IVAN LANDZHEV (b. 1986) is a poet, scriptwriter, essayist and university lecturer. He has a PhD in Russian literature and has recently published his book “A Poetic of Self-Overcoming: Narrative Strategies in the Later Leo Tolstoy” (2017). His poetry collections include “Blame It on Bobby Fisher” (2010), “We, as the Garret Room Had Us” (2014), which came out in Germany under the title “Wir Mansardenmenschen” in 2017. “You, Constant News” (2020) is latest poetry book. He has several national awards for his poetry, which has been translated into ten languages so far.
We drive down these two cracked, single lanes,
down the bad Balkan road.
Our meeting is as impossible
as it is inevitable.
The beasts will refuse to chase us,
if we don’t hurry.
The landscape will stop sneering at us,
if we don’t hurry.
Somebody will iron out the discrepancies. The music
will fit with the picture – if we don’t hurry.
Look at the little saints, hanging from our
rearview mirrors: they shake ever more menacingly.
Looks like they know.
An accident is still a chance
to set out together.
Translated by Angela Rodel
How would you describe the relationship between literature and the city?
Baudelaire writes that, “The spectator is a ruler who everywhere uses to good advantage his incognito,” or something along these lines. “The crowd is his kingdom, as the air is that for the bird.” Well, there is no crowd in the forest… A writer has the duty to be such a spectator. He may be tempted to withdraw and lead an ascetic life as he approaches old age (and rightly so), but before that he should become familiar with this urban swarm and the nuances in its buzzing. He should measure the city’s streets, so to say.
What do you think would be the best setting for a poetry reading in the city?
If a public reading is what you are implying, this is an organizational issue, which leaves me somewhat indifferent.
Which letter is the scariest?
There are no scary letters. I have lately thought of “Я” (the last letter of the Bulgarian alphabet; Bulgarian pronunciation “Ya”), which seems interesting to me – the end of the language is the beginning of philosophy. And philosophy began in wonder – right? – with a spontaneous “Ya!” (similar to “Wow!” in English) in response to the world and the things in it. I believe that it is very important for anyone who creates art to preserve this “Ya!” and their own capacity to wonder.
What particular ending of a poem is your favourite?
Why, this cannot be answered! Right now, the final verse of “The Eighth Duino Elegy” by Rilke comes to my mind: “[...] so we live, and are always taking leave”*. I am also thinking of a poem by Dylan Thomas that ends like this: “Hands have no tears to flow”. But I may tell you something totally different tomorrow.
* Translated from German into English by A. S. Kline (2004) at: https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/German/Rilke.php#anchor_Toc509812222
Translated by Krassimira Dzhisova