Sunday Poem – Goran Čolakhodžić

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Evening all.  I’m writing this at my desk which I still haven’t polished and waxed, although all the tins and cloths are lined up along the windowsill.   Outside the one lonely tree which survived our kill-everything-in-the-overgrown-garden-and-start-again blitz when we moved in is bare branched and black against the sky – either we killed it by mistake or it hasn’t realised it’s spring yet.  It’s been a bit of a miserable day here with rain in the morning but it has slowly brightened up.  The husband and I went for a run this afternoon – I’m back down to running 7 kilometres after trying to increase it to 9 this week and failing miserably.  Well, not failing, I ran 9k but my tendon started to complain, so I’m reducing again and will have to build up even more slowly than I’d planned.

The 7 kilometres that we did do though was very hilly and about finished me off but we dodged the rain, and even the wind wasn’t so bad.  It is my own fault about my leg – I was only supposed to do 8k but I went out with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and did a bit longer than I was supposed to.  But I have learnt my lesson now – there is a reason why you are only supposed to increase the distance you run by 10% each week.

Apart from nearly injuring myself again, I’ve been frantically working to get the last of my planning done for the residential course I’m running which starts tomorrow!  I’m really excited about having the whole week to think and talk about poetry.  I’m excited about going in the swimming pool and about going running in a different place.  I’m excited to hear what people produce during the course – I know there are some fantastic writers who are signed up for the week.

This week I also made the decision that I’ll be going down to two days of teaching music from September which will give me more time to write and work as a freelance poet.   I do feel guilty about this – it has not been an easy decision.  I worry that I’m only working two days a week – how lazy is that?  I’m not of course because I’ll be picking up (hopefully) some writing work, as I’ve been doing for the last couple of years.  I’ve managed to make up the difference in my income so far with work as a poet, which is great.  I think the reason I feel guilty is that it doesn’t really feel like work – I enjoy it so much that I still can’t believe I’m getting paid for it.  I also worry that I’m letting the pupils down – I’ll have to stop working in some of my schools which I’ve been teaching in for 11 years and that is a hard thing to do. But each time I’ve reduced my teaching hours, good things have happened – not just for my writing, but also for my music teaching, which seems to become more energised when I’m not having to spend quite so much energy on it.

The other thing that has happened this week which has touched me deeply has been the realisation, over and over again about the amazing friends I have made through poetry.  I asked people this week what they thought about doing a PHD, did anyone have any advice – I was inundated with offers of help.  Two people sent me their proposals that they had put together to do a PHD.  One person who works in a university and supervises PHDs sent me detailed emails about the practicalities and more examples of proposals.

This is just one example though – I could list dozens and dozens of things that people have done for me as favours, to help me out, to promote my work.  Kate Johnson who works at Manchester Metropolitan University has been helping me out with an application this week.  Whilst she is on holiday in Hong Kong! I’ve only met her once, when I went over to do a talk for her to some post graduate students about employability after university a couple of weeks ago.  So here’s to poetry friends, who I’ve found to be one of the best kinds of friends you can get.

Talking about friends brings me nicely onto this week’s Sunday Poet, Goran Čolakhodžić who I met over in Croatia last weekend.  He is currently completing an MA in English and Romanian at the University of Zagreb.  I honestly went home very ashamed of my grasp of only one language – it was a humbling experience being around these poets who could speak two, three, four languages.  Goran translates contemporary poetry and prose from and into Romanian but his English is also excellent, as you will see when you read his poem, which he translated himself.  He sent me 20 or so poems by email while we were in Croatia and I opened them out of curiosity more than anything one morning before we all went off and about for the day and I was absolutely blown away by the standard of the poems.  I’m not even sure if he just translated them that weekend so I could read some or if he’d been working on the translations for a while.  Goran was at the festival because he had won one of the biggest prizes in Croatia for young poets – I guess it is the equivalent of our Eric Gregory Awards.  The prize was for the best unpublished volume of poetry written by an author under 30 and the collection with the working title In the End, the Garden will be published by the end of the year.

I can’t read Croatian so I can’t comment on their faithfulness to the originial, but as poems in English, they have a strangeness all of their own.  Hare is a good example of this.  At first glance it seems to be what it says on the tin, a poem about a hunt, but there is such detachment in this poem.  It reminds me a little of the famous Keith Douglas poem How to Kill with its description of one man killing another ‘The wires touch his face’.  In The Hunt the hares are ‘furry bags’ which fall ‘promptly down’.  The use of the word ‘promptly’ which is such a strange word to use in connection with something dying, as if they need to be in time for death again gives the poem a strange otherwordly feeling.  I also love the beginning of the poem, the hunting of the hares ‘abundantly and inaudibly’ – again, such an unusual way of describing this.  There is a great line break after the word ‘remained’ in line 5 and then the wonderful ‘clenched wounds’ which is juxtaposed with the description of their death as ‘ridiculous’.  Then there is this mysterious ending which at first I thought of as beautiful – that death did not win, it did not take over life.  But I think what the poem is really saying is not that death does not win, but that there will always be something else to die, there will always be more life, which is quite dark, but is actually an emotional truth. And what a way to say it – ‘they produced it constantly’.  Finally – we get to that beautiful last line – with its falling cadence.

I’m really glad I got the chance to read Goran’s work and feature one of his poems on here – but it makes me think how much poetry we are missing out on from other languages. I’m hoping to feature a few more poets that I met at the festival on here over the next few weeks and months – and do let me know what you think about the poem.  I think this is only the second time that Goran’s poetry has been published so I’m sure he would love to read what you think as well.

The Hunt – Goran Čolakhodžić

I hunted hares
abundantly and inaudibly:
the crosshair killed, there were no shots,
furry bags fell promptly down
on the parched grass in the dusk.  They remained
stiff, eyes open, with not a drop of blood
on their clenched wounds: in fact ridiculous,
innocuous in their death which had not
taken over life, and so was see-through.
I did not run out of bullets,
and neither did they of death: they produced it constantly
in ditches and on mounds.
Autumn is falling, it’ll be that.

Lov – Goran Čolakhodžić

Lovio sam zečeve
obilno i nečujno:
nišan je ubijao, nije bilo pucnja,
krznene su vreće padale bez odgode
na suhu travu sumraka. Ostajali su
kruti, otvorenih očiju, bez kapi krvi
na stegnutim ranama, zapravo smiješni,
neopasni u toj smrti koja nije
preotela život, pa je bila prozirna.
Meni nije nestajalo metaka,
a ni njima smrti: stalno su je producirali

po humcima i jarcima.

Spušta se jesen, bit će da je to.

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4 responses »

  1. I’ve got a friend I met through poetry….Gyula Friewald…A Hungarian sculptor, worker in metal. His poems in English, translated from Hungarian, have this same eerie, slightly discordant quality, like that line ‘furry bags fell promptly down’, which simultaneously is right and not right. He reminds me how much we take for granted about what can and can’t be done with syntax, with word order, in English. And yes, I’m ashamed of this monoglot worldview I carry around. Thanks for this poem and this story.

  2. I agree with the Keith Douglas comparison. I took something from the poem about death being huge and monumental, and strange and absurd at the same time. It happens both inexplicably and inexplicably…”see-through”… Thanks for sharing this.

  3. I much enjoy this disturbing take on the idea of plenty and the hares’ endless, paradoxically self-produced creation of their own mortality.
    The turn is (un)satisfyingly banal and only serves to underline that we are a thousand leagues from knowing the referent of these doomy, soft-pelted symbols, should one exist at all.

  4. Reblogged this on joolzsparkes and commented:
    A piece about Hilaire and I featuring at Fourth Friday, reading from our London Undercurrents project – a great night it was too with LiTTle Machine and Jill Abram plus poets from the floor.

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