New and Selected Sorrows draws on Goran Simić’s earlier collections, notably Immigrant Blues, Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman and From Sarajevo with Sorrow, together with a new sequence, ‘Wind in the straight-jacket’ and many poems published in English for the first time. It is a book about passports and borders, rats and wolves, soldiers and ghosts. It is a record of the realities – and the unrealities – of life in the Balkans, narrated by ‘an ordinary man with ears of ordinary silk’, whose sees the face of sorrow in ‘the Sarajevo wind leafing through newspapers / glued to the street by a puddle of blood’.
I love my accent, I love that wild sea which attacks my weak tongue. It doesn’t reside in the morning radio news as much as in the rustle of the job-offer flyers stapled to the street poles. In my accent you can find my past, the different me who still talks with imagined fish in a glass of water. My grandfather was a fisherman and I grew up on a dock waiting for him to come back. He built a gigantic aquarium when I was born and every time he brought a fish he named it immediately by some word I had to learn until the next came… next came… next came. I remember the first two were called ‘I am’ and after that the beauty of language came to me through the shining scales. I learned by watching the aquarium and recognizing the words by the silent colours. After returning home my grandfather would spend whole nights making sentences by combining the fish who would pass each other. It’s how I learned to speak. I left the house the day my grandfather went fishing for a black fish he was missing and never came back. Now I am sitting in the middle of my empty room as in an aquarium and talking with the ghosts of the fish I used to recognize as words, talking with the shadows floating over the flyers ripped off street poles. ‘I love my accent… I love my accent…’ I repeat it again and again so as not to ask myself: Who am I now? Am I real or just the black fish my grandfather failed to catch?
I am an ordinary man with ears of ordinary silk and I speak only with a voice I’ve heard somewhere, a voice like an echo. I’ve given up blunders: that leg of mine intact in the sky was an ordinary crutch made of rosewood and when I talk about flowers my voice smells of earth in which blind moles delve. I’ve given up blunders. I know that rifle ranges, crowded at night with sad people, were invented only because of the law by which they protect somebody from my gunpowder dreams. I admit I sometimes start to cry at night but so do the others. I’ve met many people and they all resembled me. Some hid in the bodies already used as corpses, the others hid in corpses in which an attentive ear can recognize a breath. But they all had obedient eyes. And they liked dogs. I’ve entered maiden’s rooms filled with snow, I’ve sniffed empty bedclothes and imagined black stockings removed from maiden legs only for me. But so did the others. Sometimes from the window I notice breadcrumbs in the hair of women I once loved. But they are now someone else’s women and now that’s somebody else’s bread. I am an ordinary man and it’s clear to me: whenever I was born I’ll die young. I die every day and I am not afraid anymore when in passing I notice my pale face going by the other way. That is why I sleep slowly. Only sometimes I am sad and begin to cry though I don’t know why. And I feel sorry I am crying and sorry I don’t know why. But so do the others.
They returned my passport. A faceless man just came to my door and brought me my passport, still damp from last year’s snow. Your legs, he told me, stick out of our trousers too much and your head thinks more about the victims of a future war than our past and our flag. That’s what he said and ran down the stairs while broken teeth and seagull feathers fell out of his pockets. He took away even his shadow. He returned my face that had been sitting in the police files for years, my smile from the time when I believed that wisdom was as big as a travel bag. He returned my passport when I’d forgotten I ever had it. Perhaps he didn’t know that I often travelled at night, that my skin was full of odors of continents unknown to him and my room full of things meaningful only to me: I brought an icicle from the North, fire from the South, a candle from the East, wind from the West, and I didn’t have to justify to anybody my simple need to avoid maps and routes already travelled by those who came before me. He returned my passport. He brought back the borders and changed me into a simple traveller who will be forced to compare himself. Perhaps that’s why he returned my passport.
‘Soberingly frank but continually fascinating account of life and love among the ruins of civilian privacy, where hitherto-innocent objects – a diary, a shoe box, a radio – seem almost to satirize their owners.’
Sean O’Brien, Sunday Times
‘The brilliance of these poems lies in their detail, their lack of rhetoric, and their passion.’
Helen Dunmore, Observer
‘Goran Simic has written with tact and restraint in daunting and provocative conditions. The fact that his terrifying testimony seems more whispered than screamed is part of its power.’
Dennis O’Driscoll, TLS
‘There is a great deal British poets can learn from this... a serious engagement with literature and the world.’
Mistress Quickly’s Bed
‘an essential chronicler of a conflict which besmirched the 1990s in Europe, and in doing so he exposes, credibly and feelingly, the cost of all war.’
Write Out Loud