Petar Matović

Serbia

Petar Matović is a Serbian poet and essayist. Born in 1978 in Požega, Serbia, he has graduated from Belgrade University, Faculty of Philology with a degree in Serbian Literature. He has published several poetry books: Kamerni komadi (Chamber Pieces), 1997; Koferi Džima Džarmuša (The Suitcases of Jim Jarmusch), 2009 (translations: Walizki Jima Jarmusha, Poland, 2011; Les maletes de Jim Jarmusch, Spain, 2013); Odakle dolaze dabrovi (Where Do Beavers Come From), 2013; Iz srećne republike (From the Happy Republic), 2017 (translation: Од среќната република, North Macedonia, 2020), and  Ne hleb već morfijum – izabrane pesme (Not Bread But Morphine – Selected Poems), Croatia, 2019.  His work has been published in a number of poetry anthologies, and he has participated in several poetry festivals in the Balkan region and abroad. Matović’s poetry has been translated into Polish, English, German, Catalan, Portuguese, Spanish, Galician, Macedonian, Slovenian, Hungarian, Russian, Romanian, Slovak, Italian, and French. His work has been published in renowned magazines and awarded a number of prizes such as ‘Treci Trg’ and ‘Branko Miljković’ poetry awards. He has won scholarships and writer-in-residence programs in Gauda Polonia (2013), Baltic Center for Writers and Translators, Visby, Sweden (2015), Traduki Network, Split (2016), Artist-in-Residence KulturKontakt, Austria (2017), and Q21, Vienna, Austria (2017).


  • Petar Matović’s poetry holds a prominent spot in the panorama of the regional poetry scene. His second poetry book, The Suitcases of Jim Jarmusch (2009), is considered to be one of the pivot points in the coming-through of a poetry generation which Matović himself belongs to. The next two books, Where Do Beavers Come From (2013) and From the Happy Republic (2017), have also been well accepted by the critics and they have ultimately received some well-deserved literary awards. Matović has been widely recognized for his refined style, a poet whose verses interweave vivid poetic images and melancholically-intoned contemplation. The precision of the form, the dedication to stylistic accuracy, and the cutting-off of all things excessive also contribute to the refinement of his poetry. Matović is the kind of poet who is uninterested in any imitation of the ease of the spoken word. To the contrary, with his interventions into the matter of the language he continuously increases the poetic effort. His disrupting of the syntax, his keenness on inversion, his playing with enjambement require the readers’ close attention – an effort with ultimately pays off.

(Branislav Oblučar, Increasing the Poetic Effort: a Preface to Not Bread but Morphine (selected and new poems)). 

  • Where Do Beavers Come From, the third poetry book by Petar Matović, in a way similar to the previous one, The Suitcases of Jim Jarmusch, provokes by its title and draws the reader  in the search of solving a distinct riddle on the cover. Mature, intense, less poetically uniform, but with an exciting deflection from local traditions and patterns of fixed linguistic form, this collection does not leave the reader pleasantly leaned back, reflecting over the mentioned existential matters, but it seeks to awake and to decenter so that the images within will have their effect during the second and the third reading (…) These scenes are often apocalyptically intoned and especially in the poems of the third cycle of Matović’s book they may appear distant, shocking and repulsive to the reader. However, if the first impulse to reject the new is overcome, it will be seen how important is the passage which the poet has created with this cycle – not only for his own poetry and poetics, but for contemporary Serbian poetry as well.

 (Sonja Veselinović, Letopis Matice srpske)

  • With this, poetry has once again been established as an existential necessity of a somewhat different kind. For Matović and his protagonist, its artificial paradise-like spaces are not a terrain of escapism but a profoundly based ontologic ground. It is a bare meal-like necessity, a bitter dinner which soothes the world pain. From The Suitcases of Jim Jarmusch to the present day, Matović’s poems have significantly contributed to contemporary post-Yugoslav poetry.

(Marko Pogačar, Novosti, https://www.portalnovosti.com/knjizevna-kritika-pjesme-iz-sobe)


 

  • Being a renowned  poet in the region with his published books Kamerni komadi (Chamber Pieces), 1997; Koferi Džima Džarmuša (The Suitcases of Jim Jarmusch), 2009, and  Odakle dolaze dabrovi (Where Do Beavers Come From), 2013, Matović received the Branko Miljković Reward in 2017 for his poetry book From the Happy Republic, and his works got translated into Polish (Maximum, Kraków, 2011) and Spanish (La Cantarida, Palma de Mallorca, 2013), after his poetry book Where Do Beavers Come From was published. The long-standing Miljković, like our own Goran Award (both prizes are being awarded since 1971), is expected to “raise the slate” in the context of the author’s further work, as well as those of critical-readership. With this in mind, we can immediately state that we are looking at a brilliant work. What is also interesting is that the whiteness in one verse appears as a pause between the frames, the interruption of the celluloid tape. So with highlighting the whiteness as the contact point, a place of clear insight and feeling, the frames can be marked as the place of the removed world. Removed as there is a distance between the subject and it, a blurry glass through which the former observes and even touches the latter from a distance. Such motifs as a window, a radar, a screen, and a web-cam, in turn, amplify the mediator’s view, while reinforcing the illusion of a ‘glassy’ reality. In parallel they isolate a person (the subject) like a wax figure on display and observe it in a technologized landscape. All the above points to the fact that Matović’s Republic is distinguished by internal coherence and a certain width of meaning, and thus by a wide range of interpretational possibilities. 

(Lucija Butković, Booksa Portal, http://booksa.hr/kolumne/kritike/jasnoca-bjeline)

 

  • In the collection Where Do Beavers Come From highly modernistic poetic heritage is being pre-evaluated and (re-)shaped with significant alterations to their “overcoat”, with sensibility and acts closer to the current poetic moment. What are the changes that the Beavers of Matović’s poetic world bring? The journey whose stops are carefully organized cycles can reveal how the poet gradually expands the horizons of his (poetic) experience, and by “unpacking suitcases”, boldly examines the “angles” of his subjectivity, as well as the attitude towards the (political and social) reality (…) Matović unobtrusively dynamises the reflective poetic expression, the manner important for our contemporary poetry and, in general, for modern Serbian lyrics, striving to stay within what is immanent – testing the configuration of the self with a transparent poetic expression – with the awareness that the sole work of language, the mutual “meander” of poetic speech and existential experience, does not always provide the intersection of these “paths” by the will of the subject.

(Goran Korunovic, from preface to the poetry book Odakle dolaze dabrovi (Where Do Beavers Come From).

 

  • Carefully chosen words point to the profound work considering both the content and the form. Petar Matović’s fourth poetry book is distinguished by the devoted polishing of free verse and, in particular, the functional use of enjambment that link not only the hemistich, the verses and the stanza, but the whole book, its idea and emotion, without allowing it to disperse or dilute. There are no superfluous words in the Happy Republic, there are no unnecessary or used-up emotions even when the events which are spoken about are distant. At times, the reader can appropriate the non-invasive presence of pain, diffusive, though well-known and almost ontological, when the flood of silence overflows the paper, the screen and his/her little chamber in which they dread the totality. Greetings from a happy republic! 

(Jelena Mladenović, Polja magazine, http://polja.rs/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Polja-506-PRINT-203-206.pdf

 

  • The poetic ‘I’ in the poetry of Petar Matović is becoming more and more diffuse from one book to another, it breaks down in the language of the poem, as well as in the world in which the poem is created and which it speaks about. The collection From the Happy Republic in its final effect is the poetic staging of the current political moment on a global level, broken down through the local, post-Yugoslav context. According to Mark Fischer, the illusion of choice within the stunning desert of capitalist realism leads to apathy, reflexive powerlessness, immobilization of citizens. Matović’s poetic subject speaks from the interstices where the possibility of an unambiguous attitude, an unambiguous ideological position, and a clear view of both the present and the future has been rescinded. He is oscillating between abstraction and sensibility, ‘technology’ and ‘warmth’, the virtual and the physical/emotional, between resignation and ‘synchronization’. The worlds in which he moves or which he evokes are halfway between utopia and dystopia. Upon reading From the Happy Republic, we are left with consolation: the future is open, poetry is not dead. Take it or leave it. 

(Goran Lazičić, Gradina magazine) 

 

  • The poetry book From the Happy Republic is an apt attempt to step aside from the conventional poetic angle, which raises questions without providing answers, bringing this type of poetic discourse closer to philosophic discourse. Despite the fact that the author does not really bring forward any specific answers, at least he provides guidance for us to find them on our own. This proves the definite maturity of Petar Matović’s poetic voice, and it is most certainly one of the main reasons behind the success of this book.

(Ivan Damjanović, Social Criticism under Anesthesia, https://eckermann.org.rs/article/angazovanost-pod-anestezijom/  )

 

  • The poem Like the Ganges is the centrepiece of the main cycle (“Capitalism”) from the new poetry edition by Petar Matović (*1978, Užice) entitled Iz srećne republike (From the Happy Republic) and published by the Kulturni centar in Novi Sad. This poem in many respects represents a montage of all of Matovićs’s poetic and intellectual special themes from the other five cycles of this book. It could also be considered the culmination point of motif lines from an earlier edition Poetical Life (Koferi Džima Džarmuša [The Luggage of Jim Jarmusch] 2009; Odakle dolaze dabrovi [Where Beavers Come From], 2013), or as a turning point as well as delta from where river channels extend to something greater – a new theme from which this poetry is elaborated. We will deal later with this greater, unspoken element in this poem. First, we return to the lines of the poem “Like the Ganges” which suggest an interpretation in the form of a journey.

“Like the Ganges” comprises two verses that evoke a Mediterranean reminiscence. The context for this memory is the subject’s insensitive numbness as well as confrontation with the end of life. To ‘feel’ things again the subject escapes into memory games and especially to those moments which he believes emerged from ‘beautiful reminiscences’: August, a Mediterranean house, the heat outdoors and being in the pleasantly cool shade. Silence as the second language of poetry (a favourite topos for Matović) is transformed here into the buzzing sounds of summer and the insects. You might say that the only thing that calms him is the process of profusion surrounding him which happens beyond his control. The second verse is opened with the picture of drought that has begun in mid-springtime. The macabre baritone voice that reads the news (most likely Radio Belgrade 1) concludes the image of the memory and brings back the subject to the melancholy of that here and now. Afterwards, there follows meditative immersion in the world beyond the summer holiday, the Mediterranean, the silence in what brings forth the existential trembling and is identified by the subject as “like the Ganges”.

Having read this poem, its conclusion leaves a lasting impression on the reader because one is finally able to decipher its title. However, if we re-read the poem – and it invites us to do so – we realize that this title, exactly like the end of the poem, reveals a weak, almost phonological connection that leads us to examine an important side track: the Ganges is the holy river of Hindus; Matović’s poem is a literary memorandum about the loss of sacredness. In his poem the Ganges is a ‘river’ but not the Ganges; its mention is a reminder of the old Indian practice of naming all rivers and tributaries of this immense water course ‘like the Ganges’. Therefore, what flows through Matović’s poem also has a similar intent that it arrives at in view of the mythological image: its length (2,500 km), force, connection of unimaginable opposites (the Himalayas and the delta in Bangladesh), the unstoppable flow and ultimately the integration of all tributaries, settlements and neighbouring areas, the sky – the point of its source – and the earth that it flows through as far as its estuary where forgiveness of sins is said to be located. Similarly, there emerges the connection of the living and the dead just like along the riverbanks of the Ganges, where funeral pyres burn endlessly, and from where the ashes mingle with the waters of one of the most polluted rivers of our present time (thanks to the impact of ‘big business’). During the spring rituals, millions of the faithful bathe in these waters.

Matović’s river is not the Ganges but it is very similar to it. We reach it only after the poetic subject has gone back along the path of several ‘terraces of consciousness’ to survey the entire course of the river at the moment of deep meditation. The cipher that helps to overcome the paralyzed state of the poetic subject is ‘credit’ – the only thing with which nowadays one can afford the ‘power of a Ganges’. Now torn from the ‘beautiful reminiscences’ by the macabre voice on the radio, the subject is one of these tributaries that, along with millions of others, one day will flow into the vast bay with immense efforts. Of course, there are many reasons that prevent this goal ever being reached. A single glance back at the high mountains that provide the source of this mystical river shows that ‘there is no snow at all any longer that could melt’. The abyss begins after this verse, as the Unspoken happens: this river (the capital) is not renewed through the natural water cycle but by absorbing millions of tributary rivers (debtors) that flow to its powerful riverbed and fill it without stopping. Of course, the river source is not in the sky, but emerges from the enslavement to debt; it also withdraws from us what we do not have, pumping us out like the biggest river estuary in the world. Its course is unfathomably long: it deprives many debtors of countless months and years in their best years until their lives’ end – at least during their working life.

The Ganges was a river of Mother Nature, of repentance and cleansing, of the renewed return to life, while Matović’s “Like the Ganges” reflects the relentless process of the ‘insemination of capital on the part of the bankers’ that leads to the wide delta where the Unspoken begins: the realm of social inequality. It is here that the entire collection “From the Happy Republic” opens up – the image of a transitioning society (“Povratak sa tržnice” [“Return from the Market”]) observed from the province (“Kako nešto nestaje?”, “Ukus aluminijuma”, “Strepeći od celine” [“How Something Disappears”, “Taste of Aluminium”, “Fear of the Collective”]) and of journeys to Europe’s peripheral regions (“Na perimetru” [“In the Perimeter”] – Split, “Budeći se u oktobru” [“Awakening in October”] – Baltic, “Poljska” [“Poland”] – Remembering the Holocaust) through fragments of religious texts that have long since diagnosed the original sin of democracy or its relationship with capitalism (“Iz dnevnika oca A. Šmemana” [“From the Diary of the Priest A. Schmemann”]). These sources also show the intimate relationship to the Mediterranean, the place of the origin of democracy as well as the later immersion in its subterranean waters, or in other words, the river basin of creditors that represents its main artery. The cycle “New Markets” springs from here in which one suspects the outlines of a loveless world which these lack as much as America and China lack new markets. As the result of these tensions in the collection From the Happy Republicoccasionally sporadic autopoietic sketches emerge exactly like the state of division in the last cycle with the same title. This entire world is contrasted with the fragile intimacy, the usurped warm zones, which still keep together the subject of Matović’s poetry, despite the inevitable onward flow of the rivers to one element that goes by no name – the senselessness of life.

 

Translation from Serbian by Elvira Veselinović

(Saša Ilić, Literhause Europa portal, https://www.literaturhauseuropa.eu/en/topics/articles/the-poet-at-the-confluence-of-capital )

  • Les maletes de Jim Jarmusch, in bilingual edition, is the product of a concrete historical moment, Milosević’s fall, and also the result of a vital situation for an author in the search of poetry and localization of an unknown and chaotic world. These are the energies of a collage book, absorbent, rich and filled with powerful images and cultural references. Reading it marks you. A splendid product. 

(El Pais, https://elpais.com/ccaa/2013/05/15/quadern/1368639129_393554.html