MONICA MANOLACHI Reviews
Morse, My Deaf Friend by Miloš Djurdjević
(Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2014)
Miloš Djurdjević (born in 1961) is a Croatian poet, literary critic, translator and editor, who lives in Zagreb. In 2006, he published Rušenje orfičkog hrama – antologija novije hrvatske poezije (Wreckage Of An Orphic Temple: An Anthology Of Contemporary Croatian Poetry). In 2009, he was a writer in residence at the University of Iowa in the International Writing Programme.
Morse, My Deaf Friend (2014) is a self-translated chapbook, containing three parts: ten short prose poems with the same asterisk instead of titles and two poems, “Lie Down Again” and “Six Days in June.”
The first three of the ten asterisked poems are a man’s detached observations about the atmosphere of an urban setting. His vision, which verges on the apocalyptic and the dull, the nightmarish and the powerless, touches the heart of a plural subject, to reveal a communicative collective problem: “we are knee deep in water, the river without estuary springs out beneath us, climbs up and is already frozen.” The symbol of the river appears in the fifth text too, in which the reader is warned that “it withdraws suddenly.” The unexpected retreat causes “the loss of basic orientation, shiftlessness and confusion like at the mouth of the tunnel that suddenly ends,” a sense of simultaneous stillness and unclassified type of flow. The speaking subject starts a monologue with several interrogations about the difficulty of identification with and the weakness of differentiation from whatever his experiences bring about. The last two parts, which are longer, are scenes located in an improvised hospital during an unspecified war and, respectively, in a cemetery near the Dutch town Edam.
The elliptical character of the sequence invites the reader to reflect on how much one can identify with similar significant traumas such as those produced by war and to what extent and how one can return to the memory of those events. The poet suggests that a visit to a foreign town does not mean that one can immediately forget what happened in one’s town.
The second poem, “Lie Down Again,” is an exercise of depersonalization and disembodiment in eight parts. The first part starts with a series of questions about a nameless man, whose situation – probably death or just rest – has had an impact on the speaker. The following seven sections seem to represent the separation of the soul from the body. The third person pronoun “he” gradually becomes “it”: “he’s seen me, he stares, unmoved, and he’s gone again, changed all but his burden, this burden on his body, a weight that rustles and breathes and stares without blinking, perpetually spreading surface over surface, vertical, horizontal, a root of light in the stream, unspeakable when it rustles in branches, it does not speak, it cannot stop speaking.” The purpose of this transition from person to non-person or to dissolution might be “to connect what’s separated, like a marionette without wires and reflection, down, no, up, no, it could not be seen, not even shown, it doesn’t just emerge but is seen less and less and vanishes because it is not empty.”
The three sections of the third poem, “Six Days of June,” constitute an excercise of concentration. An apparently simple focus on a red dot produces various mental processes, recognitions, denials, turnarounds, replacements, reorientations etc. The red dot is both an end and a beginning, now outside the body, now inside it, and an allusion to the Morse code. If we consider the random temporality suggested by the title and the theme of location present in all three sections, the poem configures an abstract chronotope, with no definite geography and yet based on distances, movement and relationships.
Miloš Djurdjević’s chapbook is an ingenious play upon deterritorialization. Its title, “Morse, My Deaf Friend,” acts as an introduction to a subjectivity that is geographically disconnected, but inwardly linked to the exterior world. The Morse code, as an arbitrary set of signals, stands for poetic language insofar as it suggests that messages are conveyed to the world in an unusual way.
Monica Manolachi is a lecturer at the University of Bucharest, where she teaches English in the Department of Modern Languages and where she completed her doctoral thesis, Performative Identities in Contemporary Caribbean British Poetry, in 2011. Her research interests are American, British and Caribbean literature and culture, postcolonial studies and contemporary Romanian and Eastern European literature in translation. As a poet, she has published two collections in Romanian, Trandafiri (Roses) (2007) and Poveștile Fragariei către Magul Viridis (Fragaria's Stories to Magus Viridis) (2012) and one in English and Romanian, Joining the Dots / Uniți punctele(2016). She is also a translator and editor, contributing to the multilingual literary magazine Contemporary Literary Horizon.