One Question Interview: Goran Simic


Goran Simic was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1952 and emigrated to Canada in 1996. His internationally published work includes stories, plays, essays and poems. Since coming to Canada, his published books include Immigrant Blues and From Sarajevo with Sorrow (poems) as well as Yesterday’s People, and Looking for Tito (stories). His new book of poems is Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman.

The acknowledgements for your latest book of poems say you wrote it in English to gauge how comfortable you were in the language and how much you sound like yourself.  What are your thoughts on that?

Since I arrived to Canada my major problem was not to adapt to the new country but to make myself functional as the author of many books published in small languages like Serbo-Croatian, Finnish, Danish, Flemish. After surviving Bosnian war I came from the country of Yugoslavia that ceased to exist, together with the official Serbo-Croatian language as well I was born with. I started with the history of “nowhere man” — to use the definition from my friend writer Aleksandar Hemon. I felt displaced and dislanguaged and fragile coming to Canada armed with five years old kid knowledge of English. The major support to get myself visible came first from my wife Amela and later my girlfriends until they became ex leaving me abandoned in my writing feeling like Mexican cactus replaced to Nunavut. I faced drama of losing myself as the author and was questioning if I was wrong listening to Susan Sontag advice to chose Canada as the best place to set up my new nest.

Following thought that says “if you jump in the river don’t admit you are not swimming,” I started learning English by listening and reading and in that period English Dictionary became my lover and Toronto Reference Library became my homeland. Also I guess my friends became sick and tired of me asking them to do translate some of my work. Friend and poet Fraser Sutherland was a great help.

It took me five years to feel  I can express myself in the language I adopted, and another  seven years to feel comfortable to write in English. The major problem was to find that invisible bridge between my thoughts and language, between me as a fragile baby and me as the author,  refusing to be already mentioned cactus in the snow. I started dreaming in English — even my worst nightmare was that my progress in English will collide with forgetting my mother tongue. Writing in English I faced the fact that I lost lot of English nuances, but I believe that if you have strong idea you don’t have to search for the form because form will find you in any language. Only good poems are translatable in any language.

My journey into  new language territory started with the pain, continued with curiosity and now I am in  the phase of loving it. My poetry book “Sunrise in the eyes of the Snowman,” that I worked on for four years, is my first try to see where did I get. Or simply, to see am I cactus or the snow.

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