Nikola Madzirov is a Macedonian poet, essayist, translator and editor. He was born in a family of Balkan Wars refugees in Strumica in 1973. His poetry has been translated into over 30 languages. He won the European Hubert Burda Prize for young East European poets for his collection Relocated Stone (2007), has taken part in many literature festivals, and has received several international awards and fellowships, including the International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa (2008) and Literarisches Tandem in Berlin (2009). A selection of his poetry, Remnants of Another Age, was published by BOA Editions in the US in 2011 with a foreword by Carolyn Forché. He is one of the coordinators of the world poetry network Lyrikline.
SJ Fowler: You really have travelled the globe reading your poetry, and you have left such a positive experience of your work with poets all over the globe. Do you envision Poetry Parnassus as a homecoming of sorts, to reconnect with friends, peers and make new connections with poets from across the world?
NM: In its essence, each first travel is an escape: escape from the cradle, escape from the street of first physical or mental pain, an escape from the park of first loves and winter colds, escape from the planned visits to museums while on excursion. In the beginning, everything starts as a search for home, but then everything turns into an inner homing of the search. Simply, it becomes a way of existing and discovering. Archaeologists, hunters, miners, and monks would know this best. It is necessary to explore, outside and inside, without fearing depths and spaciousness. The fear from the open door is sometimes greater than the fear from the locked one. Each acrobat views the world as a circus tent, and I suppose the alpinists notice all possible heights in the world. I often ask myself how a reader or a writer sees the world - whether as a library or as a wood ready to become paper. Everyone has their own dioptre focusing the visible and imagining the invisible. Nomadism helps to see the world not only as a warehouse of heritages and shining coins for dark days, but also as a place where everything leaves and arrives, like a bus station with worn out timetable, or like migratory-birds in the sketch of a first-grade pupil. The inalterability of the Constitution or of the borders of a country became synonym for its power, and I have always been in a constant battle with the altering of spaces and walls. This could be an expression of weakness or of curiosity, of escaping from someone or homing into something. Communism taught us to unchangeability, to stability, to a system which will outlive us all, even the monuments of the dictators, and probably this made me constantly live in the between-spaces like a somnambulist who feels the safest upon the brink of walls that stand between two ideologies, two beliefs. I like travelling, I like the moment when the plane lands onto its own shadow. Or when the train enters a tunnel and the passengers wake because of the sudden darkness. Or when the ship silences the passengers with its siren and makes seagulls talk. On such journeys the co-travellers are friends that most often share the same distances and uncertainty. For a trustworthy friendship it is necessary to first cross not the physical but the inherited borders and stereotypes. If anyone accepts me by the recipe of a person from the Balkans who lives between the extremes of the dark war and the Mediterranean sun, they will only strive to confirm what they have overheard in the five-minute analyses on some news channel that they blindly trust just because they are paying for it, or they will wait to see confirmed what they have watched in the films of Kusturica. The gathering of Poetry Parnassus is a lovely chance to narrow the world into a single point and to meet friends that might otherwise, under different circumstances, become historic enemies.
SJF: It seems the performance of your work is often central to your output. Do you think poetry spoken and heard is somehow more vital than poetry read on the page?
NM: Most important to me is silence. Not any silence but the silence that does not follow the punctuation, nor the rhythm of breathing. I regard telling stories as an essential gene in transferring the cultural and intellectual heritage, which is not to be found in any testament. It is an urge risen from the fear of forgetting, which is greater than the fear of death. In the Balkans people like to tell long stories over the grave of the deceased, to build him/her a huge white marble tombstone onto which they would be able to inscribe a text as long as a newspaper column. Then everyone goes home with the words they would like to hear above their own tombstone. I discover poetry as a voice that belongs neither to the air nor to the blank paper, nor to the black ink of the pen or the printer. I like to retell, but not to report promises and testaments; I want to write, but not with my eyes or ears closed. As Jean Cocteau has put it: "The poet doesn't invent. He listens."
SJF: In its sheer scope the Poetry Parnassus offers a unique opportunity for you to interact with fellow poets from every corner of the globe. How do you think this collective experience will benefit those who attend, to be exposed to so many different traditions of poetry, to hear poetry in so many languages?
NM: Poetry can be hardly pronounced a DNA of a nation, because it always changes its structure into other languages or silence, but it could be a testimony of initiation, of exodus, of personal alienation or sanctifying of the forgotten moments and the unreachable corners of one's home. As a child I used to view the map of the world in the atlases as an abstract picture in various forms and colours which separated the states, their mountain massifs or rivers that overlap the border lines. I hardly ever thought about languages or their historic and semantic weight. Today, speaking a language that is being denied by many political and linguistic circles, I can only confirm the attitude of Wittgenstein that the limits of my language express the limits of my world. Therefore my language possesses neither space nor time and only lit by other personal languages it gains its shadow.
SJF: The Parnassus is one of the largest poetry events to ever take place, over one whole week with over two hundred poets in attendance. The nature of its design means, to a certain extent, you are a representative of your nation and its poetic culture. How do you feel about that idea?
NM: I have never thought that I would represent any kind of community, because words and poetry exist before the idea of nations or administrative borders. Nevertheless, I cannot escape language as my home, or tradition as my homeland in endless rediscovering. The gathering of over two hundred poets at the same spot is a confirmation of over two hundred personal poetics and a civilization of understanding, because only wars can gather so many nations in one place, at the same time. There will meet poets whose nations have spoken to each other in history more through bayonets and grenades than through verses or the silence between them. Loneliness and searching for isolated spaces was an emotional response to common destructiveness, fear that collective presence will only bring ruined foundations and post-utopistic squares. The progress of such civilization alienation has brought to the absurdity that more often we can notice people eating alone in restaurants, and more and more people reading together sitting in trams or at the airports. I am glad that we are ready to share and overcome the inherited alienation, each in one's own language. As a response to "It is important to participate", Poetry Parnassus can say "It is important to understand".
SJF: The collective nature of Poetry Parnassus will be a very interesting experience for poets at this very specific time and place in terms of politics and the state of the world now, in light of the financial crisis across the globe. Do you think this energy will play a part in the exchanges in London? That it might fuel a dialogue of some importance?
NM: Baudrillard would say that we live both in phobic society (Save time. Save energy. Save money. Save our souls.) and in anorexic society (Low energy. Low calories. Low sex. Low speed). World economy experts today prophetically instruct us how to save, and not to accumulate; how to spend, and not to exhaust resources. Can this also refer to the words by means of which we accumulate promises and meanings and spend our memories and hopes? I imagine Poetry Parnassus as a poetic stock market that evaluates not by the speed of saying the words but by their echo through the deserts of the consumer epoch.
SJF: The parnassian ideal that really centres Poetry Parnassus reaches back to the Poetry International festival held in London in 1967 which sought to address notions of free speech, community and peace through the artform of poetry. Do you believe this tradition needs to be maintained in 2012?
NM: After the fall of Communism, the most audible on the Balkans are the church bells, the precise voices of imams coming from mosque minarets and the promises of transformed communists and nationalists that spring form each crack in the walls. Poetry has always been said with a whisper, sometimes because of love, more often because of fear. As I come from a culture with a rich oral tradition, here more attention has always been paid to what is being said than written. The absurdity is in the fact that the secret communist services have written more pages of reports, than the pursued poets have ever written books. This was the case with one of the most important but not wide-known European poets Edward Kocbek and the Macedonian poet Jovan Koteski. I see the significance of Poetry Parnassus in this - to tell and remember, which is sometimes more important than to write and forget.
SJ Fowler (1983) is the author of four poetry collections. He has had poetry commissioned by the Tate Britain and the London Sinfonietta, and has featured in over 100 poetry publications. He is poetry editor of 3am magazine, Lyrikline and the Maintenant interview series.