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  • Dražen Katunarić

Ever Longer I Stay in the Sea: Dražen Katunarić

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.

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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 Psalmist

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 thank God 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 infinitely elongated, my blood spilt in the spray of aimless waves touching the distant shores. Rolling: rollonging. 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, it’s good!

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. A governor.

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


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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


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