Milorad Krystanovich was born in 1950 in Dalmatia, then part of the former Yugoslavia. He studied literature at Split University before becoming a teacher. After conflict engulfed the region, Milorad was sent to safety with relations in the UK in 1992. He learnt English and later joined The Cannon Poets, becoming a founder member of Writers Without Borders and an active and well-respected figure within Birmingham’s poetry and writing community.
Hailed by Jonathan Morley in 2007 as “Birmingham’s finest émigré poet”, Milorad’s published work includes three volumes published by Writers Without Borders. Heaventree Press published the bilingual Four Horizons/Četiri Vidika (2005) and, in English, The Yasen Tree (2007). His penultimate volume, Improvising Memory, was published by Nine Arches Press in 2010. Milorad also taught Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian at the Brasshouse Language Centre in Birmingham and wrote numerous plays and novels for children and young people. Milorad Krystanovich was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2009 and died in September 2011.
“In the shadows of war, loss and longing, a poet seeking his homeland finds his memories and dreams of its distinctive beauty refracted through a second language. These subtle, elusive and potent poems build bridges of imagery and language between the past and present, the lost and found.”
“Here is a rich legacy bypassing Milorad’s difficult final years. The poems seem driven, necessary; Croatia and its language call him back, his distinctively developed English finds image after pertinent image. The book is a bounty of metaphor as he is led by Moses and by delight and necessity of observation and discovery; the natural world seems to come to him to be named. I wonder if the frequent ‘you’ is himself or an other – or heightened to an Other – or these variously. I understand from this book that if we do not see, hear, experience in our own truthful way and make poems with the openness of these poems, then in some crucial sense many of the human world’s possibilities cease to exist.”
– David Hart
“I can’t stop reading these poems. This is work of atmosphere and tone first, narrative second, but it’s a narrative that combines deep melancholy with a hard-won sense of joy in the slightest shaft of light, and the thought it provokes. At times it’s like trying to recall a receding dream or encountering an oracle with an urgent, impossible message for you alone. It’s difficult for me to separate the poems from Milorad’s generosity, gentleness and intense imagination, and in a sense that doesn’t matter as these are so clearly poems by a man who found beauty, saw mystery and took dignity even in confinement.”
– Luke Kennard
Find the Title and its Address
Poetry streams down the river –
reflected in water the sun
floats upstream to you,
crossing the bridge which breathes in
The air cannot harm you
until dusk, until night.
When you fall asleep
you have nowhere to go
apart from your need
to release your dream – the flowers
ascending through their colour.
Always in the middle between
you and the beauty you seek
the mirror handles the transparency of beyond –
stranded in the form only you can stand –
the vase on the inner window-sill,
the juvenile snow on the outer.
You put yourself into the music
as time slips through your fingers.
The piano is exposed to the cone
of light more than to the snowflakes falling
on the roof of the house you’re playing in:
there is no audience apart from the flowers.
On today’s element of February air
you release nothing but two tears of joy
and watch how the ripples quickly extend
the glimmer from your eyes. Light settles
like the reality of what could be winched up
from your memory well, rising curled
within the motion against the substantial force,
reshaping itself in the slowness of a bucket.
Whilst thirst gratifies the garden borders
where the awakening beats for another repetition,
you face different directions of rejuvenated love
and return to the depths of the flower petals.
The Pond, a Garden Catalyst
The remnants of a huge, old canvas are
pinned to the window-frame
to be a curtain within today;
the leaves more still than the pond,
their colour exhibited on the ground display.
My sorrows have no other place to grow
but where they are:
the drops on my sunglasses neither reflect
sunshine from the table in the restaurant terrace
nor the eyes of the passers-by.
The south breeze settles in the ivy branches
overgrown across the outer wall;
it is only the rhythm of stillness in opposition.
I need just one gust to hear a candle flame
blowing through the perception of space.
It is more difficult to appear than to disappear:
the niche cannot become a mirror
nor can the air help me to carry my own weight,
to pass through myself before I read the distance –
another empty hug.
Even if I begin to sing birdsong just as it is
I cannot reach the blackbird on a jasmine branch;
taken by the night
the colour of the feathers coud be
gathered from the footpath.
Caressed by the veil of my breath
the shadow of a viewfinder seeks
freedom from the midday shade;
in the line of others, even the beauty of the park
flows to the bridge of uncertainty.
A lantern, lit with a simple touch
is the limited option of my window.
My pond is not abandoned but left alone:
water cannot navigate the clouds
nor can dusk fade them.
At the hideaway where the leaves do not fall
but turn to sawdust,
I could consult the sky,
giving me air but not sunlight:
this enigma from within.
The space between the glass and the canvas is
foreshortened within the picture-frame:
I stare not at the wall but at the painting –
where water is the origin of silence,
rooted in the surface of my pond.
Find the Title and its Address II
You need a bridge to cross over
to gaze at the reflection
that the water
conjures of being passable:
a marble grasp on your reason
can detonate the blue
empty of clouds,
full of sifting colours funnelled to noon
through your closed eyes, under the seam.
You and the river-bank opposite
are apart from each other,
staring at the horizon –
the sheet of metallic distance
sounds like thunder:
a stone cradled in your palm
has the power
of the shadow weight;
of leaving and not returning to the air –
the element independent of gravity.
Places are always somewhere else,
never in the traces marked with footprints:
a compass cannot help in the search
for a shaft of light from a kitchen,
a shaft without leaving,
without take off, without landing,
only the sound of tap-water dripping
into a sink, the sound which echoes
like a bird, in fear, flying backwards.
Even an entire destination can be reached
by the firm cone of your torchlight
as the flock of your breath touches
its airy nest without peace, without security:
there is no foundation stone for the centre of a family,
only gravel under your feet as if you enter
the season of elsewhere, a common verb
lasting longer than its infinitive, prayer –
a defensive weapon against yourself
as you silence a silence
in the stone of a doorstep.
By the wall, the lantern gives
the only light which belongs
to the house in the dark
while you walk beside the fence, the hedge:
it’s easy to pass by the lantern’s glow
but the evening halts your pace:
the street lights fail to mediate
between your shadow and that of the house.
There is no passer-by to decipher
the murmur from the garden fountain,
you cannot see the ritual of stars
gathered beyond the accumulative sky:
what could the night miss, if you stay
where you are, in the danger of itself?
Find the address before rainwater settles
like vapour in your upturned hat.
from Moses’ Footprints (Nine Arches Press, 2012).
Order Moses’ Footprints.
Visit the blog set up by Milorad’s friends here.
Visit the Nine Arches Press blog.