First published here on PIW, these recent poems from the forthcoming collection Passwords of Oblivion exemplify the interplay in Sibila Petlevski’s work between the outer and inner worlds.
Sibila Petlevski (1964), poet, novelist, playwright, theatre scholar and literary critic, was born in Zagreb. She is the President of the Croatian Centre of the International PEN, a member of the International PEN Board and a correspondent member of L'Académie Mallarmé. She teaches at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Zagreb where she is the Head of the Drama Department. Petlevski writes in Croatian and in English and some of her English sonnets appeared in Douglas Messerli’s anthology of world authors, 50: A Celebration Of Sun & Moon Classics (Sun & Moon Press, Los Angeles, 1995). Both her poetry and her fiction have been translated into many languages, and she has given readings and public recitals at several international literary events. One of her essays was included in the book, Mein Hermann Hesse – Eine Hommage. 35 Autoren der Gegenwart nehmen Stellung zu Hermann Hesse (Ed. Uli Rothfuss, Quintessenz Verlag, Berlin 2002). Here, for the first time, is a selection from her new, unpublished book of poetry entitled Passwords of Oblivion.
Sibila Petlevski stands apart from the mainstream of Croatian literature. She entered literature as a poet and the poetry seems to direct and underlie all her writing. That is to say that her unrestrained imagination has always been bound by the strict rules borrowed from one or other genre of poetry. The unusual combination of her apparent desire to enter through her writing into some new and uncharted domain on one hand, and the equally readable grid constructed from language and poetical conventions on the other, in the end results in dense and yet very fluid, almost transparent, images. These are scenes from daily life transformed by the intention to show what is essential. They also show the intricate impressions taken from nature on her long, meditative walks.
By placing the labyrinth-like emotional paths charted during a restless introspection side-by-side with detailed descriptions of the outside world, Petlevski manages to produce a hermetic poetry in a certain sense of that term. That kind of hermeticism derives from her considerable erudition, but in her poetry she has never worn the mask of a knowledgeable person nor are her poems written according to some hidden schemata. So, even the most quotidian experience consists of a number of layers that are constantly overlapping, crisscrossing, refilling and erasing each other. A truism of that kind suffuses a large part of modern and contemporary poetry.
Driven by the intuition that poetry is capable of revealing some inner, personal truth, Petlevski successfully expands the realm of lyricism. Her poems bear the marks of confessional poetry but she doesn’t stop there. The same intuition tells her that there is something more going on in the dialogue between two people. The quest for words capable of expressing that tension leads her to the outer boundaries of language beyond which lies silence or muteness. But that is not the goal that we must keep in our minds. It is the quest itself, and we know it, and maybe that is the reason why poetry still matters.
Skok s mjesta (Standing Jump). Logos, Split 1990; Skok od mesto, Macedonian edition translated by Ante Popovski, Misla, Skopje 1990.
Sto aleksandrijskih epigrama (A Hundred Alexandrian Epigrams). SGI, Zagreb 1993.
Babylon. Bibliophilic, multi-language edition with Nevenka Arbanas etchings; languages: Croatian, Dutch, English, German, Italian, Portuguese, Slovene; original in English, Pandora, Zagreb 2000.
Heavy Sleepers. Bibliophilic edition in English with Nevenka Arbanas etchings, Pandora, Zagreb 2000.
Libitina. Bibliophilic edition in English with etchings, Canvas, Zagreb 2002.
Francuska suita (French Suite) (novel). Meandar, Zagreb 1996Koreografija patnje (Choreography of Suffering) (novel with bilingual poetry in English and Croatian). Konzor, Zagreb 2002.
Simptomi moderniteta (Symptoms of Modernity) (theatre studies). International Theatre Institute – Croatian Center, Zagreb 2000.
Kazalište suigre (Theatre of Interplay) (theatre studies). Antibarbarus, Zagreb 2001.
Knjiga o vodi (Book on Water) (children’s book). Kigen, Zagreb 2004.
Vladimir Nazor Award, Annual National Prize for Literature and Arts for the poetry collection A Hundred Alexandrian Epigrams, 1993 .
Petar Brečić Prize for Theatre Studies for the books, Kazalište suigre (Theatre of Interplay) and Simptomi moderniteta (Symptoms of Modernity) , 2001.