Award Winning Croatian Poet and Writer
Lana Derkac Interviewed by J T Jayasingh
Lana Derkac was born on 22 June, 1969, in Požega, Croatia. She graduated from the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Philosophy. She writes poetry, prose, drama and essay. Her works have been published in many Croatian and international newspapers, magazines and anthologies. She has published 7 collections of poetry, a book of plays and 2 collections of short stories and edited two poetry anthologies. She has been awarded Zdravko Pucak Poetry Prize and Duhovno Hrasce Prize.
She has participated in various literary events, at home and abroad. She took part in International Poerty Festival in Zagreb, International Festival : Curtea de Arges Poetry Nights in Romania, Struga Poetry Evenings in Macedonia, Kuala Lumpur World Poetry Reading in Malaysia, Kritya 2007 in India, The Book Fair in Guadalajara, Mexico and Lirikonfest in Slovenia. Her poems are featured in Poetical Babylon (project by UNESCO in Rome) and in Rain of Poems above Dubrovnik (a joint project between Chile and Croatia). Her work is translated into 14 languages.
J T Jayasingh: You belong to a region in Europe that has witnessed plenty of dramas in human history. As a young Croat you should have read, heard and experienced bloody wars, Nazi concentration camps, political massacres, uprisings, civil wars, political settlements and resettlement finally to achieve some sort of peace and ones own home. Can you explain how these tremulous events moulded you as a poet? And are you a political writer?
Lana: As a part of Croatian culture which brought me up and educated me, many of such bloody events influenced my world view. I have experiences of the Patriotic War which started in 1991 in Croatia, but fortunately I escaped from direct bombshells and blood. I was a witness of near persons’ tragedies. I used to watch distroyed homes and hear dangerous sounds of alarm that warned us it was time to escape to the cellars. In spite of all these, I am happy about the fact that I didn’t touch any arm because I can’t accept killing as the way of solution to conflict. There is no war that can break and stop hatred. So I prefer Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent style. Last weekend I watched the film “Invictus” which speaks about Nelson Mandela’s clever politics, after elections when he became the president. So world history, not only Croatian or European, has influenced me too. Am I a political writer? I am not a member of any political party because I want to keep my own and free opinion – not to vote as any party wants me to vote. I am against every political pressure. My country has to solve the question of expanding corruption and question of judiciary because this system is very slow. I am interested in social justice so I try to write about human rights and egoism in the world of capitalism. I try to do it more as a prose or drama writer than as a poet.
J T: The Illyrian Movement was started in the 1930s by a group of writers for the establishment of a standard language as a counter weight to Hungarian and promotion of Croatian culture and literature. Could you discuss what role literature plays in today’s Croatia and how much importance is given to it?
Lana: Worthy literature can help to see situations from different aspects and form attitudes. But it is not often so powerful. In most cases it acts only as double therapy. It cures a writer who goes beyond traumatic experience and also it cures a reader who wants to move off from everyday problems. In Croatia there is a huge quantity of book publishing I different genre. Most of the readers buy or borrow novels and enjoy their interesting plots. These novels are commercial and cost-effective to their publishers. Readers take them as a sort of escape from everyday life, bored reality or stress. High quality literature is not well sold, also poetry. Life is too fast and most of the readers are not prepared for poetry or philosophical texts. Our culture teaches us to be down to earth. The biggest Croatian publishers want to earn and survive, so they choose the material world marked by capitalist commercialization. Literature is not popular as music or film; it exists in the margins of interests.
J T: Your poems seem to me symbolic with lots of references. Could you discuss something about your predominant themes and techniques?
My poetry is the meeting point of the world inside me and the outdoor world. Sometimes I bring rude news from everyday life into it. Writing poetry, I think of small details. Objects are very often marked by persons. They acquire different and extraordinary meanings. They are unvacillated conquerors of my emotional space. Croatian critics classify my poetry under postmodernism.
J T: What are the contemporary poetic trends existing in Croatian literature?
Lana: Poetry of my homeland has been diverse in the last few decades. Since the beginning of the seventies in the last century it has overweighed with the divisions of postmodernism – we have poets who play with poetical language and poets who still express certain contents with prosaic language. Today you can find in Croatia many ways of poetical writing so that you can meet very different poetical worlds like traditional, confessional, lyrical poetry and actually, poetry of poetical neo-existentialism and extreme playfulness.
J T: Say the importance of translating native language literature into English in today’s world?
Lana: An author who writes in English as his/her native language is in huge advantage because his/her books are available to a large number of readers. For example, a Croatian author can talk only to 4,5 millions of people (many of them don’t read books) and without translations he/she can’t be recognized world wide. The writer stays imprisoned in his/her national frame. But sometimes translations can be so wrong, full of mistakes, and it is better not to be translated than to be translated in such a way. I have terrible experience of poetry translations which took a reader away to a completely unrecognized verses and completely different meaning.
J T: What is your opinion about web journals and magazines for poetry and literature?
Lana: Anyway, I support these journals and magazines. If a Croatian writer wants to see Croatian literary production, there is no problem; he/she can find a printed copy of wanted journal or magazine in a book shop or in a library. But if he/she is interested in foreign literary production, for example American or Indian, he/she can’t find a copy of it in the home land. Web journals and magazines give great solution to get access with the contemporary literature of the world.
J T: You are one of the most recognized poets and writers in Croatia and as a cultural ambassador you have traveled to several countries of the world. Can you share how those travels have moulded your world outlook and how much your writing got influenced?
Lana: I travel all my life through fairy-tales heard in childhood from my mother or grandmother, also adult literature today, geographical books or maps, ethnic music which I like very much… Would I be the same person without the great ideas I got from books and the lucid associations with my favorite artists in whose works I can feel the spirit of their cultures and countries. Yes, physical traveling is a special experience and opportunity to compare the real foreign country with the traveler’s image of that country. Sometimes I am not aware of its influence, but later on, I can recognize it in my remembering or in my literary work. It is possible to find my Indian impressions in a poem, too. But the poem I mentioned is still not translated into English language.
J T: You have even traveled to India once or twice. I also had a rare chance to meet you at Thiruvananthapuram in an international literary festival. The Indian English newspapers gave a very prominent coverage to you. What do you think about India, Indians and the literary scenario here?
Lana: Indian people are very friendly and communicative. I spent 12 days in Maharashtra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and enjoyed the richness of cultural heritage which I witnesed everywhere around me – from architecture to dance, for example Kathakali. Most of the Croatian people have seen articles or pictures of New Delhi, Jaipur or Agra with the unavoidable Taj Mahal, but they don’t know that India is full of beautiful sights. The international festival Kritya was well organized and my husband Davor and I met many talented poets in Thiruvananthapuram. We had the language barrier to understand their poetry well and we caught partial details of reading verses. In spite of this barrier, I felt the strength of Sachidanandan’s poems. I also like very much T. P. Rajeevan’s poetry which I heard first time in Macedonia during Struga Poetry Evenings. I had acquainted with the books of Indian authors before my coming to India. I read Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry 25 years ago. Arundati Roy’s The God of Small Things was very popular in Croatia a few years ago.
J T: You have brought out an anthology along with your long time friend and Indian poet T P Rajeevan. Can you say something about that?
Lana: I am glad that Indian people can get basic impressions of Croatian and European post-socialist poetry. Every anthology is the selector’s subjective choice, especially if an anthology doesn’t include large number of writers. Rajeevan and I included five poets from each country. The anthology offers poetry from countries and poets we could contact because we had to get their permission to publish it. We wanted to include the best poets, most of them already internationally recognized, but I am sure, every anthologist would make small difference in choice of poets and their poems.
J T: Your husband Davor is also a poet. How do you feel about being a rare poet pair today?
Lana: It is a good feeling! We support each others’ work and we are not jealous if our partner is in a better phase. We are benevolent critics to each other and it is really a huge gift. A writer is too emotional and subjective to be open-minded and read his/her own work, but other poets can do it in an unbiased way. Sometimes I criticize Davor because he is afraid to hurt my feelings, so he doesn’t say every mistake he can find in my wording. I tell him to cut down his work more than he wants to cut mine. It gives good effects. As a poet pair we have a chance to travel together and participate together in various festivals in Croatia and abroad – we like it very much.
J T: Can you say something about your other genres like drama, short story and essay?
My short story or drama writing brings out the confessions of its characters and their existentialistic searching. Some of my characters are emotionally walled up. I explore the impossibility of communication in the dehumanized societies. My texts follow the rhythm of reality and touch actual themes, such as genetic modification, cloning, economic recession… My essays try to analyze well known words, give them new meanings and widen their definitions in strange, unconventional ways.
J T: In this young age you have already authored more than ten books, translated into fourteen languages and bestowed with two awards, can you share some of your future plans?
Lana: I don’t want to have many plans because unrealized plans every time bring disappointment. The best news in my life came unexpected. I didn’t plan my favorite poems or short stories. I don’t believe too much in certain things. They can slide. But I have written a new poetry collection and I’d like to publish it next year. Also I want to finish my essay book. I hope to travel to Brussell (Belgium) where my poetry collection in French language was published in May.
J T: Finally, truly speaking you have been one of the finest human beings and friends I have ever met. Can you share your philosophy of life?
Lana: Thank you for your friendly words! Probably my literary wordings know my philosophy of life better than me. Instead of my sentence, I want to quote W. M. Thackeray’s words: “The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. “