Vol. 8, No. 14, Summer 2011
Slavko J. Sedlar, Таквост 3 (Suchness 3); publisher: Saša Važić, Pilotska 13, Batajnica, Serbia; translation: Saša Važić, Language editor and proofreader: Мarc di Saverio; illustrations: Jovo Sedlar; printed by TULI, Vršac, 2010; ISBN 978-86-913829-0-2
Mileta AĆIMOVIĆ IVKOV
SUCH IS LIFE
Slavko Sedlar has been a presence for more than thirty years in our literary lives, or more specifically, in the “pushed aside” field formed by the creation of poems “as short as a breath”—haiku poetry. Over those thirty years, unlike others, disinclined to publish his concise poetic records often, in the last few years he has reached an age when, naturally, one settles one’s accounts, ie: collecting and putting his whole creative legacies between the covers of books. So it happens that, in an approximately short time interval, his books of haiku poetry appear under the suggestive title Suchness.
Beginning with a common title, Slavko's motives within these books show his deeply individual sensibility, as well as his expressive-stylistic particularities; this creative project realizes the entire meaning of his poetry as being a very essential, even thematically determinable, creative treatment of unerring observation, detailed separation and symbolism:
"Dry droppings / mildly shaded by / young dandelion’s petals"
Sedlar displays bitter, but also subtle humor, close to the tradition of the Japanese senryu poem; this is very effective recording of varied pantheistic and epiphanic proclamations, as well as those details from life to which a metaphysic meaning can unquestionably be connected. This is, mostly, expressed in a dejected, melancholic tone, with no declamation or pathos—expressed simply, but ambiguously and deeply. Deciding to shape his haiku poems with due respect to, otherwise rather fixed, even strict, formal frameworks, this poet has included in his content numerous motives from his immediate surroundings and life experiences. In this way, the images, sights, outlines and rituals of everyday life in the Banat plain, with the city of Vrsac as a central toponym, have been functionally included in the content base of most of his poems; also at the same time, one rather broad field of varied intertextually and associatively invoked topics. For some of them, an attentive reader may ascertain that they come from the cultural-historical region partly originating from the poet’s readings, whereas some others are turned toward an evocative-melancholic or even committed reviving of the distinctive facts from his family and national history, that is, from the world of memories. In that way, in these poems by Slavko Sedlar, very suggestively in their statement/image activated numerous different, but mutually conditioned, subjective and epochal representative particulars, have been dynamically brought together into a sensible and symbolic connection. Moreover, they have been so carefully arranged in a brief poetic text that they leave an impression of an utmost existential conviction, authenticity, recognition and familiarity. That is why it can be said that Sedlar’s lyrical observations, in the prevailing number and in considerable measure, possess those recognizable morphological, contextual and semantic-symbolic characteristics and features as
When in an image/poem the reader notices a detail related to natural, seasons’ changes, field work, earthworks, or when a figure of a broken shoot appears in a poem, or when an "old homeland“ is mentioned, as well as the synestesiac “color exhibition,“ or when the whole poem is organized in such a way that it is a successful genre-image:
"A willow's year's growth: / behind every leaf / a piece of sky, “
as well as when the poetic description is made in such a way that it irresistibly reminds us of some poems by the Japanese classic poet Kobayashi Issa:
"Don’t go away, / little sparrow, you are a guest; / I still have some broomcorn;“
the impression that the poet attempts not to make his life images simple copies, superficial snapshots/offprints of that which concentrated, discerning look, watchful and sensible spirit and refined hearing perceive and experience, becomes especially expressive. Sedlar manages, with a measure imposed by a poetically fully aware treatment of the suggestive reduction of the descriptions to the very thematical, symbolic and reflective essence, to express in his poem a deeper emotion, a more profound insight into the complexity of life and the world or, very effectively, humorously and even ethically shaded commentary on the new age crises of humanity and inverse values:
"The Home of the Aged / festival starts / with the help of God."
In this way, these, expressively and intonatevely, rather colorful haiku poems by Slavko Sedlar, become small, filigreedly fringed, lyrical medallions charged with deep meaning and refined by an utmost thematic and descriptive simplicity, suggestivety and reduction. And that is exactly what makes them special and, in their complex simplicity, close to the understanding of the Zen Buddhism philosophy:
"Autumn shadows – / a sand-pile starts to slide down / by itself" —
individually, and even by their sense and meaning, distinctive and valuable. This is what, apart from the others, recommends them, autonomously, recognizably and with a reasonable justification—to last. First of all, because of the strong affirmation of the Antheian principle: man’s close tie with the soil in all-permeating changes and shapes of nature and life. Moreover, because of the most-favored values of Euclidian ideas about the basic life principles and elements. On such a formed basis it becomes possible to say in a poem how:
"At this grave / the glow of granite does not glare / but marigolds bloom,“
and finally, because of a relatively wide circle of intertexual connections and associative stimuli which can be moved in the reader’s consciousness. In such a way the image from the poem:
"In the narrow yard / a titmouse pecks – / the wings bother a pigeon,“
the reader can, in a broad context, associatively and at the same time comparatively, relate to the mythopaeic image of the albatross which, too,
"the giant wings (.. .) prevent from walking,"
as said in this well-known poem by Charles Baudelair.
Everything mentioned above distinctively marks, nominally justifies and confidently situates these polysemantic haiku by Slavko Sedlar—now that they have, finally, seen the light of day between the covers of author’s books—among the most successful accomplishments of Serbian haiku poetry.
(English editor: an’ya)
WHEN SILENCE BEGINS TO TALK
“He, in whose heart art has settled,
is separated from the storms of the cruel world;
before him, full of sweet peace,
a quiet paradise opens in an eternal spring.”
With a poetic soul and a childlike innocence separating him from the cruelty of "idle sailors", Slavko Sedlar takes his time while walking, step by step, through a quiet poetry paradise. Sedlar is like the old haijin who traveled, never fully awake, through green meadows, blossoming cherry trees – who sat up all night at the peaks of mountains to stare at the Moon, only to be nearer to the sky.
Art has no homeland, and a poet has to knock at the furthest doors until he finds his own, which is how Slavko finds haiku! Faithful to the original source, form, prototype, he unites his love of the Oriental traditional poem with it, while remaining an advocate for the protection of his native writing–Cyrillic. His life and work testify there is no great poet without a dignified man.
Аnd in conciseness lies the wisdom of the soul! By means of a wordless poem to express a swollen poetic charge, and not to interpret anything, not to speak of one’s own self, to untie the silence from the heart, to give it a chance to begin to talk; this can be achieved only by exceptional poets who intensively, in solitude, feel a presentment of life flickers, who have a gift to hear, not to listen, to see, not only to look.
For, when silence begins to talk, the sluices of the most muffled sounds open in one’s being; silence is most powerfully disturbed. A bare verse bears the soul of its author, and the reduced language reveals its secrets:
She is better and better to me
but the autumn extinguishes the light
of her eyes
Slavko Sedlar and his dream about an absolute beauty reflect in his poem. Poetry itself has chosen its poet. His haiku poems blossom like buds in a bunch of complex haiku. The essence of poetry and the essence of a poet are in full balance in Slavko’s work, and his collection SUCHNESS is a drop of harmony in the chaos of the world! Everything in his poems is calm, with no sturm und drang, sometimes fringed by a mild melancholy:
morning graveyard paths
are longer and longer
His poems focus on powerful experiences, on the life path he has covered:
Morning star –
the only old friend
of my Father
They reveal a strong love for nature, for all that is weak, feeble, transient:
A young canary in the snow –
last night your guest was
The poet is an inseparable part of nature. The drama and misfortune taking place within nature is felt as his own drama and misfortune. Everything the poet writes about–sings of and cries for–is the most refined expression of his soul. And what is our suffering and pain in the face of the firmament, in the face of the secret of the cosmos? Human life, in the face of the majesty of nature, is but a worthless grain of dust:
An old man burns
his birth certificate: the ashes fall
with the snowflakes
Has everything, which is no more in this world, disappeared, or does it restore as the scent of hyacinths, as the blossoming of a plum orchard, or as the beautiful glow of the Moon, in some other world and time? The poet and thinker, Slavko Sedlar, encompasses, with his tree-lined poem, the wholeness of life, striving to find the way or a shadow of a possible way:
Thick fog –
both roads disappear
at the crossroads
And everything is in balance: good and bad luck, ripening and withering, summer and winter, dream and reality, life and death. And he, who hears the sorrow of hungry sparrows, who co-suffers with a little fly, fallen on its back, who sympathizes with a rose petal which has pricked itself on its own thorn – he, who loves every flicker of plants and animals, sings about death as a supreme destiny, an unavoidable fall after a flight, end after beginning . . . While he composes poetry, he governs it. A present moment, caught by the magic of a verse, preserves the past and future in itself for centuries, forever remaining a trace in eternity.
A swollen drop
drips . . . through the mist
a small universe flashes
That which only clouds and hills can whisper to us, Slavko Sedlar has sung in his haiku, in SUCHNESS. Simply, spontaneously, finely and picturesquely, he has been happy and sad about everything around him. Easily and honestly, subtly and tenderly, he has sent light into the depths of our hearts.
For, “an artist must love life and show us that life is beautiful. Without him, we would suspect it.” (А. France )
March 12, 2010 in the year of our Lord
A LETTER TO SLAVKO SEDLAR
I am writing this review in the form of a letter – intentionally. If this is not a letter in the form of a review, then it is unintentional, for, while I am reading your manuscript, and pondering my "homework,“ to well express my opinion about your work, I am tormented by a realization which approximately goes: “Slavko Sedlar is an author who does not need a review. His name and work are a review of the haiku form which, in our regions, many deny and misunderstand.”
Ever since I was “infected“ by haiku poetry, many years ago, I have known about Slavko Sedlar, one of the doyens, and now already a classical author. I remember: Milijan, Boro, Slavko, Devidé . . . and some others. And a wave coming after them; and more waves to follow. Today we Balkan poets are an unavoidable fact.
When I first read your poem Banat village . . . / In front of every house – / a bench and sickle moon, I felt the joy that lights one up when one encounters paintings of the old masters. Since then, your name, Slavko Sedlar, stands before me as a lighthouse аnd a landmark, and this above image – along with many more – has opened me several new perspectives and has encouraged me to view the world in new ways, apart from those simplified as a standard. Thank you!
Your new manuscript reminds me of the "rumor“ that Slavko writes much, but publishes little, a position of yours I understand: you write because you have to, not because you want to. My personal experience tells me that my best poems escape me before I even think of taking a pen to paper. You write out of your inner need and that is why you have no need to call attention to what you have written. I say, I understand you, but please, dear Slavko Sedlar, do understand us as well, us – your readers, anticipating your verses with keen desire.
Ever since I discovered poetry, it seems to me I have also discovered Vrsac, an almost mythical town to me. First it was the town of Vasko Popa, a poet for poets, and then, afterwards, also the town of Slavko Sedlar, a first-class haiku master. Your and Popa's poetry has helped me more than anything else I have seen and read about Banat in Vojvodina – of course, after Crnjanski. I am now feeling that those positive impulses from the Tower of Vrsac are coming to me, and I feel that town to be somehow mine, too.
I am sure now that your new poems will illuminate new roads and new approaches to the "briefest poem." They are the best picture postcards of the dear Banat soil, the soil that feeds and protects. Your poems help myself and others from other regions and other mentalities to appropriately understand what kind of people you are in Banat; to understand the close unity of man and his soil, no matter how sickly or difficultly he lives. That rootedness which, from its depths, from time past to the future, extracts the most beautiful juices for this time, too, this time which is ours, something we must realize, lest we be lost, lest we discover we have gained nothing from life. You, dear Slavko, through your poetry, and by you personally, guide us to this realization.
Your new haiku collection, rich in scope and content, consists of a good number of great poems; I even consider one third of them to be outstanding. I could write voluminous essays or long lyrics about some of these haiku. When my experience reading your work is very strong, I wonder how much stronger your own experiences must have been, those experiences that resulted in haiku – and I marvel at the way you manage to reduce such large images and all they reflect into appropriate measures of not only the form and genre, but also to leave much of the unsaid so eloquently unsaid; all that taken together creates the highest artistic effects. Let me cite a few poems which might not be the best of yours, but which, in the right way, illustrate my experience of the whole manuscript, and which affirm and protect our dear poetry form in an exemplary manner:
Autumn shadows – / A sand-pile starts to slide down / by itself
At the holy temple doorway / the "devil dance" begins – / fallen leaves
Autumn manure – / Granddad’s wine press / has become a nest
Corn driving – / with the horse the mist / from two nostrils moves slowly
A house on the hill – / even a frozen dog knows / what’s on the host’s mind
Morning graveyard – / a blackbird sings the same / spring song to everyone
Rooks’ nests / protected by military guards / by a powder plant
Concrete dam – / from my ancestors’ mound / frogs sing
This city . . . / The belfry cross rising / from wildflowers
Mom’s grave and / lilies of the valley – that’s / all my old homeland
The Tower of Vrsac / With the former empire’s dust, / an ant moves the sun
Wait for me, swallows, / nor do I have food for winter / any longer
That is how it is, little sparrows, / when you’re loyal to your home, / we share the cold
The more it blossoms, / the more I search for the name / of that yellow stem
Morning star – / the only old friend / of my Father
What tenderness – / a linden caresses the prison bars / with its blossom
Some of these poems I consider to be more worthy than some whole books of others. I believe I do not exaggerate by stating this. And isn't it proof that you should be fast in publishing this book, dear master? You and your work will guarantee that haiku will have a future in the Balkan regions; this is because its foundations are so firm. No recommendation, not even in the form of an official review is necessary, not to you, Master Slavko – not even as a formality. If I were to edit your book, I would only omit something so as to render a more effective expression of the rest; I would change the sequence of words and of the whole verses of some of them; I would not, at any price, "pursue“ seventeen syllables, and even not the 5-7-5 rhythm; I would not always use kigo in the same manner as you – but then, it would be someone else's work, not yours, Mr. Slavko. Even when some of your poems are not "real“ haiku (and what is it – who knows!?), they are excellent short poems, images and verses worthy of recording and reading. You prove that the form, and even the very genre, are secondary. Something is good or not – all the rest is just that – the rest.
One thing is sure: these verses recommend themselves and they will be an honor for our haiku literary production, and for societies and individuals searching for models and teachers. This is a tower of verses which, like the one made of stone on the hill of Vrsac, stands out in our regions.
With best wishes to you and your old and new readers,
Your Zoran Raonić, haijin