Written by Bistra Velichkova for Internal Voices
In September, poems were placed in metro, tram and bus stations throughout the city of Brussels, giving every passenger the chance to discover the work of international artists and providing everyday life with a new source of inspiration.
The poem Stone Cutting by Boiko Lambovski from Bulgaria, was one of eight poems written by European poets and presented at this year’s poetry festival, Transpoesie, in Brussels.
Boiko Lambovski is one of the most famous contemporary Bulgarian poets. Born in Sofia in 1960, he graduated from the French Language High school there and acquired his university degree in Literature in Moscow, Russia. He has published 9 books and is a laureate of many literary awards for poetry. His work has been translated into 20 languages around the world and he has recently become the president of the Bulgarian PEN centre.
I talked with Lambovski about his participation in Transpoesie, the position and possibilities for lesser-known languages in global literature and about how a real poet survives in the harsh economic climate of today.
“It is a very nice feeling to know that your poem allows casual passersby to read and think about it”, says Lambovski about his poem, which is now displayed in a metro station in Brussels. But rather than consider the effect his poem might have of on this broad audience as a whole, Lambovski sees poetry as more of an individual experience: “It’s better to think less about how it affects a group as a whole, and more about how it provokes and exposes a generally accepted framework on an individual basis. Poetry is good in this sense, because it provokes people to engage on an intellectual level”.
Boiko Lambovski was encouraged to participate in the Transpoesie festival by the chairman of the Bulgarian PEN centre at the time, Georgi Konstantinov, and the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC), in Brussels. He chose to present the poem Stone Cutting because he felt it corresponded well with the topic of the festival: Engagement. When asked what kind of message the poem was intended to impart, the Bulgarian author replied: “It is about this: that nothing is bright, pink and romantic a priori; even love requires hard work”.
Lambovski has dedicated this poem to Edvarda, a heroine from the novel Pan, by the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun. In the book, the heroine has a romantic relationship with Lieutenant Thomas Glahn, an ex-military man and a hunter, who lives alone in a hut in the forest. Their relationship, however, is fated to fail. “Knut Hamsun is one of my favourite authors”, explained Lambovski. “The relationship between Edvarda and Glahn in the novel Pan is a symbol of the real love that happens in life; the one that strives for the ideal of the best love, but faces the impossibility of achieving it”, explains Lambovski. “This is the opposite of the sweet, romantic idea of love with a happy ending. It represents the beauty of life here and now, with its severe contradictions. Edvarda illustrates the antithesis represented in love and hate. She is a remarkable heroine. I like her.”
Stone Cutting, was originally written in Bulgarian, but has since been translated into English, French and Flemish. When asked about the issue of language, Lambovski admitted that it is difficult for literature written in a language that is spoken by only a small number of people to reach a wider global audience. At Transpoesie, he read his poem in Bulgarian, but with translation into English, French and Flemish appearing on a video wall at the same time as he spoke, Lambovski was able to hear people’s reactions to certain phrases and words; an experience he clearly appreciated. Thanks to good translation and international festivals such as Transpoesie, he strongly believes that “even poetry can cross language boundaries.”
When pressed on the relevance of poetry in a world beset by economic difficulties Lambovski conceded that “Poetry is not an art for the masses” and that “in the few cases that it has been turned into such an art, it has been burdened with a political or even publicity function”. But he believes that as long as language is alive, poetry will be alive too, no matter in what kind of times we are living. For him, it is a language game and an opportunity for people to discover a second life, one which is “often more meaningful than the first”.
But then how does a poet survive in today’s world?
“I am not fond of those people who constantly ‘honour’ themselves with the title ‘poet’”, admits Boiko Lambovski. “The poet is a poet only in certain moments in his life. Otherwise, he is a man or a woman, or a dentist, or a journalist, or unemployed, or a driver, or he delivers pizzas, or he is a teacher, or just a drinker… He is not something more than or superior to other people, it is just that sometimes he is given the gift to derive power out of words and thus to provide illumination. This illumination lights part of life’s mystery, both for the poet and for other people”. “The rest of the time”, he says, “the poet survives as all others do. And it has to be like this. In that sense, it is more appropriate to ask to the question: “How does a man survive in today’s world?” And here is my reply: either as I said above, like everybody else, or he remains a poet.”
Hand and chisel carve methodically
The Ideal. It is a boring work.
A stubborn habit – to be a stone,
and a slow, hard exploit – to love
Author: Boiko Lambovski
Translation: Anetta Dancheva-Manolova
* The article by Bistra Velichkova was published in the Belgium journal Internal Voices, 18 Nov, 2013