Visas can be tricky things. At the start of last night’s reading, it was announced that Nikola Madzirov might not be able to attend. There had been trouble getting the British Consulate to return his non-EU visa to him during his tour of South America, and his plane had only touched down minutes before the programme began. It all lay in the hands of immigration, customs and — worst of all — London traffic as to whether he would show up in time to read at all.
The programme was designed to intersperse British poets with continental European voices, in hopes of overcoming some of the “ossification” of British perceptions of European poetry. Indeed, it was the Europeans I found most vital and captivating, and upon them I will focus for now.
Swiss poet Daniele Pantano read from his “undergraduate” work in honour of his own undergraduate students making the trip out to see him. He spoke of his time in suburban America as an “exile”, which he defined as “a city reared by eternal artifice.” His most striking work revolved around his mother’s suicide and the haunt of Nazism in Europe. Continue reading…
“The distant reality every day questions me / like an unknown traveler who wakes me up in the middle of the journey / saying ‘Is this the right bus?’, / and I answer ‘Yes’, but I mean ‘I don’t know.'”
-Nikola Madzirov, “I Don’t Know”
Bergamot Station at night / Photo: Marvin Rand
It was with great excitement that I drove down to Frank Pictures Gallery in Bergamont Station to read poems alongside Tim Green, Nikola Madzirov, and Ilya Kaminsky last night. It is always a privilege to read alongside first-rate poets, but last night was something truly special. It was one of the final readings in the “Third Area” series to be held in this gallery, and my final reading in America before Val and I move to London.
But more than this, the lineup was particularly special to me. I was slated to read with Tim Green at the Carnegie Art Museum last year, but it ended up being too close to the due date of his new baby daughter. He read poems from American Fractal as well as some new work. Tim has been a great supporter of my own work, giving it exposure through Rattle, and is himself a fine poet — sonorous and absorbed when he reads, self-deprecating and down-to-earth in between.
Then I was introduced to the work of Macedonian poet Nikola Madzirov, available now in English thanks to BOA editions and the Lannan Translations Selection Series. His poems took my breath away. In them, I found many of the elements of what I admire most about other Slavic-language poets, especially those far to the north in Poland — sensitive, clever observations, at times whimsical, but always with a deep undercurrent of existential longing.