From my father I learned to believe in doubt, and from communism I learned to doubt in believing.
Recently, we interviewed Nikola Madzirov about his latest collection of poems translated from Macedonian into English, Remnants of Another Age. Read the interview here. We also had the chance to hear Madzirov read from Remnants. Click on the links below to hear excerpts from the reading. “I Don’t Know” is read first in Macedonian, then in English.
Below, contributor Angie Vorhies explores Madzirov’s background, with quotes from a conversation that took place in April 2011.
Nikola Madzirov––poet, essayist, translator––was born in 1973 in the Republic of Macedonia. His poetry has been translated into 30 languages and published in numerous collections in Europe, the US, and Asia.
His 2007 book, Relocated Stone, received the Hubert Burda award, presented to writers born in Central and Eastern Europe. He has also won the Miladinov Brothers prize, the most prestigious poetry prize in Macedonia. He is the Macedonian coordinator of the international poetry network Lyrikline, and his poems have also been made into short films and music. Most recently, he has been selected as writer-in-residence for LiteraturRaum in Berlin.
“From my father,” says Madzirov, “I learned to believe in doubt, and from communism I learned to doubt in believing.” Because of its history and geography, Macedonia is a place that has always looked both to the East and to the West. The traditional music in his country is influenced by Turkish and Persian music, as is the food. Yet his generation also grew up wearing blue jeans and watching John Wayne during communism, unlike the people of neighboring Bulgaria, who had a closer relationship with the East.
For Madzirov, this conflict between cultures, these two realities, is like being on an elevator stuck between floors. But it was a normal way of life there. People living in Macedonia have their hands toward the west, but when they are buried their faces are turned east, toward Jerusalem.
His most recent book, Remnants of Another Age, was published this year by BOA Editions. In her forward to Remnants, Carolyn Forché writes that Nikola Madzirov was born in a country that no longer exists, Yugoslavia. But his poems, she writes, spring from a deeper source. Strumica, the city where he was born, belonged to both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, and can be found in the work of Ptolemy and Pliny.
But please don’t ask Madzirov about nationalism in Macedonian poetry. At every festival he goes to, in every interview he does, people ask him questions about the Balkan wars and how poetry relates to the wars, with the implicit idea being that poetry is the key to salvation. They are looking for this key, Madzirov notes, but what they don’t realize is that there is no door. People are obsessed with nations, he says, but nations can fragmentize your soul.
Nikola was eighteen when Yugoslavia collapsed and Macedonia won its independence. He says he was on the threshold of a new life, a process of initiation, where he still had the same name, but a completely different identity. In his poetry, Nikola writes of ruined homes and fast centuries. “Many things have changed the world since then,” he writes, “the world has changed many things in us.”
“History,” he writes, “is the first border I have to cross.”