- Cat Painters: An Anthology of Contemporary Serbian Poetry from the Sixties to the Present eds. by Biljana D. Obradović and Dubravka Djurić
The book Cat Painters presents the most current and comprehensive source of contemporary Serbian poetry. It is a project supported by the Republic of Serbia's Ministry of Culture and Information. For the first time, it offers translations of the last 50 years of Serbian language poetic production in English. This huge and challenging task was executed on 450 pages by 71 poets, 31 translators, and two editors: Biljana D. Obradović, who lives in the USA, and Dubravka Djurić, who lives in Serbia. Both editors are known as productive poets, translators, and academic professors. The collection is dedicated to Charles Simić, an American poet laureate of Serbian origin, and Charles Bernstein, a renowned American poet who introduced Obradović to Djurić. This dedication reflects the editors' experience that the translation practices and collaborations among intellectuals play an important role in mutual enrichment of different cultures and their spheres of art production.
The anthology provides three introductory parts, one by Charles Bernstein and two others by the book editors. In his foreword, Bernstein acknowledges the remarkable translating contribution of Biljana Obradović, who herself translated more than 80% of the poetry included in this book. Thus her work, along with the work of the other translators, as noted by Bernstein, helps this collection to become "a work of English language poetry in its own right." Together with Obradović's generous and enthusiastic translations, Djurić's previous translating work also signifies a noteworthy tradition spanning more than 150 years of intensive translating practice committed by women in Serbian culture.
As a careful and a passionate reader, Charles Bernstein notes that the most frequent word in this anthology is "dark." By adding that there are also other words such as "love, eyes, light, god, nothing, water, words, and window…" Bernstein fuses turbulent and traumatic experiences of Serbian poets during the post-Yugoslav political and economic crises with the poets' strong desire [End Page 177] for beauty and their constant struggle for a meaningful life. In the overture, Bernstein also underlines other distinctive parts of this book. One of them is a new, more inclusive attitude toward marginalized groups. Among 71 poets, half are women, and the editors also acknowledge and support Roma and LGBT poets. A huge diversity of poetry practices and an emphasis on the importance of democratic values are the result of the special editorial mixture, of Obradović, who has lived on many continents, and Djurić, whom Bernstein recognizes as "a strong advocate of both feminism and poetic innovation."
While the first introduction by Biljana Obradović explains the evolution of the anthology from its ideas development to the final realization of the whole project, the second introduction from Duravka Djurić undertakes another important task. Continuing Obradović's manner of interesting and informative narrating, Djurić offers more details on the development of the Serbian poetry tradition. In addition, she successfully provides a synthesis of established practices, transformations, and turns throughout several centuries. Unlike some historians of Serbian literature, Djurić openly writes about different political pressures and censorship practices. So far, historians have rarely admitted that "Albanian poets from Kosovo were never integrated into the Serbian Yugoslavian milieu, as were the Hungarian poets from Vojvodina." Furthermore, Dubravka Djurić sheds light on a long tradition of conceptual poetry and equally successful production of haiku poetry. Both practices have remained outside of the Serbian literary canon despite the fact that their value was internationally acknowledged. In presenting different layers of poetry production and reception, Djurić dedicates significant attention to the struggle of the publishing industry to survive and points out some contemporary ways of reaching audiences through new technologies.
One has to look hard in order to find what could have been done better. Small remarks include the following: in light of the fact that the book provides a historical survey, covering a very long period of...