Selecting work from a collection of (already) selected poems is seemingly an impossible task. Especially when the collection covers the span of more than thirty years of a strong poetic voice. Jednoga dana bila je noć: Izabrane i nove pjesme (One Day There Was Night: Selected and New Poems; Zagreb: Stajer-Graf, 2015) by Dražen Katunarić asks to be read over and over; any attempt to decide on this poem or that one is thwarted by the many whirlpools that drag the reader ever deeper. But decisions needed to be made, and we decided on these four poems connected by one of Dražen’s favorite themes: the sea. In them you will find out about the nature of Dražen’s sea, a sea of words, a sea of language, in which every droplet, every grain of sand and salt is a building block used in the construction of a semantically rich and alluring landscape.
Dražen Katunarić (b. 1954 in Zagreb) is possibly best known for his poetry, and his work as a writer, translator from French, editor and publisher makes him an indispensable contributor to the Croatian and European literary scenes. He is currently the editor in chief of Europski glasnik, a literary journal of the Croatian Writers’ Society. He is the author of more than thirty books and the recipient of a number of prestigious literary prizes, among them the Tin Ujević award for poetry and the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) by the French Minister of Culture.
During February 2017, Dražen Katunarić is a guest at ZVONA i NARI Library & Literary Retreat.
how I became speechless
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws
To step into the sea and remember a word
I sought for years
to swim out of pure joy
froth up with elbows
cheer with my feet
kiss it, play with it like a dolphin
laugh like a dolphin
spring to the beach
and laugh more
as never before.
Repeat it out loud
a thousand times
for the mercy
which in an instant
healed my spirit.
In an instant.
Then climb the reef
drops of water on my body
still wet, still wet
forget it all of a sudden,
at the very same moment.
The heart pounding madly,
the sea and the land move to the side,
into a muteness of escape,
if only I had it on the tip of my tongue,
but I don’t.
And I thought of again entering the sea
and I went to get it back from the rowdy spume
but on waves some other, shallow words caught up with me
all sad and silly
useless and odd.
Except that was not my winged word,
once so sweet to the palate and the dream.
Maybe the sea is hiding it among the anemone
maybe it’s planted in sand
or a fish gulps it up with delight
like a Jonah.
The waves of longing bind my breath
my word now withers dried up with frost.
This is how I became speechless.
ever longer I stay in the sea
Ever longer I stay in the sea. In the sinlessness.
It is warm until the sundown, when the West
blushes, and the swallows go mad with happiness: overtaking
the skies. Ever longer I stay in the sea, enjoying
every wave, as sweet as a sliced up zucchini
in olive oil, sprinkled with parsley, garlic and
basil. Ever longer I stay in the sea, rejoicing in
every foamy stroke, and the passing wake,
will I with my very own eyes find the memory
on the sandy clearing, in the tresses of the bottom: every shadow
holds some layers of a dream. Ever longer I stay
in the sea, observing purple swimmers
on the rocks, seagulls with steep foreheads, fish
in their beaks, painted gates on the sparkling, russet
surface. Ever longer I stay in the sea, luring in
the sunset, my ears ringing with echoes of happy days and
cheers: I listen to the man in me! Ever longer
I stay, till the dark, in the sea.
when I enter the sea
It suffices to cut the index finger.
When I enter the sea, I’m longer, oh, how much longer
than my elbows, my feet or my torso
my blood spilt
in the spray of aimless waves
touching the distant shores.
With my cut finger,
on a first-name basis with the primordial,
I dive for purple sea urchins
on which rests the earth.
With my cut index finger I dive
for lonesome stars on which
rests the sky.
a letter from an island
No one around.
The sea dances circling the island
dissolving its solitude
(with light, shallow foam between the rocks).
If during the day a donkey passes,
If a peasant passes by
riding on it,
it is also good!
Even if a donkey doesn’t pass!
Even if nothing passes!
It matters not who comes to me.
The wind. The moon. A stonemason.
Whether a man or a fish,
a reflection or a breath,
a color or a carob pod,
a dry or a harsh word,
it is the same!
Whether a swell or laughter in the grapes
whether darkness or an asp in the gale
Whether a cricket in the forest, a single finger or a grapevine
Whether a voice, soft, softer, softer still,
it is the same!
And solitude again.
Translated from Croatian by NGiORwDAC