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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

December 27, 2012 by · 2 comments

Zlatko Anguelov


Today, a heavy blizzard is moving through Indiana and Ohio heading up to the North-East. In Iowa City it’s bitterly cold, although the temperatures are not lower than -5 C. A hot bean soup for lunch invigorated our bodies, but not for long. I went out to buy some Bochner chocolate and a bottle of red Martini for a friend who is throwing a party tonight at his 11th-story apartment in the only Iowa City high-rise. I drove up to the liquor store; in Iowa City, as in the whole America, you cannot go to any grocery store by feet, you have to drive. But regardless of the heated car, the cold entered deep into my bones. I need a hot tea now.

Now, I’m sipping my hot Oolong-Darjeeling cup of tea, sweetened with honey. In the morning, I’ve read occasional poetry on the Internet, posted by distant friends as well as a dialogue between Mario Vargas Llosa and Gilles Lipovetsky about the shift from the civilizing role of high culture in the 19th century to the “spectacle civilization” of the 21st century. The title is very telling: “Proust is important for everyone”. Of course, I side with the defender of high culture in this conversation, Mr. Llosa. However, it is hard to ignore the valid points in Mr. Lipovetsky’s thesis that today’s people are children of the visual and don’t give a damn about high culture anymore.

I visualize this process as a pyramid that has been turned into a truncated pyramidal body constantly losing of its height. What once was a well-defined sharp apex, from which the creators of high culture used to transfer wisdom and high values to everyone – most importantly, guidance to distinguish what is beautiful from what is ugly – is being before our very eyes mercilessly eliminated or rather merged into a great expansion of the visual, which does not make a distinction between the beautiful and the ugly. Everything and nothing can be art.

My addition to this situation is that science should also be regarded as high culture, and its role has not diminished. However, the grand ideas deriving from science are a) irrelevant to the people who feel entitled to any bit of mass culture; and b) used mainly to increase our daily lives’ dependence on technology. Those who use religion as the emotional replacement for the missing artistic values do not care about science at all, they are even hostile to it.

But what about poetry? Has its role expanded or shrunk? Why would people still write poetry these days when it is not the epitome of beautiful feelings anymore?

I don’t know. I have always regarded poetry as the most intimate expression of the soul – and I have only liked poems whose melody and rhythm resonated to my own sensitivity. And I took that as a proof that the poet’s sensitivity and mine have something in common. It is like an invisible communication between the creator of verses and my own soul, one that was not intended by the poet. And this is a communication that occurs very rarely, by chance, and without my wishing it to go on beyond the moment of the click. Such poets in my own list are Christo Botev and Christo Fotev, in their entirety, and single poems by Debelyanov and Vaptzarov.

Myself, I have attempted to write poems only when I was in the initial stages of falling in love, and I’m acutely aware that these were my intimate feelings that had neither universal appeal nor universal value. Therefore, I have never tried to write in measured speech. I decided that I don’t understand poetry and that was a solution that made me feel comfortable.

I strongly maintain that I cannot feel poetry in a language other than Bulgarian, and, thus, have never read poetry in English. Yet, I remember that in the French high school we were made familiar with the most important French poets, and there were some, like Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, for example, whom I liked very much. Imagine my surprise, then, when the editors of an U of Iowa online poetry magazine asked me a couple of years ago to edit a translation of the poem “Jonah” by Georgi Borissov, a poet whom I know personally and whose poems I judge as very good, but not resonating with me in the above sense. I took on the task with hesitation. But I was really dumbstruck that I felt the false tones, words, and above all, rhythmic figures that the inexperienced translator has used, and I was able to edit the poem until the whole English version of it reached a full cohesion between meaning and melody. How could I be so sure? It remains a mystery to me to that day.

After all, there are still creations of art that are beautiful in the classic sense. The problem, I think, is whether, with people of my generation dying out on the next three to four decades, there will still be people left to appreciate those.

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