Sunday, July 12, 2009

Guest post: Lyricism

I was permitted by N. to post his email in my blog. FYI, chocolate and poetry recommendations from N. are positively commendable. Read below.
So far, only you and omitted I can interest in poetry... It is always hit and miss of course, but that is fine, as long as some shimmer of interest is present. Perhaps what I send you in this email will leave you unmoved. That is fine. But it is strange how most anyone I talk to seems to perceive poetry as impenetrable, archaic, rusty, devoid of substance, and so on. But no. There are things which almost require the language of poetry. Sometimes also alcohol is required to, as you put it, tame soul's demons.

I know little about Heinrich Heine. Except that he was a so-called romantic poet. A lovely little poem (search for Der Asra):

This poem has a particularly interesting history in former Yugoslavia. It was translated to Serbian (call it Croatian or whatever) by Aleksa Šantić, a famous Serbian poet. It then found its real life in musical form, sung in the sevdalinka style all over the country. Of course, sevdalinka, a musical bastard of Turkish, Sephardic Jewish, and Slavic traditions, has nothing to do with German romanticism, which is precisely the beauty of this poem's infiltration into Balkans. It is hard to find a rendering which is as minimalist as I would like, but here is one of the best Bosnian sevdalinka singers:

It goes on. There was a band called Azra, I daresay the only band with an actual idea, in the 1980's in Yugoslavia. They were pretty much warning of what was to come, when things seemed dandy. Although the band's music was really "rock" , it began in a way as a sevdah band, inspired by that song, and named after it (Azra).

If one were to start somewhere in knowing and understanding what was Yugoslavia, Heine's poem wouldn't be a bad starting point. There is something really interesting about that.

Sevdalinka songs used to be sung in simple inns (called "kafana"), where you overwhelmed your demons with song, plum brandy, cigarettes, and maybe bean stew. These inns are, to my great sadness, disappearing. What is to replace them?


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