October 20, 2008

Review by Mira Mataric

DEATH’S HOMELAND
by Dragan Dragojlovi
translated by Stanislava Lazarevic

Curbstone Press
321 Jackson Street
Willimantic, CT 06226-1738
ISBN 978-1931896-45-0
2008, 71 pp., $13.95
www.curbstone.org

D. Dragojlovic, as an author of 18 books, has been uniquely popular–read, sold, and reprinted multiple times. Among his many works, poems selected into Death’s Homeland have been acclaimed as the most poignant and moving collection of anti-war poems ever read. In an interview with Jennifer Kanyock and Bonnie Weikel, the author simply states: “Every war, civil wars in particular, mean defeat of all the participants.” He sees the religious motivations behind war as the most brutal and inhumanly appalling of all man’s actions, emphasizing the tragic enigma of how people who believe in a loving God can murder each other, all while claiming their belief in the deity of pure love, peaceful brotherhood and tolerance.

The first poem, “Stone of Woe,” sets the scene by painting a mental landscape of the locale denoted in the title of the book:

However deep
this pain may have sunk into the heart
the next one will sink deeper;
however loud this shriek may have sounded
the next one will be softer…

Console yourself.
We shall be a stone
hardened by grief…
neither in hope, nor in memories,
a stone block
doomed to become a ruin.

The poems that follow paint the shocking, dismal scenery of destruction, desolation, and the senseless devastation of war, the effects of which have turned the author’s homeland into death’s land. The feeling of utter loss, emptiness and grief is particularly overwhelming in “There is no one left”:

Hot July sweeps in
through the door of a ravaged house,
lighting fireflies like icon lamps
over the empty silence…
…here, where…
no one is left.

Dragojlovic‘s descriptive phrases guide us through the surreal landscape of “sooth and ruins” (also one of the titles); “a fragment of the moon…over the shredded forest”; “ the dead, decaying in the sluggish winter sun… staring at us… as if we had never existed…”

“The Day Will Be Over” wonders:

We have become accustomed
to dying, and being wounded,
but what are we to do
with so much grief?

The poem “Lords of Evil” courageously and deeply questions how such destruction is possible: “…Is it that the lords of evil found blind executioners in all of us?”

There are some answers offered, with Dragojlovic urging that “all you have to do is forget” because “in spite of everything, music is heard from somewhere.” The author is concerned with the problem imbedded in the human condition and therefore persistent. But he sees hope in the transformation of the world through awareness and love (“In Spite of Everything”), since we see the truth through loss (“Message”).

This philosophical and humane search for peace and stability amidst the chaos of ruin is always timely and universal, appealing to all because of its objectivity, its lack of taking sides, blaming, or seeking retribution. Brotherhood can be achieved only if we overcome the pull to hate and revenge. These poems make us revisit our own detachment, involvement or participation (no matter how seemingly small) in the joint drama of survival.

Even in its brevity, the profound poem “War Talk,” perfectly sums up Dragojlovic’s message:

It is no good talking of war,
of disaster.
A few words will do:
he was dear to you,
you cherished with reverence
the breath of his soul.

All you have to do
is forget.

When all is lost, forgetting and forgiving is the only way of survival, moving on and beyond. The poem “Words Instead of Forgiveness” goes further: “It makes so little sense to talk” since “words of forgiveness uttered before men are also uttered before God.” This book is an honest attempt to reply to the questions so often asked in times of conflict.

In the last poem and its crown, “Glory Eternal,” Dragojlovic suggests ”forgive your murderer” and “pray for those upon whom you have inflicted suffering and death.” He repeats to himself: “You did what you could, let God complete the rest.”

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Mira N. Mataric was born and raised in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia (known as the Serbian Athens). She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in languages and world literature at the University of Belgrade. Apart from two thousand titles of poetry, prose and translations, Mira has published 28 books (in English and Serbian) on three continents, her poetry also translated into several languages. Her translations from English include modern poetry and prose (Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Michael Moorcock, etc). She is continuously published both in Europe (Serbia) and USA ( by the “Salem Press” , “World Literature Today,” “International Library of Poetry,” “American Srbobran,” “The Serbian Times,” “The Slavic Studies,” “The Association of the Serbian Writers” and more). Mira is the recipient of more than 20 international literary awards. She can be contacted at: ada1 at EUnet.yu