cover image Sarajevo Blues

Sarajevo Blues

Semezdin Mehmedinovic. City Lights Books, $13.95 (122pp) ISBN 978-0-87286-345-3

For American-born Agee, now a teacher and journalist in Belfast, the height of postmodern sensibility is the West's passive response to televised Serbian war crimes, a sentiment echoed by poet Ferida Durakovic: ""I declare--this is not the calm and distant face of History/ And a little pool of blood."" This anthology of Bosnian poets--defined in Agee's introduction as those committed to multi-ethnic democracy--is the first available in the U.S., and includes searing prose accounts of Serbian-run death camps. But the stance of most poets found here is to find refuge from war in anecdote and imagination. As the journalist and poet Semezdin Mehmedinovic--the most satisfying writer in the collection--observes: ""Everyone in Sarajevo, accustomed to death, lives through so many transcendental experiences that they have already become initiates of some deviant form of Buddhism."" Here, life under siege combines a sense of doom with an absurd inner freedom. Often, as in the confident and expressive poetry of Marko Vesovic, life and death undergo difficult and intricate inversions: ""It's not a thirst shooting up,/ But a growth toward the dead, spread sideways,"" he writes of a white hawthorn tree. The collection as a whole is of uneven quality, and the number of extravagant lines (""AS I PASS THE SO-CALLED STREETS BY THE SO-CALLED BUILDINGS/ OF OUR SO-CALLED CITY"") seem at times strangely clubby and arrogant, especially when the editor juxtaposes concentration camp narratives with travel logs of foreign-born writers. Still, as Faruhdin Zilkic writes of the mark left by a passing bullet, ""it's when a year later/ you recognize the scar on the stone/ where your life went on again"" that survival can become poetry, and this collection lets us give thanks to its power and joy. (Dec.) FYI: Also in December, City Lights will release Semezdin Mehmedinovic's full-length U.S. debut, Sarajevo Blues ($12.95 128p ISBN 0-87286-345-X). The same month, the prolific Sarajevan poet Mario Susko's second U.S. release, Versus Exsul, is due from Yuganta (6 Rushmore Circle, Stamford, Conn. 06905, $12.95 128p ISBN 0-938999-12-5).