World War II.

The Union of Bulgarian National Legions was an anti-Semitic and openly fascist paramilitary organization led by Hristo Lukov from 1933 on (he used the title “National Leader”). The youth organization of the Legions used the swastika as part of their emblem, the uniforms of the Legions and also the program were directly based on the blueprint of the German SA and also otherwise this movement was regarded as an arm of Hitler in Bulgaria and was strongly supported accordingly by Nazi Germany.

Eliminationist anti-Semitism was particularly actively promoted in Bulgaria by radical groups such as the Legions. Lukov, who eventually rose to become a general, Minister of War, and the “gray eminence” in the background, used the Legions as a base to gain more and more political influence and power; the Gestapo seriously debated whether they should support a coup d’etat by Lukov against Tsar Boris III who was for opportunistic reasons – the defeat of the Nazis was already forseeable – reluctant to carry out the Final Solution in Bulgaria; a replacement by a dictator Lukov, would according to the reasoning of the Gestapo, “deliver” the Jews for extermination without any problems. Before these ideas could be carried out, Lukov was assassinated by Violeta Yakova, a 19-year-old Jewish partisan (she was later brutally raped and tortured to death by Bulgarian security forces); the strong resistance of many Bulgarian citizens, some politicians (such as Dimitar Peshev) and the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria meant in the end that Bulgaria did not extradite their own Jewish citizens to the Nazis.

The Jews in the Bulgarian-occupied and annexed areas of Thrace, Macedonia and the Pirot region of Serbia were less fortunate: they were the only inhabitants of these areas who were formally declared as non-Bulgarians, and with this “trick” the Bulgarian authorities had laid the basis for deporting them. The deportation in these areas was organized and carried out by Bulgarians, members of the Union of Bulgarian National Legions were particularly eager, since the murder of the Jews corresponded to their own program. More than 11,000 Jews were deported to Treblinka and murdered on arrival.  

The founder and “leader” of this organization, which carried out much of the dirty work in the murder of Jews, Hristo Lukov, is the idol of many neo-Nazis in Europe to this day, he is “honored” with a torchlight parade every year in the center of Sofia by groups of neo-Nazis from all over Europe. Lukov is also the idol of Dyanko Markov, and he still propagates the ideas and “values” of the Legions to this very day. His memoirs sing a song of heroism of this organization. The Holocaust in the territories occupied and annexed by Bulgaria was commented by Markov in a speech in the Bulgarian parliament in 2000, in which he stated that the deportation of a “hostile population” was not a war crime. In 2018 he added that the deportation of the Jews to Treblinka was “relatively humane”. Almost at the same time Markov received from the Bulgarian state a high Order of Merit. One wonders, however, for what exactly…

At this point lies the real scandal, in the center of which Karabashliev has now maneuvered himself, probably out of the deepest conviction from the bottom of his heart.

If he and his notorious co-propagandists had wanted to draw attention to the fate of the veterans, the former inmates and victims of the communist regime of injustice or, in general, the shameful situation in which many elderly people in Bulgaria have to vegetate, one could easily choose almost any older person in Bulgaria as an example. The fact that a Dyanko Markov of all people is chosen to make this point, a person whose appearance in the European Parliament triggered a major scandal just a few years ago, after his continued advocacy of an inhumane organization and ideology and his Holocaust relativization became known, is, of course, a hint to the fact that the small group’s political program that keeps repeating Dyankov’s instrumentalization aims mainly at a complete rehabilitation of criminal fascist organizations from pre-war Bulgaria, a rehabilitation on which the group obviously plans to capitalize politically.

Anyone who points out that an inhumane ideology is being propagated here, the ideology of a group whose main historical aim was the mass murder of certain population groups and a cruel war of aggression in the East, anyone who questions why such people should be made into heroes must be prepared for a few things, from – in the end unsuccessful – slander trials to vicious, hate-filled personal attacks from the camp of Karabashliev’s co-propagandists. Unfortunately, such tendencies are probably in the spirit of the times, because in Bulgaria, which is governed by a coalition of right-wing and right-wing extremist parties, intellectual currents that relativize or deny the Holocaust and who claim that it is “the Jews” who need to be blamed for all atrocities of communism (which, as a matter of course makes their mass murder an excusable response); even the age-old anti-Semitic topos of the Jews as Christ-killers celebrates resurrection, e.g. in the columns of the once respected portal “Kultura”. The fact that Bulgarian writers such as Karabashliev and a few other second- and third-rate figures are initiating or supporting such shameful acts is a declaration of moral bankruptcy.

The case Karabashliev weighs particularly hard because of its influential position in the Bulgarian publishing industry. Significantly, with the exception of Angel Igov, who has contradicted the account of Karabashliev and his allies with reference to the facts, and Lea Cohen, who as a Jew is a traditional target of the Bulgarian anti-Semites, no other author has to my knowledge yet intervened in this scandal. Too big is obviously the fear to lose access to publication outlets in the small Bulgarian book market, or to estrange readers, of which a considerable part probably sympathizes with Markov‘s and Karabashliev’s historical revisionism. One may call this cowardice or complete dullness towards moral values; in any case it is a tragedy and a worrying symptom of the state of Bulgarian society these days.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ludmila Kaloyanova: East River

Die bulgarische Dichterin Ludmila Kaloyanova lebt in Pittsburgh, PA. Sie veröffentlichte zuletzt den Gedichtband Anadromus (Zahari Stoyanov, 2017). Mit dem hier vorgestellten Gedicht gewann sie den erstmals verliehenen Preis der bulgarischen Literaturzeitschrift „Neue Soziale Poesie“. Der Jury gehörten an: Zlatomir Zlatanov (Vorsitzender), Alexander Nikolov, Ventzislav Arnaoudov, Kiril Vassilev, Christopher Buxton, Krassimir Kavaldjiev, Marco Vidal, Thomas Hübner.  

East River

Am nebligen Nachmittag
im Carl-Schurz-Park
sauge ich Regenspritzer und
den Geruch des Flusses ein
Puerto-ricanische Frauen mit Kinderwagen
führen freundliche
französische Bulldoggen
spazieren
zwei graue Tauben
spähen
vom rostigen Geländer

aus den Strudeln
des East River
winkt mir
angekommen vor hundert Jahren

Onkel Theodor zu
meine Tochter
(die von seiner Existenz nicht ahnt)
knipst sich gerne
vor der Freiheitsstatue

…verblassende Erinnerung
Entropie vererbter Gene
Paradoxien der teuer
erkauften Freiheit…

die Tauben
setzen ihren Seiltanz
auf dem Geländer fort

ich strecke meine Hand aus

Übersetzung: Vladimir Sabourin

——————–

Ийст Ривър

В мъгливия следобед
на Карл Шурц парк
попивам пръски дъжд и
мирис на река
пуерториканки с колички
разхождат приветливи
френски
булдози
два сиви гълъба
надничат
от ръждясалите перила
във водовъртежните ями
на Ийст Ривър
дошъл тук
преди повече от столетие
вуйчо Теодор
ми маха с ръка

дъщеря ми
(която не подозира за съществуването му)
обича да си прави
снимки пред
статуята на свободата

…отронена памет
ентропия на пренесени гени
парадокси на скъпо
платената свобода…

гълъбите-въжеиграчи
продължават своя танц
върху перилата

протягам ръка

——————–

East River

In the foggy afternoon
in Carl Schurz park
I soak up rain spray and
a river smell
Puerto Ricans with push chairs
walk warm-hearted
French
bulldogs
two grey pigeons
are peering
from the rusty railings
in the whirlpool pits
of East River
come here
more than a century ago
uncle Theodore

waves to us
my daughter
(who doesn’t suspect his presence)
likes to take
selfies in front of
the statue of liberty

a crumbling memory…
entropy of transported genes
paradoxes of freedom
dearly bought…

pigeon-puppets
continue their dance
over the railings

I stretch out an arm

Übersetzung: Christopher Buxton 

——————–

East River

In the foggy afternoon
at Carl Schurz Park
I soak up rain drops and
river scent
Puerto Ricanas with strollers
walk amiable
French bulldogs
two grey pigeons
peek
from the rusted railings
into the cyclonic pits of
East River
anchored here more than
a century ago
uncle Theodore waves

to me
my daughter (who doesn’t suspect
his existence)
likes taking photos in front of
the Statue of Liberty

…crumbling memory
entropy of displaced genes
paradoxes of freedom
paid dearly for…

the pigeons–
tightrope walkers–
resume their dance
on the railings

I reach out

Übersetzung: Ludmila Kaloyanova 

——————–

East River

Dans l’après-midi brumeux
du Carl Schurz Park
je m’imbibe de bruine et
d’effluves du fleuve
Des Portoricaines avec poussettes
promènent d’amènes
bouledogues
français
Perchés sur le garde-fou
rouillé
deux pigeons gris
tendent le cou
Depuis les trous de remous
de l’East River
l’oncle Teodor

arrivé ici
il y a plus de cent ans
me fait un signe de la main
Ma fille
(qui ne soupçonne pas son existence)
aime se faire
photographier devant
la statue de la Liberté

…mémoire égrenée
entropie de gènes transmis
paradoxes d’une liberté
cher payée…

les pigeons funambules
poursuivent leur danse
sur le garde-fou

je tends la main

Übersetzung: Krassimir Kavaldjiev 

——————–

East River

En una tarde nebulosa
del parque Carl Schurz
me impregno de gotas de lluvia
y del aroma del río
Puertorriqueñas con carritos de bebé
pasean а sus afables
bulldogs franceses
dos palomas grises
se asoman
por el parapeto oxidado
desde los remolinos profundos
del East River
mi tío Teodor
que llegó aquí

hace más de un siglo
me saluda con la mano
mi hija
(que ni siquiera sospecha de su existencia)
disfruta haciéndose
fotos frente
a la estatua de la libertad

…memoria despojada
entropía de genes transferidos
paradojas de aquella libertad
que resulta tan cara…

Las palomas continúan bailando
sobre el parapeto como en una cuerda floja.

Y yo tiendo la mano.

Übersetzung: Marco Vidal

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 
© Ludmila Kaloyanova, Vladimir Sabourin, Christopher Buxton, Krassimir Kavaldjiev, Marco Vidal

New Social Poetry: an interview with Vladimir Sabourin

“New Social Poetry” is a Bulgarian literary movement, created in 2016 in Sofia. The first publication of this group, the “Manifesto of the New Social Poetry” has caused a lot of controversial discussions due to the outspoken rhetoric of the text against the so-called “peaceful transition” in Bulgaria, a period after the official end of communism that can be characterized, among others, by a continuity of old elites and their representatives in the cultural sphere.

In an essay collection “Towards a New Social Poetry” by the group’s founder, Vladimir Sabourin, the author offers his analysis of the situation of Bulgarian poetry and the conditions in which it is created today; recent developments related to the prestigious “Literary Journal” (Literaturen Vestnik) were for him obviously the trigger to create this new poetic movement. In the short time since its foundation, the group has held many public readings all over Bulgaria, started a successful journal “New Social Poetry“, and has already a number of book publications in Bulgarian and in translation, of which beside the “Manifesto” and the essay book also an almanach (“New Social Poetry – the Anthology“) are available in English. Reason enough for me (TH) to conduct an interview with the group’s founder, Vladimir Sabourin (VS).

 

TH: Vladimir, you once said that you are not a Bulgarian poet, but a poet who writes in Bulgarian. What did you mean by that and why is this distinction important to you?

VS: I come from a mixed marriage, my mother is Bulgarian, my father Cuban of French origin. I grew up as non-accepted, as stranger, “nichtdazugehörig” as the Germans say, both on the part of the Bulgarians and on the part of the Cubans. Writing, poetry is a homeland that nobody can challenge. I write in a minor language, but I do not share the self-contemptuous image the Bulgarians have of themselves and their language. In the major literary languages, it is perfectly natural to write in a language to which you ethnically don’t belong. I consider the language in which I write a major literary language.

TH: My personal impression as a reader (and occasional translator) of Bulgarian poetry is that many – even well-known – Bulgarian poets write “naive” poetry. I do not mean that in a denigrating sense, but rather as an expression of the fact that it is often not clear to me if these poets are familiar with the spectrum and variety, the history and formal language of modern poetry. Compared to that, your poems left a very different impression on me. Looking at your poetic development, what were the main influences for you? In what tradition do you see yourself as a poet?

VS: Your impression corresponds to a reality, already commented by the first major Bulgarian modernist poet Pencho Slaveykov at the beginning of the last century. It is extremely important to understand however that this is today a reality nurtured by state institutions for both internal and external use. If you like, this can be described as a state-sponsored reality that aims at building a pseudo-identity, just like for exports such as yoghurt. The great modern poets are a problem for this country, they are either just murdered (Geo Milev, Nikola Vaptsarov) or hushed up. Does anyone outside of a small circle in Bulgaria – not to mention outside the country – know Zlatomir Zlatanov or Ani Ilkov? The image of Bulgarian poetry continues to be built on the “naive”, “natural”, even when it is just a marketing trick, adapted to foreign expectation. This expectation is disparaging, and the fitting to it is a testimony of a deep inferiority complex. – In the Bulgarian poetry my teachers are Ani Ilkov and Zlatomir Zlatanov, in the foreign-language poetry in the first place Bertolt Brecht.

TH: Your recent collection of poems “Trotsky’s Remains“, which has been compiling your poetic work since the early 1990s, has been self-published. Why?

VS: My first poetic book was self-published, 25 years later I am again in the position of having to release a collection of my poems myself. From an existential point of view, this is a stoic amor fati. Sociologically, it is a textbook example for the omerta, in which the “naivety” of Bulgarian literature flourishes in a publishing landscape, which is dependent on the initial accumulation of capital with – to say the least – dubious origin. The large publishers are an integral part of the state-capitalist oligarchic model, the small ones are dependent on state subsidies that nurture the ideology of “naivety”. At the end of the day, my conscience as author is clear and none of my books has been published within this framework. For this autonomy, without which there is no modern poetry, I have to thank my parents Jesús Sabourín and Margarita Drenska and my friend and literary brother-in-arms Ventsislav Arnaoudov.

TH: You are not only a poet, but also a congenial translator of poetry. Which poets have you translated and what does translation mean to you?

VS: When I can’t write poetry, I translate poetry. I see translations as an integral part of my own poetry, as Ezra Pound does. And with my translations I am facing the same kind of omerta as with my own poetry, but my personal blog is some sort of “collected translations-in-progress”, including Bertolt Brecht, Fernando Pessoa, Heiner Müller, Jorge Manrique, Nicanor Parra, Rainer Maria Rilke, Roberto Bolaño, Sarah Kirsch, Sylvia Plath, Vicente Huidobro, Virgilio Piñera, Archilochus, Velimir Chlebnikov, Joseph Brodsky, Hugo Ball, Ezra Pound…

Manifesto

TH: Some time ago you wrote a “Manifesto of the New Social Poetry” and a collection of essays “Towards a New Social Poetry: Aesthetico-political Theses”; almost at the same time, a literary group “New Social Poetry” has established itself and there is now also a literary magazine of the same name. What is the “Manifesto” about and what motivated you to write it?

VS: In the summer of 2016 something like “privatization”, in fact another theft of communal property with legal means happened, concerning the most important literary periodical after 1989 – the “Literary Journal” (Literaturen Vestnik). The current editorial team of the newspaper discarded its creators (who in the 1990’s had invited them as editors), ending a long-standing process of corporate academic and literary adhesion, destroying the radical political nature of the “Literary Journal”. As an author, I grew up in the “Literary Journal” during its radical-political phase. Its “privatization” by a corporation of university departments was the drop that made the glass overflow for me. What happened with the “Literary Journal” was another example of the misappropriation of communal property, which characterized the entire “peaceful transition” from socialism to capitalism in Bulgaria. The ongoing deterioration of “Literary Journal” is evident recently in the case of Julia Kristeva – after her unmasking as a former agent of the Bulgarian State Security*, the newspaper should have asked her to withdraw from the Editorial Board of the journal. But they did not. The “Manifesto” turns against this adhesion of unscrupulous academic power and literature.

New Social Poetry

TH: There were – as probably with every new group of poets – a few “faction fights” and splits or resignations within the “New Social Poetry” group. In the meantime, however, the group, according to my impression, is developing a lively activity, which is not limited to just the mentioned magazine. I am thinking of the readings and the book publications. Maybe you can say a few words about that?

VS: The central issue of the “Manifesto” is the revival of literary life after nearly two decades of literary “peaceful transition.” Since the autumn of 2016, when we founded the group “New Social Poetry,” there was a dynamic in the literary field that we had forgotten since the end of the period of political radicality of the 1990s. What’s happening inside our group is part of this dynamics. I like your analogy with the factional divisions and struggles typical of radical political movements. “New Social Poetry” is an avant-garde group that wants to bring back political radicalism to literary life, it is logical to apply this principle within the group as well. Not despite, but rather thanks to the “factional struggles”, we managed to make our first national tour with readings in Varna, Burgas, Plovdiv, Stara Zagora and Sofia in less than a year. At the same time, we issued two anthologies in English and French – at the self-publishing platform CreateSpace – New Social Poetry: The Anthology (translation by Christopher Buxton) and Nouvelle poésie sociale: L’Anthologie (translation by Krasimir Kavaldjiev).

TH: Who are your most important “comrades-in-arms” in the “New Social Poetry“? Are there any interesting young talents beside the established names?

VS: Unlike the predominant economic individualism in the Bulgarian literary circles, which is a reflection of the social misery of personal survival in the poorest country in the EU, we believe in the effectiveness of solidarity. There is no authentic avant-garde without joint action. The word “comrades-in-arms” is accurate – we are in war with the status quo of the “peaceful transition”. I’m mockingly referred to as a Latin American guerrillero, ok, that’s what I am. I am happy to work with Ventsislav Arnaoudov, Kiril Vassilev, Vania Valkova, Christina Vassileva, Alexander Nikolov, Nikolay Fenerski, Ivan Marinov. More recently, the young poet and editor of the magazine A. Nikolov, barely reaching the age of majority, published his debut poetic book “fairness.” Take a look also at his peer, Michaela Angelova, who debuted in our magazine, and whose poem “Time is a Man” is published in the anthologies.

TH: What are the plans for the near future? Your own and those of the group “New Social Poetry“?

VS: We are currently working on the Spanish translation of our anthology, I think in the summer I’m going to have her translated into German. My plan is to blow up the “peaceful transition” with the “New Social Poetry”.

TH: One last question: Which Bulgarian book with poetry would you like to see translated in English?

VS: Kiril Vassilev’s Provinces (Small Stations Press 2015)

TH: Vladimir, thank you for this interview.

 

All three titles (New Social Poetry – the Anthology, Towards a New Social Poetry, and Manifesto for a New Social Poetry are translated in English by Christopher Buxton and were published at CreateSpace in 2018)

*Julia Kristeva denies these allegations; according to her, the whole dossier with several hundred pages, which was published online by the Dossier Commission that deals with the State Security files, is a fabrication with the aim to tarnish her reputation.

Introduction, questions and translation of the interview from the German/Bulgarian original by Thomas Hübner.

This interview was first published at the blog of Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, June 13, 2018 for #BulgarianLiteratureMonth.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


The White Coast

Balchik is a small coastal town at the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, approximately 30 kilometers north of Varna. A century ago, it was not much more than a fishing village, but its natural location at a small bay, its Mediterranean climate and its picturesque houses and small streets made it a magnet for the Romanian aristocracy and also for many artists – there was even a rather famous “Balchik School of Painting”. The painters came here during the long summer, hunting for motives and enjoying a carefree and relaxed lifestyle at this small Black Sea town.

Wait a moment, did I say “Romanian aristocracy”? Yes, indeed – some parts of North Eastern Bulgaria belonged to Romania in the period between 1913 and 1940, and therefore Balchik was for a few decades the most popular destination in Romania for these people in summer. Visitors who come to Balchik today – and you should visit the place once you come to the Bulgarian Black Sea coast – will see the impact this Romanian period had on the town until today.

Balchik

Balchik is a popular tourist destination because of the Palace of the Romanian Queen Maria (this Palace is indeed more like a small summer residence), and the small number of buildings attached to it, amongst which a minaret stands out that gives the place a bit of an “oriental” atmosphere. There is also a marble throne on the beach in front of the Palace, a favorite spot of the Queen from which she could look out at the Black Sea, waiting for a particular guest who would come by ship…

It was also the Queen, who – with the assistance of two Italian architects and a Swiss landscape gardener – arranged the whole plot of land as a mix of traditional, Moldovan and Oriental architecture with antique references, and who integrated a wonderful botanical garden (after years of neglect now taken care of by Sofia University); this botanical garden alone is worth a visit, and the part that is reserved for the different varieties of cacti is said to be the second biggest in Europe.

The biographical novel “The White Coast” by Marina Konstantinova (Largo City 2013, tr. Svetoslav Bogdanov) tells the story of Queen Maria and her “Quiet Nest” in Balchik, as she used to call it. Born Marie of Edinburgh as the daughter of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh (later Duke of Saxe-Coburg) and his wife, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, she got married to Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, the heir apparent of King Carol I. in 1892 (he became King of Romania in 1914); she had six children.

Marriages within the royal families in Europe were dynastic affairs, and love was not necessarily part of the marriage arrangement. In Maria’s (or Missy’s, as she was called by almost everyone) case, there was a mutual affection that lasted over the decades, but husband Ferdinand was a very different character than his wife, and a process of estrangement triggered by the King’s frequent affairs led to an arrangement that allowed the Queen to lead a comparatively independent life, in which she was allowed to pursue her own interests that were mainly in the field of beauty and art.

Maria was a talented painter and musician, she wrote poetry and published several books of literary value. Apart from that, she took care of her surviving children (her youngest son died at the age of three) and in the building of her “Quiet Nest” in Balchik. The novel describes this period in Balchik, which was the happiest in Maria’s life. The story is told by two narrators, one of them is the Queen herself – the author has of course made use of Missy’s own writings -, the other one is the author. This switching between perspectives is easy to follow (the book is using bold script for Missy’s chapters), and the picture of the main character in the book is gaining more depth by this little “trick” of the author.

The Queen Maria we get to know in the novel, was a romantic, someone who occupied herself with her inner life, with beauty in art and nature, and with spiritual questions. But she took also very practical part in the creation of her small paradise, and took interest in the lives of her neighbors in Balchik. The building of a small port, the incoming guests, the money earned by the construction of the Palace and the garden, it all had a positive impact on the life and economic situation of the people in Balchik, and – if we can believe Missy’s writings – therefore the Queen was genuinely liked by the local people.

The book is also – and probably this is the most important part – the story of a great love. I mentioned the marble throne at the beach in Balchik. Here, Missy would wait after her husband’s death for the arrival of a man whom she had met only once; the enigmatic Arab sailor Ali, who fell in love with the Queen at first sight in Egypt when they were once introduced to each other on one occasion. After their meeting, Ali started to write her letters, and it was the letters that raised the interest of the Queen, who had never met a man who really loved her. I will not give away more, but the love story between Missy and Ali is the true center of the book and the author of the novel has done a remarkable job to tell this story in comparatively simple words but without false clichés.

I enjoyed this small and unassuming book; for later editions a few typos and minor translation errors should be corrected, but these small issues didn’t affect my reading much. If you want to get to know the story behind this truly unique place, reading “The White Coast” is a nice way to inform yourself, especially for those who visited Balchik.

The White Coast” can be bought at the Palace in Balchik, but you could also contact the publisher directly (Email: alfa3@abv.bg). Apart from the Bulgarian and English version, the book is also translated in Romanian and Russian.

Marina Konstantinova: The White Coast, Largo City 2013, translated by Svetoslav Bogdanov

Photo credit: Stefka Vasileva/Creative Commons

This review was first published at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, 9 June, 2018 for #BulgarianLiteratureMonth.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


Bulgarian Poetry in English Translation (III/3): the period 1944-1989 – Danila Stoianova

Unfortunately, Danila Stoianova didn’t have much time to fully develop her talent as a poet. She died 1984 at the young age of 23 after a long battle with leukemia. This disease, and a series of deaths in her family left a deep mark on her and one can not read her poems without thinking of her tragic fate.

Ivy Press Princeton published the major part of her small oeuvre in an excellent translation years ago (Memory of a Dream, 2003). You can find some samples of Stoianova’s poems here. Love poems, verses about her suffering, but also about solitude and nature give her poetry a rather wide spectre.

The grand old lady of Bulgarian poetry, Blaga Dimitrova said about Danila Stoianova’s verses:

“The poetry of Danila Stoianova broke open a long-walled-off window on the world. It resonates with early spring and brings the memory of the long harsh winter Bulgaria lived through. It speaks of life and death, of rebirth through the miracle of poetry.”

The translation of Ludmilla Popova- Wightman is congenial and very close to the original. Another gem coming from this small publisher that focuses exclusively on Bulgarian literature in English translation. The edition is bilingual and I can recommend it highly to poetry lovers.

This review was first published at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, 18 June, 2018 for #BulgarianLiteratureMonth.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bulgarian Poetry in English Translation (III/2): the period 1944-1989 – Blaga Dimitrova

In John Updike’s short story “The Bulgarian Poetess” the narrator reports the following short dialogue with the eponymous Bulgarian Poetess:

“Your poems. Are they difficult?”

She smiled and, unaccustomed to speaking English, answered carefully, drawing a line in the air with two delicately pinched fingers holding an imaginary pen: “They are difficult—to write.”

He laughed, startled and charmed. “But not to read?”

She seemed puzzled by his laugh, but did not withdraw her smile, though its corners deepened in a defensive, feminine way. “I think,” she said, “not so very.”

Yes, the poems of Blaga Dimitrova, the inspiration for this short story, are not so very difficult to read. Her poetry is about universal human experiences from a female point of view: love, motherhood, death are important topics in her verses. Forbidden Sea for example was written in a time when the author had to face a long battle with cancer. Her close encounter with death brought life into sharp focus, awoke in her eternal questions about the meaning of human existence, the magnetism of love, the mysteries and vicissitudes of human fate. The sea is present not only like a magnificent view, but also like a spontaneous rhythm, like a myth, a symbol of life, love, infinity and freedom. Freedom was lacking in Bulgaria, a totalitarian dictatorship with an iron censorship, a country where not only the sea was “forbidden,” but also “words!”

Dimitrova Forbidden Sea

As the introduction to one of her two available collections with poetry in English (Forbidden Sea, translated by Ludmilla G. Popova-Wightman and Elizabeth A. Socolow, Ivy Press Princeton 2000, and Scars, translated by Ludmilla G. Popova-Wightman, Ivy Press Princeton 2003) states correctly, her poems sublimate her conflicts in life she was facing as an independent and sometimes rebellious spirit in a dictatorship. Blaga Dimitrova, who was also an accomplished author of prose, has often been compared with some of the other great female poets of the 20th century: Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, Gabriela Mistral, Wislawa Szymborska, Desanka Maksimovich and, above all her compatriots Elisaveta Bagryana and Dora Gabe.

Her poetry (samples can be found here and here), available in two volumes in excellent translation, is worth to be discovered!

This review was first published at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, 11 June, 2018 for #BulgarianLiteratureMonth.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


Bulgarian Poetry in English Translation (III/1): the period 1944-1989 – Konstantin Pavlov

Konstantin Pavlov was one of the most important and gifted Bulgarian poets of the period after 1944. His immense talent and poetic imagination, and his independent personality brought him in frequent conflict with the Communist regime. Fortunately, two of his poetry collections are available in English: Cry of a Former Dog (translated by Ludmilla G. Popova-Wightman, Ivy Press Princeton 2000) and Capriccio for Goya (also translated by Ludmilla G. Popova-Wightman, Ivy Press Princeton 2003). Pavlov’s first books were confiscated before they could reach bookstores and readers. After that, he was officially sentenced to silence for his courageous depiction of the terror in his country.

Pavlov’s poetry, stylistically innovative, is a moral protest against the totalitarian dictatorship in Bulgaria from 1944 to 1989. Many of Pavlov’s poems contain also satirical elements, irony and humor, despite the serious conditions in which he lived and the suffocating intellectual atmosphere from which authors like him suffered a lot. Some samples from the two books can be found here and here.

Pavlov Cry of a Former Dog

About the English editions of Pavlov, Paul Auster writes:

“Ludmilla Popova-Wightman’s translations of Pavlov have a lovely open-hearted vernacular feel to them. They have truly been rendered into American English.”

Don’t miss the chance to discover a truly great poet in excellent translations!

This review was first published at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, 10 June, 2018 for #BulgarianLiteratureMonth.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


Bulgarian Poetry in English Translation (II) – Available Titles From the Pre-1944 Period

In this second part of my short series about Bulgarian Poetry collections available in English translation, I will cover the period until 1944, the year of the Communist takeover in Bulgaria. While in the last blog post I was presenting anthologies, I will focus in this post on books that present the (selected) poems of a single author.

The years before 1944 were a rich period for Bulgaria’s poetry. And quite a lot of it has been translated at one point in English: in the Communist era, the state-owned publisher Sofia Press made most of the “classic” Bulgarian poets available in English (and some other languages). These books are of course out-of-print since a long time, but due to the lack of any later editions in English for many of the most relevant authors, they are still worth to be searched in antiquarian bookstores or internet platforms. I would particularly recommend – if you can find them – the volumes with Hristo Botev’s Poems, and Ivan Vazov’s Selected Poems. Both of them can be considered as founding fathers of Bulgarian literature. Other editions by Sofia Press include Selected Poetry and Prose by Hristo Smirnensky and The Road to Freedom by Geo Milev.

The good news is that in the last years three important Bulgarian poets from this period are again present with a book in English language.

Confidentially

Peyo Yavorov (b. 1878, Chirpan – d. 1914, Sofia) was, especially in his more mature years as a poet, a protagonist of the symbolist movement in Bulgaria. But at the same time, the man who wrote highly introspective poems, and verses that show great empathy for the lives of refugees from Macedonia and Armenia, was a man of action: just like Botev a few decades earlier, he joined the struggle for liberation from the Ottoman domination, in his case in Macedonia; the poet-partisan was – after his first big love died from tuberculosis – married to Lora Karavelova, the daughter of the former Prime Minister Petko Karavelov. But the marriage didn’t last long: in a bout of jealousy, Lora shot herself in front of Yavorov, and the poet committed suicide one year later, after a first attempt to take his life had left him blind, and a press campaign against him, even suggesting that he had murdered his wife, had made him a broken man. A collection of his poems (Confidentially, Black Sea Oleander Press 2018), skilfully translated by Christopher Buxton, gives the Anglophone reader an opportunity to get an idea of Yavorov’s remarkable gifts as a poet (more is not possible in any translation of poetry).

Debelyanov To return

Dimcho Debelyanov was a few years younger than Yavorov, but also his life was – like the lives of so many Bulgarian poets – cut short, in his case by WWI: he was killed in battle in 1916. Debelyanov, only 29 years old at the time of his death had moved from the symbolism of his youth to a more realistic style of poetry. Debelyanov is considered a master of the elegy, but in many of his poems there are also satirical elements. He was also a gifted translator from English and French. As in the case of Yavorov, Christopher Buxton is also here the translator, editor and publisher of a collection of Debelyanov’s poems (To return to your father’s house, Black Sea Oleander Press 2017), and to me this work seems similarly congenial as his Yavorov translations. I can recommend both books warmly, in any case these are two very welcome additions to the Bulgarian poetry shelf, and I hope there will be even more from this source in the future. The book cover shows a portrait of the poet and his birthplace, now a museum, in Koprivshtitsa, one of the most well-preserved old towns in Bulgaria and in any case worth a visit.

Vaptsarov Kino

Nikola Vaptsarov (b. 1909, Bansko – d. 1942, Sofia) was a trained naval engineer, who after years on ships in the Mediterranean, worked as an engineer in various factories and at the Bulgarian Railroad. He got involved with the Communist Party for whose military faction he secretly supplied arms for the resistance fight against the Germans; a dangerous activity, and Vaptsarov was finally arrested and executed by firing squad. During his lifetime, he published only one book, Motor Songs (1940) (under pseudonym). The concrete, colloquial poetry of Vaptsarov that includes reference to cinema, radio, technology, and modern culture, is widely unknown outside Bulgaria (although he was translated in 98 languages). Yannis Ritsos, the great Greek poet said about him:

“I consider Vaptsarov my brother in poetry and struggle.”

A slender volume, edited and introduced by Georgi Gospodinov, competently translated by Kalina Filipova, Bilyana Kourtasheva, and Evgenia Pancheva is available under the title “Kino” (Smokestack Books, 2014), and it is very much worth to be discovered by a wider readership. (The cover shows a mug shot of Vaptsarov, taken after his arrest.)

Yavorov, Debelyanov, Vaptsarov (and one could add Botev and Milev as well): all died young and not of natural causes. It’s a rather sad thought to imagine what they could have achieved, if their lives had not been cut short…

This review was first published at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, 08 June, 2018 for #BulgarianLiteratureMonth.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bulgarian Poetry in English Translation – Some Anthologies

Poetry is very popular in Bulgaria; I am still very much surprised about the sheer amount of new poetry collections that are published on the small Bulgarian market every year by „regular” publishers, but also by authors themselves (self-published, or “Samizdat” as they say in Bulgaria – an expression that hints at the subversive tradition of “self-publishing” in the Eastern European countries). And if we add the countless number of frequently very young people who publish their poems in Facebook, on blogs, or who read their poems in public – poetry readings are also a phenomenon that has emerged mainly in the last years, and many of them are well-visited -, you can imagine that Bulgaria is a country where there is no shortage of poets – or of people who would like to be called “poet”, in this part of the world still a very prestigious epithet.

But poetry needs also readers, and English-speaking readers face a problem here: it is difficult to orient yourself, if you are not already familiar with Bulgarian literature/poetry. In a series of four blog posts, I will try to provide a little orientation regarding Bulgarian poetry in English translation. What is available in English, where can you start, and what are the most interesting poetry books by Bulgarian authors in English – I hope you will find some useful answers regarding these questions in my small series.

The first part is devoted to anthologies; they are frequently the best way to get an overview about a certain literary genre or literary period since they cover a number of authors.

Flowers

Flowers don’t grow singly (CreateSpace 2016) is the name of a collection of classic Bulgarian poems selected and translated by Christopher Buxton, an author and translator that lives in Bulgaria since a long time. The earliest poems in the book are folk songs collected by the Miladinov brothers, and starting from Hristo Botev, Pencho and Petko Slaveykov, all the major authors of the pre-1944 period are represented; names like Mara Belcheva, Peyo Javorov, Geo Milev, Hristo Smirnenski, Dora Gabe, Dimcho Debelyanov, Elisaveta Bagryana, Nikola Vaptsarov, and others. A comparatively small collection that gives a representative overview over this “classic” period of Bulgarian poetry. As a “teaser” you could have a look at the website of Christopher Buxton with some samples of his translations.

 

End of the World

At the End of the World: Contemporary Poetry from Bulgaria (Shearsman 2012) is an anthology of seventeen Bulgarian poets writing and publishing from the middle of the twentieth century to today. Editor Tsvetanka Elenkova – herself an accomplished poet – and the translator Jonathan Dunne, her husband cover in this bilingual anthology the period that chronologically follows the covered period of the previous anthology; therefore a useful addition to your library, especially considering the excellent translations and interesting choice of authors: among them many of the most important names of the period covered by this book, such as Ivan Teofilov, Lubomir Levchev, Nikolay Kanchev, Ekaterina Yosifova, Ilko Dimitrov, Silvia Choleva, Peter Tchouchov, Kristin Dimitrova, Iana Boukova, Marin Bodakov, Yordan Eftimov, Nadya Radulova. Recommended for all with an interest in the post-1944 and contemporary Bulgarian poetry. A sample from the book can be found here.

 

Season of Delicate Hunger

The Season of Delicate Hunger (Accents Publishing 2013) is a 334-page collection of contemporary Bulgarian poetry, containing 197 translations of works by 32 Bulgarian authors, a titanic work by the editor Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, who translated almost all the poems in the collection herself. All authors of this anthology are alive, writing and actively participating in the Bulgarian poetry scene. They represent a diversity of talent, ranging in age from 72 to 21, with each at a unique stage of his or her career. The edition is bilingual and profits from the fact that Stoykova is a remarkable poet herself. Highly recommended! (You can find more information on the book here)

 

New Social Poetry

The literary scene in Bulgaria is quite diversified, and that’s particularly true for poetry. A new, fresh – and for some a bit provocative – poetic movement is New Social Poetry, a group of poets that has developed quite an impressive presence since its creation, with regular readings in various Bulgarian cities, a literary journal, and a number of books. New Social Poetry – The Anthology (CreateSpace 2018, translator Christopher Buxton) gives an overview about the variety of authors that are part of this movement or associated with it. (The anthology is also available in French – translator Krassimir Kavaldjiev -, and a Spanish and German translation are in preparation.) While some of the authors in this collection belong to the older and middle generation of Bulgarian poets, there is also a considerable number of young and very talented authors represented in this bilingual anthology, which makes this book a welcome enrichment to the previously published anthologies.

 

Some Bulgarian Poems

While I am editing this blog post, I found out that there is at least a fifth anthology that belongs here: Some Bulgarian Poems & A Play (edited by Zheny Bozhilova-Haytova, translated by Kevin and Dona Ireland; Altera 2014). This is an anthology containing samples of Bulgarian poetry from the late Revival period (1860’s) until the 1960’s. I haven’t seen it yet and it will be probably a bit difficult to order it outside Bulgaria, but this is a book I will look up in the near future.

This review was first published at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, 07 June, 2018 for #BulgarianLiteratureMonth.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.