Through a process of defamiliarization, including daring imagery and paradoxical juxtapositions, Delimir Rešicki transforms the familiar theme of urban life into “a collage of innumerable particles of mundane events”, according to Miroslav Mićanović.
The lyrical discourse of Delimir Rešicki is the fruit of individual creative consciousness and a call addressed to readers and interpreters of contemporary Croatian poetry. Rešicki’s collection Sretne ulice (Happy Streets) is one of the landmarks of Croatian postmodern poetry. The pronounced defamiliarization, as one of its procedural vehicles, places his verses in opposition to modernist tradition and calls for a reinterpretation of the national literary heritage. This book’s numerous signs and signals point towards the structural rules and ‘language’ employed by other media, in particular film and rock music.
The lyrical narration in Happy Streets proliferates on different levels, signifying diverse experiences of the everyday. The title itself echoes the once popular movie, Streets of Fire, in which the rock music soundtrack plays an essential role, whereas the book’s motto, “Oohh, I was bed/ before she spread lilacs”, is borrowed from Christian Death’s LP, Ashes. The collection Happy Streets could be described as a strange and highly associative mosaic of iconographic signs rendered in carefully crafted poems. Apart from having an irresistible stylistic appeal, this poetry is also a demanding piece of work, requiring solid knowledge of both ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, i.e. rock-music, on the part of the reader, in order to fully grasp its meaning.
The city/street is a well-known theme in Croatian literature. It is a place of confrontations as well as an environment within which the lyrical subject desires to lose himself: “the street quickly/ as an animal by the water/ washes itself with the automatic twitches/ the street will always/ afterwards/ gently nurture you/ like its own offspring.” These verses introduce the first impulse that triggers the narration towards defamiliarization, through hallucinations, recollection and daring imagery where boats float and peacocks bark through the endless cyber corridors of the Internet.
However, the poet’s relationship with the city/street is not a two-way one. The street in the poetry of Delimir Rešicki is not a metaphor for a traumatized personal world. On the contrary, the poet readily embraces it with all its distorted memories of childhood, so that its ‘reality’ is transformed into a collage of innumerable particles of mundane events. Here, one is not dealing with a symbol that stands for something other than itself having already fulfilled the meaning of its own: “have you ever/ looked closely at it/ or at least once walked around some railway station”. The street could easily be recognized and subsequently accepted by the readers even with “the first black/ snowflakes/ flying around” The street leads to the heart of a city, it is a bloodstream inscribed with the city’s rhythm and language, and it is a text surrounded by the constant buzz of the urban hive.
Rešicki’s reluctant break with modern Croatian poetry is perhaps most easily discernible in the poem, ‘Žene u unutrašnjosti još uvijek nose crne marame’ (Women In the Hinterland Still Wear Black Scarves). The poem is infused with stark contrasts and paradoxical juxtapositions already introduced in the subtitle paying homage to the rock musician and highly urban figure, Nick Cave, whereas the hinterland is in our nation always associated with tradition and folklore in general. The poem commences with a highly unexpected, almost bizarre image of fingers dipped into someone’s brain, and moves over to the skillfully depicted, bittersweet scene of women under black scarves on a hot afternoon, finally ending with the equation of rational and irrational, logical and illogical, posed by the rhetorical question about the irrational sources of poetry: “and what to do now/ when the butcher across the street/ already swings his blunted cleaver to break the bones of dogs/ who once in the wintertime supplied me with all of their warm,/ hairy freedom.”
For reasons explained above, Happy Streets should be embraced both by Croatian literature and its readers, this one included, as a happy opportunity allowing us to walk one of the most extraordinary streets of contemporary Croatian poetry.
This essay was originally published in the literary magazine Quorum, 3/4 (1987), but has been shortened, revised and adapted for PIW by the author.