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).
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Visit the blog set up by Milorad’s friends here.
Visit the Nine Arches Press blog.
Milorad Krystanovich was born in Croatia and has lived in Birmingham since 1992. He studied Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham and is a member of Writers Without Borders, Cannon Poets and the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Milorad works as a language teacher at the Brasshouse Centre in Birmingham. Improvising Memory (Nine Arches Press, 2010) is his sixth poetry collection, and follows on from The Yasen Tree (Heaventree Press, 2007).
“You don’t need to imagine me – a man with his photo camera hanging from its strap on his shoulder. For you, I would describe myself as a photographer whose hobby was not a simple black and white technique of evidencing the elements of everyday life … Later on, instead of developing films in a dark-room, I used my notebook and pen and exposed my hands to the lamplight.”
– Milorad Krystanovich
“In Improvising Memory (Nine Arches Press, 2010), Milorad Krystanovich releases the characters trapped in the tableaux of negatives, and breathes into them a remarkable life of their own. Portraits step down from their frames and exist amongst us; before our eyes they age and alter, ponder their own flaws, confines and mysteries.
Krystanovich’s beautifully-detailed series of poems explore the spaces between images and populate them with a patient and delicately-balanced language that moves in circles and echoes, creating a lyrical resonance in the act of both observing and being observed. Freeze-frame fragments become striking and graceful poem-scenes, alive with moments tangible and fleeting, just out of reach or coming into focus at the edge of sight.”
There on the silhouette of this city,
not only the air is bearing
the sign of dusk:
the streetlights cannot turn
their cones upside down
to floodlight the lower sky,
the moss hangs from these street lamps
and expand its shade
but I am missed from that line of green.
There is no division between the evening’s
drama and its denouement
in the dark over the hilly outskirts:
the cat’s eyes are glowing
between the cars on the motorway
where the noise cannot settle down.
Staring at the moon’s capable ascension,
my dog is no longer my companion.
I am left alone in the myth of the earth.
Out of Darkrooms
The lady and the castle-builder
walk along the beach,
a camera hanging around her neck,
his shadow slipping away.
Are you listening to me?
Taking the photograph of a trough,
she cannot hear her own voice
or his reply – yes, if you are the sea.
Wave after wave feeds the moats
around the sand castles,
the breeze creeping across her hair
but not blowing it across the lens.
Are you following the boat?
He paddles in the shallows
and cannot hear himself or her response –
yes, if its sail matches my skirt.
The summer air laces to its frame
in the picture of the low sky:
coping with the sound of water,
the afternoon is their only burden.
She is a photographer of happy faces,
her eyes can see
above the surface of objects:
the sails of her images are anchored
in the place alighted on the glitter
rocking in the fluid for processing films.
She is a darkroom magician
who takes photographs of wakened vases
and new flower pots
but roses, blossoms, wild flowers
appear on the white walls of her studio.
The light of her pictures is brighter
than daylight from the sky’s cupola:
to benefit from her album-niche
he has to shape his sight less carefully,
so as to collect the scattered details of life.
Ripe fruits fall from the branch
as the orchard fears itself
alone in the autumn avalanche:
the quince could not stain grass,
its new home beneath the tree.
In the house full of reflecting objects
only the tongue of a grandfather clock
moans for the past:
as no-one throws earth into a grave,
the echo grows from a coffin.
Whoever consumes air now
between the farm and the graveyard
ruins the arch of stillness:
no-one comes to this empty room
and gathers the quince’s smell
by the fruit basket.
The nightwear folded on a bed
and the note with the marks
of his finger-bones jointly bear silence.
Frost peels birches outdoors,
as he journeys by his hand –
the ink-thread tracks the changes of address.
Recycling moonlight is set
to the letter of bloodlines in an envelope,
the silence runs among the cold interior.
Ash has lost its warmth,
the fire-place knows of other flames
where he can lay his breath.
Not the bird in its cage
but the love-song still haunts her:
each breath struggles –
melting the snowflake
of his kiss on her lip.
Even the word never appears
to be made from ice –
the frozen feather
like a hand-wave flies
over the iron fence:
Is your hand yours
as you wave from the park?
Though he is a birdwatcher
he cannot listen to the bird’s notes:
Iron is iron as cold is cold,
two sides of the iron are
the same colour of cold.
The gate bars are painted
in green from his side,
in yellow-brownish from hers,
and the sliding gate is still between them.
from Improvising Memory (Nine Arches Press, 2010)
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