KRASSIMIRA DJISSOVA (b. 1979) has studied Psychology, Politics and International Relations in Bulgaria, Scotland and France. In 2006, she won the National Prize for Best Literary Debut “Yuzhna Prolet” for her first book of poetry, “The Abbreviation.” Over the years, her journalistic and literary works have appeared in a number of Bulgarian periodicals, such as Kapital Weekly, LiterNet, Altera Magazine, Kultura Weekly, Krag Magazine, Literaturen Vestnik, Sofia Live, The Economist Yearbook, etc. Her first play, written in English, “Hostages,” was singled out as the Best European Play at the 25th International Radio Playwriting Competition, organized by BBC (2016). Some of her works have been translated in Romanian, Croatian and French.
The staircase to the last floor ends in mid-air
As if planned like this from the very beginning--
leading to that blue, which brings together
the birds of July and our expectations
The only place I can still find you --
in devastated dreams
that outshine this century,
you light a fag to the beat of a street drummer
In your late twenties, although you look older
With no talents we could convert to possessions
Translated by Ekaterina Petrova
How would you describe the relationship between the city and literature?
Geography really is our destiny, so where you are and what you see through the window is not irrelevant. Literature doesn’t require a specific social context in order to appear, but cities—big cities—are the ones that contain and preserve it, at least for the time being. Not just though their cultural institutions, in a broad sense, but first and foremost through the opportunity they afford to experience great literature, to become a stranger, including to one’s own self, to recreate one’s self.
Cities can be viewed as people, and vice versa. Some of them possess a particular precision of the mind and the heart. They allow you to understand better and to feel more deeply. Sometimes they give you the sense that it’s precisely from that one particular place that you communicate with everything that exists. You can spend four days in such a city and in that time experience things that are more significant than when you spend four or forty years in another city. Such a city can restart your life, it can give birth to you anew. Each day is filled with new enchantments, with the almost forgotten pleasure of communication, with a longing to stay, not to leave. You can’t wait to go back out on the streets, to play with chance. Even when they’re partly destroyed, these kinds of cities are filled with life, because they’ve preserved their spirit.
Also important, but in a radically different way, are those cities that have an incredible and especially well-maintained reputation that does not in any way correspond to their real essence. Once you start to broaden and deepen your perspective, you end up falling out of step with the “correct” speed, you fall behind and you get crushed, because everything in those cities unfolds on the basis of extremely simple, and thus destructive, principles. As a result, my own personal map has shrunk significantly—since I consider cosmopolitanism to mean a selection of only the best of everything that exists, rather than a compilation of everything that exists, regardless of how revolting or unbearable it may be. And it seems to me that truly magnificent cities, writers, and poets have at least one thing in common: they stop time at just the right moment. Once they achieve their magnificence, they cease introducing any deforming changes that would take them away from their greatest accomplishments, from the very truth about them.
What do you imagine is the best place for reading poetry in the city?
It’s the place where I’m alone. There are some doors that can’t be opened in the presence of others. I’ve participating in readings, I’ve attended readings, but I don’t think that poetry is a performing art. At the very least, it’s impossible to recreate poetry through an audience, to experience it through an audience. That’s bound to keep you by the entrance, where you’re able to sense it only faintly, and that’s the best-case scenario. Unless you hold it in your hands, and in your thoughts, you have no way of entering and understanding the writing deeply, of going over to the other side, where things have their own different logic, which can’t always be shared with others. In addition, each text has its own voice, and uttering it aloud takes away from its power. When it comes to powerful poems, that is. When the text is weak, it can be read any way whatsoever and can even be made stronger by a live performance, which relies on all kinds of things that have no bearing on the poetry itself, such as the timbre of the reader’s voice, their diction, confidence, charisma, or media reputation. For example, there are recorded readings by Eliot and Sylvia Plath, and their voices don’t correspond to the work. The voice of the text itself can only be felt and understood through a silent reading, it can’t be recreated. So I often feel as though I’ve come across a lion meowing like a domestic cat, or an ocean babbling like a little spring. There are too many contradictions that have to be overcome before coming out on stage, and this is exhausting and completely unnecessary, when the most important thing continues to be the written word. You’re actually closest when you’re furthest away—holding the person’s work in your hands, in spite of the years, in spite of the distance, in spite of death.
What’s the most frightening letter?
It could be a letter like Hawthorne’s “A,” or the McDonald's “M,” which protrudes above the Lovers’ Bridge in Sofia like some kind of totem, like humankind’s greatest accomplishment. It could be any letter, depending on the context and the perspective.
What’s your favorite poem ending?
The ending of the ninth of Giorgos Seferis’ “Summer Solstice” series of poems (translated by Björn Thegeby):
The sea winds and the dew at dawn
are there with no one asking.
Translated by Ekaterina Petrova