Wednesday, July 13, 2005


On the radio, these last few days, recollections of the Srebrenica massacre--7000-8000 Bosnian Muslim civilians, depending on the source you check, handed over from UN protection to be slaughtered a decade ago.

The only American poem I know that grapples with this, or with the Bosnian war in general, is Ammiel Alcalay's from the warring factions.

That it should be a Jewish poet's work pleases me, probably more than it should. That it should be so difficult a work--so jarring a collage of prose and verse, narrative and meditation, language-scrap, and so on --frustrates me, again probably more than it should. What form would be appropriate? And yet, how hard it is to get this read, even for me.

In a better world, Alcalay's work--not just as a poet, but as a translator and essayist, too, or maybe primarily as those--would earn him an important spot in accounts of "secular Jewish culture." He's more secular than many of the thinkers who make it into that rubric, in every sense of the word. (Scholem, Kafka, Benjamin, anyone? That blessed trinity!) As an anti-Zionist, though, he is persona non grata in many Jewish contexts--and, as I say, it's his work as a whole, rather than in any one genre, which one needs to read, and that makes for difficulties, too.

In any case, here is the first page of from the warring factions, before the hard stuff begins. The first MirĂ³ is the painter. The second, with the accent on the "i," is Miro Purivatra, who in 1993 was the director of Bosnian TV (BiHTV); during the war, he was accused by various sides of both "Islamicizing" and "Catholicising" the station. In 2000 he ran the Sarajevo film festival, evidently.) That said, here's the teaser. Enjoy?

MirĂ³ is in The Museum of Modern Art.

Miro is in Sarajevo.

A famous playwright is on stage at Symphony Space and
over the air on NPR.

The announcer calls me twice during a break to find
out how to pronounce the name Izeta.

Izeta is Miro's wife.

They have a dog.

It is December 1st, 1993.

At which we turn the page, and the vexed assemblage begins.

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