Thursday, November 30, 2006



Do Not Awaken Them With Hammers by Lidija Dimkovska
(Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006)

At this age it’s best if somebody else
cuts your umbilical cord,
and I am not afraid of Virginia Woolf,
I fear Lidija Dimkovska. Have you heard of her? (3)

I hadn’t heard of Lidija Dimkovska until reading this bilingual collection (translated from the Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and Peggy Reid), the twelfth book in Ugly Duckling’s Eastern European Poets Series. Dimkovska, born in 1971 in Skopje, Macedonia, has written four books of poetry (Progenies of the East, Fire of Letters, Bitten Nails, and Nobel vs. Nobel) and a novel (Hidden Camera).


Although I’ve always appreciated bilingual editions, even if merely to see the textures of the poem in its original, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a preface from the translators discussing their difficulties, insights, or methods -- especially considering both the protean quality of the work and how, at one point, Dimkovska consciously addresses the translators:

Authorized translator, that’s you, not me. Check it over,
read me again, correct the errors,
give form to the text, give form to me with the tip
of the tongue (lingue / parole). (17)

Although this kind of preface isn’t necessary to enjoy the poems, it would offer the reader some sense of what was lost in translation.


Because there’s nothing formally interesting about these poems (they are almost all single block stanzas, with very little weight / weightlessness employed at the line breaks), the “burden of engagement” relies heavily on content and the speaker’s management / mismanagement of content. Fortunately, Dimkovska skillfully manages vocal / tonal shifting, humor, thematic texturing, and intimate gestures to engage the reader.


From now on I shall speak in onomatopoeia,
Or better, in metaonomatopoeia [...]
We’re having tea, biting each other’s nails
and licking our lips. Chirp chirp! Metachirp metachirp! (5)

“Metaonomatopoeia” aptly describes Dimkovska’s method, and relates to the meta-chirpings of Levertov and Marinetti. From Levertov’s “Some Notes on Organic Form”:

In organic poetry the metric movement, the measure, is the direct expression of the movement of perception. And the sounds, acting together with the measure, are a kind of extended onomatopoeia—I,e., they imitate, not the sounds of an experience [...] but the feeling of an experience, its emotional tone, its texture.

And from Marinetti’s “Geometric and Mechanical Splendour and the Numerical Sensibility”:

There are different kinds of onomatopoeias:

Direct, imitative, elementary, realistic onomatopoeia, which serves to enrich lyricism with brute reality, which keeps it from becoming too abstract or artistic. [...]

Indirect, complex, and analogical onomatopoeia. E.g. in my poem Dunes the onomatopoeia dwn-dum-dwn-dum expresses the circling sound of the African sun and the orange weight of the sun, creating a rapport between sensations of weight, heat, colour, smell, and noise. [...]

Abstract onomatopoeia, noisy, unconscious expression of the most complex and mysterious motions of our sensibility. (E.g. in my poem Dunes, the abstract onomatopoeia ran ran ran corresponds to no natural or mechanical sound, but expresses a state of mind.)

Psychic onomatopoetic harmony, that is the fusion of 2 or 3 abstract onomatopoeias.

Dimkovska’s method of “metaonomatopoeia” combines Levertov’s sense of capturing the feeling, tone, and texture of experience, and Marinetti’s idea of embodying complex and the mysterious motions of consciousness to create a “psychic onomatopoetic harmony” (Dimkovska’s “metachirp”). This difficult compositional method allows the reader to “read read read”:

Let consciousness stream, let my mind stream into the wedding menu:
“brains in breadcrumbs traditional style.”
Tradition is a stream of the unconscious: so if I die, I’ll die of laughter.
In this room? In some other? In a room with a tax number?
My crane, shall I lower you to the ground or leave you in the heavens? (71)

A dynamic, poetic voice streams through this collection in surprising and unexpected ways. The reader never knows if the poet will provide us with hypotactic grounding, or lift our perception across a paratactic paradise:

Had you not set out to conquer the void
between the balcony and Budapest
I wouldn’t have left you without one ear,
I wouldn’t have held you in a total derangement of nerves.
Rimbaud could not foresee everything.
Let him come judge for himself
if life is more expensive than a TV set –
particularly as the Romanians have PRO-TV
and Macedonians have 200,000 refugees –
and if he can be fenced in by a TV screen without turning love
into a public performance of trained cats.
I owe you a small spoon of Immunal for every word
and for your nails – a book of poems on which,
according to decree No. 07-3944/2
issued by the Ministry of Culture, a reduced tax shall be paid. (11)

The poems fluently re-arrange the reader’s nerves through different registers, capturing the harmonies and disharmonies of consciousness. Dimkovska ultimately shows us how “life becomes the avant-garde of the underground absurd” (81):

The walls hurt from my mother’s Gobelin tapestries.
The girl with a small hat, the Pirate Woman, Dirty Jean,
and even more from the photographs hung beside them,
of my sister’s wedding, of the reception of the President’s.
Today they have hung my diploma on a nail.
and room will be made for some Medals of Labor, too.
Tomorrow we should stick up the Orthodox calendar
next to the one which allegedly counts a different time.
Whoever comes leaves traces of themselves,
sticks up small pictures and plastic hooks,
and they hang their shadows around the wall clock
on newly hammered nails.
I had to support the walls with my life till dawn
when the masons came to rebuild them again.
The walls fell asleep, I had already died.
Do not awaken them with hammers, pray do not awaken them,
leave them bare, and me alone with them, and me alone with them. (33

Dimkovska’s poems do not awaken the reader with prosodic or semantic hammers, but with an honest confession:

that art is not – but should be –
a delight, an elixir, communion, massage, homeopathy. (105)


A native of the Pacific island of Gua’han (Guam), Craig Perez immigrated to California in 1995. He recently completed his MFA at the University of San Francisco. He is an assistant fiction editor for Pleiades literary journal, and a poetry editor for the online journal, Switchback. His work has appeared in Watchword, the Redlands Review, Quercus, Galatea Resurrects, Facetime, and String of Small Machines. Visit his blog at


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