Saturday, 30 April 2011

dubrovnik: history and poetry

Had a family holiday in Croatia during Easter, a remarkably beautiful country. We were staying on the Adriatic coastline not far from the stunning Old Town of Dubrovnik, with a Renaissance elegance and equanimity to its architecture that rivals Venice for dazzling historical perspectives.
    Only when we visited the far less attractive fort high above the city was I reminded about the encroachments of more recent history: the fort was the scene of pitched battles to defend Dubrovnik exactly 20 years ago and now contains an exhibition of images and paraphernalia from that internicine conflict - the Old Town itself was quite heavily bombed and damaged and in fact has been quite extensively rebuilt in order to regain its period beauty. History, then, is always this overlayering of different actions and processes; and a city like Dubrovnik (again in this resembling Venice) is a palimpsest of conflicting currents and influences which the camcordering tourist - captivated by his or her experience of 'living history', wandering in a reverie of bygone seemliness and order - rarely looks beyond the surface of.
   Poetry is also reflective of historical process, of course; and the splitting of the former Yugoslavia into its constituent states has meant a fracturing of poetries within what was (as far as I understand) the single language of Serbo-Croat. In briefly trying to research Croatian poetry, I've been struck how all the renowned names from this part of the world - Charles Simic, of course, plus fascinating poets he's translated like Popa, Lalic and the contemporary Tomasz Saluman - are all actually Serbian in origin. I wonder if this is by chance or whether a post-war jockeying for prominence has occurred among publishers and promoters within the Slavic world. (But whereof I don't know enough to speak of, perhaps thereof I should remain silent.)

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