A Quorom of Croatian Poets
In this feature, Transcript introduces to its readers the dynamism of Croatian poetry in the 1980s and 1990s. Work by nine selected authors illustrates the fundamental experiences, poetic principles, lyric idioms and styles which mark the period. This overview is intended to open the door to the poetry of the period which, to be fully understood, would entail a reading of work by over fifty authors.

by Kresimir Bagic.

The '80s: a reintepretation of lyric experience

For contemporary Croatian poetry, the eighties were a period of auto-poetics, coexistence with a variety of poetic practices - from the remnants of concretism to a new lyricism, from the revival of existential poetry to neo-mannerism. It was a decade in which postmodernist gesture took root firmly in Croatian literature. The champion which promoted this generation of younger poets was Quorum magazine. As earlier poetic practices had been exclusivist, the poetry of the eighties may be described as a reinterpretation of (lyrical) experiences. By reinterpretation I mean re-actualization, irony, ludic opposition, over-marking, over-constructing, manneristic repetition, intertextual positioning of the former textual practices. Individual poetical concepts invented various (mostly discreet) strategies of reinterpretation, which in turn served to support general strategies of shaping individual lyrical voices.

In his poem entitled Contexts, poet Miroslav Micanovic takes a direct stance vis à vis earlier lyrical experiences. His poem is divided in three parts, each critically 'restoring' poetical contexts of the fifties, sixties and seventies. The central idea of Contexts is that Croatian poetry - having come a long way, from the 'image' over the 'idea' to the 'language' (as a poetic foundation) - has symbolically arrived to the wall which can only be hurdled if the new experience is to be syncretic, i.e. if modernist polemical exchange of exclusivist poetical concepts is replaced with postmodernist tolerance. This, it seems to me, is affirmed in the closure of Micanovic's text:

'wall wall wall wall wall
wall wall wall wall wall
will rise when a
brick is laid on a brick
each cherishing artfully
its former rigid tr
ace trace trace trace tr
wall wall wall wall wall
where the soul and the rose
are the same disyllabic comb
of tongue with which
hand reaches towards'

With Micanovic, other important poets emerging in the eighties were: Anka }agar, Branko Cegec, Delimir Reaicki, Kreaimir Bagic, Drazen Katunaric, Goran Rem, Nikola Petkovic, Milos Durdevic, Sibila Petlevski, Simo Mraovic, Zorica Radakovic, and Bozica Zoko.

Branko Cegec progressed from a concretistic shaping of poetic reality to the essayistic thematization of everyday life madness. Emptiness is present in the subtext of the whole of Cegec's oeuvre - emptiness of reality, emptiness of language, emptiness he is led to by a desire for self-realization. It will inevitably ensue from each refusal to partake in unquestioned, conventional existence. In his poetry collection entitled Screens of Emptiness Cegec keeps his diary of emptiness as the sole original experience he has and can offer in trade. Abundance of information and colorfulness of instant images presented daily by the television, VCR or the computer, prevent him from recognizing his own motions, actions, thoughts and words. It all ends on the screen, and screens are everywhere; privacy and individuality are completely eliminated and transformed into stereotypes. Since Cegec's poetry is the poetry of urban emotion; the flurry of the city, nervous commotion and chance meeting only augment the sequence of images which disappear before the eye has managed to record them.

What marks Delimir Reaickic's writing is his skilled and frequent use of communicational codes characteristic of other media, in the process of shaping the poetic text. In his poetic practice one can recognize traces of rock music, film, music video technique, spoken graffiti etc. By linking up the space of rock culture and the space of poetry, Reaicki joins two types of sensibility and two types of expressiveness (it is not irrelevant to mention he played an active part in projects by the rock bands 'Seagulls' and 'Roderick'): to the rock song he grants a lyrical authenticity whilst he bestows a direct, rebellious confessional style characteristic to rock on the poetic text. His subject is de-territorialized. He dwells on the street (a happy street), which - by uniting contradicting instantaneous records and sensations - makes him an accidental passerby, so his 'I', too, becomes a junction of contradicting verbal actions and instantaneous recognition.

Poets of the eighties thoroughly transformed lyric themes and language. Boundaries between the world and the text, the high style and the low style, grand and lesser themes, were wiped out. The space of the poem was opened to multiple authentic incidence.

The '90s: the mundane and the compelling

Unlike previous generations, the poetic generation of the nineties did not have the advantage of a single outlet. Its members exercised their voices in a range of periodicals; magazines or anthologies (Godine, Zor, Libra, Rijek, Aleph, Homo volans), or in Quorum, an eighties' cult magazine with a preference for the conspiratorial vigor of the writing of younger poets.. Some important poets to emerge in the nineties were: Tatjana Gromaca, Damir Sodan, Ivica Prtenjaca, Drago Glamuzina, Tvrtko Vukovic, Ivan Herceg, Damir Radic, Evelina Rudan, Rade Jarak, Kreaimir Pintaric, Robert Perisic, Kemal Mujicic-Artnam, Lucija Stamac, Ervin Jahic, Ivana Zuzul, and Dorta Jagic.

The most apparent characteristics of their writing were: colloquialization of the lyric idiom; narcissistic seclusion of the subject as well as an intertextual and intermedial gestuality.

Whilst their predecessors virtually sacralized the outsider position, often in panic, closing themselves into a space of literature or alternative culture, poets of the nineties were equally indifferent to everything (including the spaces of literature and culture). A radical de-sacralization of the poetic language may be the greatest innovation of their writing. In a great number of oeuvres we can find journalistic idioms which unmistakably testify to the fact that the language ceased to be a consecrated space of experience-gaining, or of experimenting and creating imaginary worlds, and became a means of transmitting a message. With her lyric debut Something's Wrong? Tatjana Groma
a made herself known as a master of lyrical hyperbolizing of the present moment, of fortuitous details and unexceptional situations. She is an author who in a certain way managed to synthesize her peers' attempts to colloquialize poetic language, promote the so-called realist poetry and denounce any form of lyrical museality. Thematic points of departure of her texts are, for instance, a family quarrel, going to the hairdresser's, a conversation between two women on a tram, guys clearing away snow, a party, workers playing cards on the train and similar. What makes her version of 'realist poetry' so attractive is the seductive narrativity, the humor of the thematization and the exceptional communicativeness of the text. The subject of Gromaca's poetry simultaneously exercises a critical mimesis of everyday life and self-critically challenges his/her own experience. Immediate experience is, as expected, accompanied by an appropriate spoken idiom which reminds one of a slangish casualness of a contemporary loser. Alongside Gromaca, poets industriously working on colloquialization of the lyric idiom and on the mystification of the concrete, present and temporary are Rade Jarak, Evelina Rudan, Ivan Herceg, Dorta Jagic, and Drago Glamuzina.

One can often hear that the contemporary writer is doomed to word-imperfect repetition, a search for originality, at the same time raising an awareness of unoriginality of each experience and each thinkable sentence.
'If I had to describe the current state of affairs, I would say it was a post-orgiastic state'. These are the words of Jean Baudrillard, an influential thinker and one of the ideologists of the postmodern era. He adds: 'Orgies are the explosive moment of modernity, the one that liberates in all areas. Today anything goes, games are over and we are collectively facing a crucial question: What is to be done after the orgies?' It seems to me that an answer the youngest Croatian poets could give to this question is - narcissistic seclusion of the subject and an intertextual and intermedial restoration of the mentioned games.

It is fascinating how poets emerging in the midst of the cataclysm of war did not write about the war, and when they did they merely included it as the inevitable subtext of their experience. There were a few poets who chose to focus on details and scenes surrounding them, the purpose of this being no more than self-analysis and therapy. Narcissistic seclusion of the subject is most apparent in the writing of Ivica Prtenjaca. His occasional lyrical therapy takes place in two stages - the subject is at first polemically confronted with the outside world in order to accentuate his own maladjustment, only to attempt to capitalize on this cultivated 'autism'. The polemical cutting edge of the lyrical speech is directed at the consumer society and its status symbols. He often stresses that in the world surrounding us there are no genuine values, i.e. its fundamental attribute is adulteration. Confronting diverse discursive patterns, the poet deconstructs and ironizes ideas and concepts behind them. Word games he uses 'reproduce' the already realized divorces with the canonized speech practices and help establish a relatively new order, its global characteristics being open-ness, fragmentation and plurality.

This, in fact, is a type of discourse the versions of which had been created by several older poets (Makovic, Malea, Cegec, and Reaicki). Prtenjaca, however, 'cross-breeds' this discourse with the practices of new communicational fetishes like SMS, e-mail or the Internet, whence emotion, thought and language are brought significantly closer to the virtual space. Self-confident, narcissistic subjects also appear in the poetry by Rade Jarak, Lucija Stamac or Dorta Jagic. His attitude towards textual legacy best bears witness to an exceptional correlation, even interchangeability of the categories of power and weakness of the contemporary poet. On the one hand it seems that (s)he disposes of nothing but the words, sentences, devices and figures of speech of other people, while on the other hand it seems that (s)he subjects the very same legacy to a humorous or ironic reinterpretation. The lyrical subject hence reminds one of a tourist who touches the surface of things, but who is, in a significant way, absent from the world it thematizes. Various versions of explicit intertextuality can be found in poetry collections by Tvrtko Vukovic, Sanjin Sorel, Kreaimir Pintaric, Damir `odan and Drago Glamuzina.

The nineties' generation of poets canonized spontaneity and casualness as prestigious creative positions, turning its own privacy into a privileged space of thematization. What happened was a kind of seduction with ordinariness, directness, even literalness. The indicated general direction was probably a consequence of a broader tendency to fragment the living space, atomize events and journalize languages of art, but it also resulted from a need to detach oneself from former creative practices (characterized by a faith in self-sufficiency and inexhaustible semantic potency of an artistic act).

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