Translation of Two Poems by
Bosnian Poet Amir Brka:
"What Do I Write?" and "Antichrist in Language"
University of California at Santa
DO I WRITE?1
by Amir Brka
"Do you still write poetry?"
a friend of mine asks me,
man who is on my side no matter what,
a friend since
so I am completely honest.
I write, I say.
But--is it poetry that I write...?
with life and the world
has been stripped
it holds nothing
that could be adorned
especially not metaphor;
Then again, on the other hand, I think
how in this
I seize hold of, in fact, the tiniest thing,
that outside the space
that the spotlight
illuminates in its
all the rest remains
unreachable, in darkness
metaphor steals upon
what I see
ŠTA PIŠEM?“Pišeš li još uvijek poeziju?”,
čovjek što mi je bezuslovno sklon,
pa iskren sam sasvim.
Ali—da li poeziju pišem…?
jer spram života i
dospio sam do odnosa
koji sasvim ogoljen je:
što bi se pjesnički
stvari su vrlo,
Drugi put, opet, mislim
kako u toj izravnosti
a da izvan mjesta
što ga snop
nedosegnuto, u tami,
odmah se, valjda
ono što vidim
potresnim da se čini
ANTICHRIST IN LANGUAGE
by Amir Brka
Trying to reach the edge,4
speaking like that:
and the grave,
and the Devil...
Trying to be the Antichrist in language,
And what then,
what may come,
what will come,
For if everything is in language,
language is the
it doesn't mean that,5
and nobody can force you
to be humble.
Nothing prevents you
from saying everything.
a logical strategy:
so then we should be
for within everything,
ANTIKRIST U JEZIKU
Pokušati biti krajnji,
U jeziku Antikrist,
I šta će onda,
šta li će,
šta može uopće
Jer ako sve u jeziku je,
ako je, dakle,
i niko te na skromnost
Ništa te ne priječi
pa onda šutjeti treba,
jer iz svega,
Notes on the Text
Brka was born in 1963 in Tešanj, a small town in northern Bosnia. He
graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo and is Vice
President of the Bosnia and Hercegovina Writers Association. He
currently resides in Tešanj. Brka has published four books of
poetry, one collection of novellas, and five works on the cultural
history of Bosnia and Hercegovina. His book Monograph of a
Town was selected by the Writers Association as the best book
published in Bosnia and Hercegovina in 2001. "What Do I Write?" and
"Antichrist in Language" are from Brka's collection Antichrist in
Language (1999) and are translated by permission of the
author.7 This is the first time Brka's work
has been translated for American readers.
belongs to a generation of young Bosnian writers struggling with the
aftermath of the recent genocide and diminishing of multiculturalism
in their country. From 1992 to 1995, Serbs massacred approximately
200,000 Bosnian Muslims and incarcerated tens of thousands more in
prison and rape camps. In 1995, the international community forced
an end to the conflict through the Dayton Accord, which left nearly
half of Bosnian territory in the hands of the Serb aggressors and
the majority of war criminals unpunished. Today the Bosnian people
are trying to recover from the traumas of war and to rebuild their
country, all while being discouraged by the international community
from speaking publicly of what was perpetrated against them; Bosnian
Muslims have been told that to remember is tantamount to
nationalism, which is one step away from a renewal of violence.
Bosnian writers must navigate a linguistic environment fraught with
official lies, disjunctures between language and memory, and
self-imposed silences. Brka's Antichrist in Language is
dedicated to his recently deceased father. In "What Do I Write?" and
"Antichrist in Language," Brka explores the challenges of writing
poetry when confronted by the loss both of his father and of the
country in which he grew up.
Do I Write?" depicts the double bind of a poet who has experienced
the unspeakable: the limitations of using language to represent the
world, and the paradoxical inability of the human imagination to
grasp the world without language. The poet's relationship with the
world has been "stripped bare" and can no longer tolerate the
dissimulation of metaphor; the imagination has been confronted with
horrors that defy the comforting interpretive frameworks that
metaphor provides. In the absence of grand metaphors (of history,
perhaps, or of human nature), the poet can only bring himself to
focus on the physical particularity of the concrete things of this
world. His perception is reduced to fragmented, disconnected units
that elude integration into a larger whole.
Visions from San Francisco Bay, Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz
writes that, despite the evils humanity has witnessed,
are unable to live nakedly. We must constantly wrap ourselves in a
cocoon of mental constructs, our changing styles of philosophy,
poetry, art. We invest meaning in that which is opposed to
meaning: that ceaseless labor, that spinning is the most purely
human of our activities.
Similarly, in "What Do I Write?," the poet senses metaphor
sneaking up on him in the peripheries of his vision; he is unable to
depict the harsh flatness of his relationship with the things of
this world without describing his vision as a "spotlight." Despite
his despair at the inadequacy of language to faithfully represent
what he has experienced, he does not succeed at expelling metaphor.
As a poet, metaphor is central to his perception of the world, and
yet it defies the control of his craft, it lurks in darkness. And
the poet no longer has faith in the beautiful trappings with which
metaphor softens our perception of the world and reconciles us to
"Antichrist in Language" offers a complementary vision of the
relationship between language and representation in the aftermath of
catastrophe. The poet starts out with grandiose dreams of the
commensurability of language to even the extremes of human
experience. Certainly, language can depict evil; after all, we have
words like "death" and "grave," "disintegration" and "Devil."
Language accommodates the most sweeping poetic ambitions, for the
poet is free to say anything and everything. Yet the poet once again
butts up against the limitations of language; he approaches the edge
but cannot cross over to a space in which language can fully
encompass human experience. And the seeming freedom of language
actually makes a mockery of the poet's aspirations, for if words
contain everything, then they actually harbor the nothingness onto
which the poet seeks to inscribe himself. If there is no inside and
no outside of language, if there is no presence and no absence, then
the poet is playing with empty signifiers that ultimately annihilate
what he seeks to depict.
"What Do I Write?," metaphor creeps up on the poet from the
nothingness that lies outside of words. In "Antichrist in Language,"
nothingness crouches to attack the poet from the very heart of
language. In both cases, the poet believes that he has settled on a
fixed relationship with language, only to be ambushed by the very
entity he thought he had expelled. Language, rather than an obedient
medium of representation, has become the problematic subject of
representation--threadbare, illusory, roguish--and has usurped the
space that memory and experience should occupy. These two poems read
in tandem testify to the rupture in the relationship between
language and the world caused by an evil that defies representation.
They raise a crucial question: how can a poet continue to write
poetry after he has lost faith in the power of words?
Bosnian Šta pišem? contains an ambiguity that cannot be
rendered in English. It can be translated either as "What do I
write?" or "What am I writing (right now)?" |
original: uvijanje, a difficult word to translate. It
conveys the sense of a twisting inwards.|
of this stanza is archaic in the Bosnian, giving it a texture
and beauty that is not captured in the English. |
"To try to be the furthest one."|
unclear in the Bosnian as well what "that" refers to.
Bosnian, the verb vrebati has the sense of "to lie in
ambush," as of a wild animal or a soldier.|
Amir. Antikrist u jeziku. (Tešanj, Bosnia: Centar za
kulturu I obrazovanje Tešanj,