Tihomir Jancovski is a Macedonian poet, translator, and columnist. Having traveled and studied all Europe, Jancovski gained a series of practical experiences, including those of a paperboy, musician, and journalist, which translated into nine published books of poetry.
This interview first appeared in museindia.com
Interview by Usha Akella (2012)
"Poetry writing... is a highly charged emotional state that flares up occasionally"
Usha Akella: You come from the country that hosts the longest poetry festival- Struga Poetry Evenings. Why and how has poetry come to be such a cellular ingredient in Macedonian cultural life? Historically? Politically?
Tihomir Jancovski: It is not a recent occurrence: Macedonia has been known as a country of long-standing poetic tradition and Struga is the birth-place of Konstantin Miladinov, a nineteenth-century poet who is the first recognized author in the modern Macedonian literature. Every anthology of modern Macedonian poetry starts with his seminal poem Sorrow for South.
UA: What does it mean to be a Macedonian male poet writing in the 2000s? How spontaneous or self- conscious is the process?
TJ: Poetry writing is not a state of mind and soul that consumes one at all times; it is a highly charged emotional state that flares up occasionally, cannot be neither restrained nor invoked. If it is anything else than this, I, guess, one becomes a hack writer.
UA: A brief overview of Macedonian poetry would be helpful.
What are major thresholds?
TJ: I write poetry but am not a professional literary critic or historian.
UA: Where do you see yourself in the ‘canon’?
TJ: One may say that I am conservative, yet I do not see myself in any ‘canon’.
I simply write and let others experience it in their own way.
UA: Does Macedonian poetry find itself lodged within a larger European paradigm?
TJ: By all means: throughout our turbulent history as a country and a people, we have
been impacted by various and diversified schools of writing and this influence can be
detected in our older poetic oeuvre. As for the contemporary poetic output, poetry is
boundless, though, truth be said, if a body of poetry follows any paradigms, it ceases to be genuine and original.
UA: What is it like for poets in your country? Place of the poet or poetry? What engages a Macedonian reader?
TJ: Macedonia is a small country and it abounds in poets, but the readership is too scanty. Only a very few poets have their readers. At the same time, there are (far) too many whose only readers are their family members and closest friends. Macedonian readers like the kind of poetry they understand and can connect to and not platitudes or cloudy verbiage replete with high phrases and words. Anyway, poetry does not necessarily have to be found in recognized ( critically) established works, instead one can, oftentimes, discover poetry in, for example, lyrics of songs. I think, the best, and most telling, criteria is the response of the readers, that is, whether they avidly embrace it or not.
UA: Publishing avenues for poetry?
TJ: There are many venues that publish poetry but the number of hard copies is small because after all, we are a small country and our readership, that is, the ones who read in Macedonian, is limited. However, lately people have started publishing e-books, and this trend has certainly brought about a wider dissemination of poetry and a renewed interest in it.
UA: Tell us a bit about foreign influences in your work and in Macedonian poetry in general. Who are familiar poets to the Macedonian people
TJ: There are poets that I personally read and like, but their writing style has not affected me. As for the foreign poets we are conversant with, let is suffice to say that since our country belonged to the system that took pride in knowledge and education in general, we have been introduced to the body of poetry from every part of globe, and in that respect we did not discriminate the size of the country on the global scale or its literary tradition, whether in the past or now.
UA: Your poetry is wedded to philosophical musings… in your perception where does one begin and the other end
TJ: All philosophy, in some sense, is poetic, deep down, since it hinges on the quintessential issues in life, and what is more poetic than that: love, death, parting, sorrow… it is just the mode of expression that is different. Poetry is succinct and encapsulates the fundamental truths we face in life, which, in a wider sense and in so many more words, philosophy deals with. Moreover, there are some philosophers whose writing style is as good as poetry (Kierkergard, Plato).
UA: There is an immediacy in your work. A sense of breaking down of time and inviting the reader into the heart of the moment of experience. Comment?
TJ: Poetry is something alive, not just when it is written but every time it is brought back to life by the one who “resurrects” it through the act of reading. That’s why these moments “arrested” in time should remain vivid, poignant, and always brimming with life for the reader. If this quality fades away, poetry is dead and vapid.
UA: Do you have a personal prosody?
TJ: In my poetry, I don’t feel the structure of any poem should be bridled; the rush of words is spontaneous and uninhibited, with minor corrections, of course. I rarely add anything to the first version; more often, I take something out. A word or two.
UA: Tell us a bit about your teaching career?
TJ: My teaching career started when I was 24 and I am still pursuing it: I like the company of young people, still uncorrupted and undefeated by life’s temptations.
UA: Are there Creative Writing programs in Skopje? How does one go about becoming a poet? What do you think of CW programs as designed American universities. Can Poetry be taught?
TJ: Yes, there are CW programs in Skopje. However, I am not an advocate of that approach: one cannot train anyone how to observe, take in, and translate that sensory experience or a reflection on life into verse. Even though the writing process sounds as something simple and accessible to anyone, it is a thing where the end result is greater than the sum of its parts. The God given talent is not something that can be achieved through no amount of hard work. Desire and ambition are not enough.
UA: Tell us a bit about contemporary female poets?
TJ: I’d rather not answer this. I will only say: poetry recognizes no gender. There are only good and bad poets.
UA: What are concerns of contemporary Macedonian poetry?
TJ: I don’t have a full insight into the current situation plaguing Macedonian poets. I don’t belong to any school, stream, or movement in it, and I look at it from the perspective of art. I also hate to be labeled.
UA: Have you achieved what you want to as a poet? Not in terms of external success but as a craft?
TJ: When I was a teenager, there was a music record that featured a motto: “One should love the art in himself, not himself in art.” I never had any ambitions to turn this love of mine into a lucrative career. I do it because it’s part of me, it’s who I am: Tihomir.