11 April 2005


From the April issue of Poetry, an report from Aleksandar Hemon on Semezdin Mehmedinovic’s Sarajevo Blues:

"The precision of the detail, coupled with the awareness of what it all means, is everywhere in Sarajevo Blues. In 'Animals,' Semezdin writes:

I do not know how much longer I can bear a life like this. I get thrills every time, when at the thundering [of the artillery] outside, the cat snaps out of sleep and then, on my chest, I feel the slow unsheathing of her claws.

The sensory exactness of moments like this brought the siege home for me, quite literally, and made me comprehend what it was like to exist in Sarajevo. But Sarajevo Blues was not just bearing witness—although that would be admirably sufficient—it was also exposing the flimsy ways in which “our” reality (“we” being the unbesieged) is assembled to be comforting and bearable. For in the end, the central fact of every life is death, a fact that “we” choose to ignore for as long as possible. The purpose of “our” reality is to cover up the fact of death, and one of the things writers and poets can—and should—do is to unpack the lies of reality, beginning with the lie of life eternal in the present. What Semezdin did in Sarajevo Blues, with the heart and mind of a superb poet, was to recognize that the collapse of reality in Sarajevo was directly related to the ubiquity of death, which makes the city different from any other place on earth only in degree but not in kind. Nowhere is that more clear than in the poem called 'Corpse':

We slowed down at the bridge
to watch dogs by the Miljacka
tearing apart a human corpse
then we went on

nothing in me has changed

I listened to the snow bursting under the tires
like teeth crunching an apple
and I felt a wild desire to laugh
at you
because you call this place hell
and you flee from here convinced
that death beyond Sarajevo does not exist

Reading Sarajevo Blues, I not only understood what it meant to live in Sarajevo under siege—I understood what it meant to live."

Poetry is well worth reading. If the poetry sometimes disappoints (why is this?), the essays are often thrilling, and sometimes a review causes me to buy a new collection, e.g., Sarajevo Blues by Semezdin Mehmedinovic.

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