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Review: Six Macedonian Poets, ed. Igor Isakovski

It is now more than twenty years since the ground shifted under people's feet in Eastern Europe and the tremors continue to be felt, not least in the literary culture of the smaller language communities. No publisher has been more scrupulous in giving a translated voice to these minority literatures than Arc, who have recently added these three titles to an already substantial list. The other two volumes under review have a more limited scope, a sharper focus, and a modest allowance of pages. They are both included in Arc's excellent series 'New Voices from Europe and Beyond', with each volume restricted to a selection of work by six poets.

Macedonia has its own annual poetry event, the Struga Poetry Evenings, an international jamboree that has been running for several decades. But it is more like a state ceremony, enjoying government patronage (and attendance) and climaxing in the presentation of a laureateship, always to a safely well-known poet, in the ancient cathedral. It seems clearly designed to put the Macedonian language and culture on an international stage and the local manner of poetry on display always used to be reminiscent of nineteenth century Romantic nationalism. But all this is changing, not least through the efforts of Igor Isakovski, editor of Six Macedonian Poets and energetic director of the new cultural institution Blesok. The array of styles included in this Arc anthology is extremely diverse, and seems out of all proportion to the size of the population and its historic struggle to achieve and define an independent culture. Looking at the work of the six chosen poets is like watching the national learning curve rise ever more steeply, so much so, that it seems incontrovertible to claim: the younger the poet, the better the poetry The youngest poet here, Lidija Dimkovska, is an unstoppable force.

Manically articulate, headlong, brimming with ideas, every poem by Dimkovska seems unleashed and racing out of control. A tidal wave of eloquence, this scrabbling poetic seems to offer itself up for diagnosis, but the symptoms under observation are not confined to the body and psyche of the poet, extending well beyond her individual case history to embrace an entire national condition. The reader is pelted with data surplus to requirements, but that excess is the outcome of long hibernation, of a hidden larval development, that has finally come out of hiding:

Flood is the ripeness of drought
as death is the ripeness of life.
At night I go to bed with floats on my knees and elbows
in case I'm swept away by the waters.

In the end, Dimkovska is defenceless against her own fluency, alternately empowering and undermining, uniting and dissolving whatever lies in its path. with all the momentum of a long history behind it. It seems right that the Struga Poetry Evenings should take place by the banks of the Black River Drin, but Dimkovska's work is a white-rafting experience.