Want to keep up to date with poetry translation news? Sign up to our infrequent email newsletter
Over 40 years
at the cutting edge
of poetry publishing

Review: Dinner with Fish & Mirrors, by Ivana Milankov

Ivana Milankov was born in Serbia in 1952 and is both poet and translator. In her lyrical poems the self - or more significantly the soul - is revealed in mirrors. the book opens with a dramatic monologue in the vice of ages so too Milankova draws on the ancient presence of the Roman Empire in the Balkans and surrounding civilisations of the Middle East. At times as well as lyricism there is also humour in such monologues as in 'A Letter to the Provincial Governor':

'Your honour
I hear that in Your province
my soul is often seen:
an apparition of a camel and stones.'

With any sudden shifts of place and characterisation I found it hard to sense who the 'I' is that speaks, sometimes in supplication, other times arch, grandiose, exalted, confrontational as in 'The Second Coming', sensual often devotional in tone, addressing mysterious beloved, 'John', God, life. This 'I' in turn is visited by 'somebody'. We move 'From fog into fog' and always there is a back-story, a shadow, an invisibility, 'Constantly...behind my life/behind my back (Letters from Persia). The world is 'made of cotton', sometimes glass, experienced through in dreams or through the senses: 'I am that bone/at the edge out-of-mind, lateral/ (@Variation on A Theme'). Milankov most readily explores an inner world. 'What I could call a mind/I collect from butterflies' (Noon In a Glass Bell). At times she adopts the personae of women such as Cleopatra or Cassandra 'No, It Wasn't Raining, Thus Spoke Cassandra' - one of my favourite poems - other times she is Atlantis or an embodiment of consciousness and suffering invoking Christ on the cross (In The White Corners, While They Crucified Me).
Despite James Sutherland Smith's insightful introduction, I was feeling frustrated and overwhelmed in Milankova's poems. Then I began to realise it is multiplicity - God's veils' ('Glass Property') - and the quest itself which her work celebrates. Like Milobedzka she is all too aware of impermanence, of the day when she became 'SAND' ('In My Heart I Have The Spirit or How I Didn't Become Conocrete'). At times she is able to make her peace with this. Other times, there is 'Only longing/neither truth nor lie...'. (To a Geometry Teacker'). '30,000 demons' drink her 'simultaneously', she has become water, mutable, never safe.