interview, proza

Leila Samarrai: Literature in Serbia only exists at the level of gossip

My interview for the online magazine Afirmator (in Serbian)

Leila Samarrai, a Coffee Interview for the online magazine KULT (in Serbian)

In times like these, where we have in Serbia a whole line of parastatal humbugs where everyone aims to attain the role of the Father of the nation, outside of this politicization, the poetic world is thus divided on various sects who don’t recognize the quality and poetic approach of one another. Whenever I think of this I think of Nestor Kukolnik, a court author from the Pushkin era, who remained famous merely for being a blusterer who kept jamming sticks in the wheels of the aforementioned Alexander Sergeyevich, but who was far more reputable in his time; where the two of them stand now is not even worth talking about.

What can I say? These feral times are not all too friendly to poets. But neither are we to it hence I hope that, when it passes (and transience is ever present), there will be enough poetic testimonials about who we were and what times we lived in.

Leila Samarrai, Republic Of Serbia, Belgrade, July 25th, AD 2017

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Leila Samarrai: Literature in Serbia only exists at the level of gossip

Interviewed by Tamara Lujak

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Leila Samarrai is a new author who, one could say, is only now gaining traction in the Serbian literary scene, even though she has already published both a poetry and a short story collection. How she finds her way into the aforementioned literary scene, how she stands out, whether the literary scene even exists or not, all of this and more will be what the budding author will talk about, so – get ready…

 

How do you see poetry?

LS: As a type of shamanistic chant capable of chasing away the darkness within us.

 

‘Poetry is meant to save the world, to reassemble all fragmented things.’ Do you agree with this claim by Hamvas and why?

LS: One can’t help but agree with Hamvas that the new history took many a sacred thing away from man or mankind, thus instead of kings and dignitaries and whathaveyou we have various surrogates in their place, ‘suspicious persons’… The poet remains, and under the shapes and forms of the suspicious persons, by himself, he lives his life under the mask of the (no longer court) jester… So if words are what separates animals from man, from this animalization of the barbaric modern age, who will bring words back into harmony and redeem man if not the poet? But the question is: are there among the poets people that are strong enough, whose magical voice is thunderous enough to resonate in the all-encompassing cacophony reigning over us?

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How does poetry fit into the world (yours and everyone else’s)? Or how does, perhaps, world fit in (your) poetry?

LS: Man is in his own microcosm akin to a personal box, with poetry as its lid which it can defend itself from the world; which can be opened in desire to meet something wider than your own personal reach.

 

How do you deal with the decision of many publishers not to publish poetry collections?

LS: Realistically speaking, this is suicide.

 

What does poetry teach us?

LS: It teaches us how to think, how to express ourselves. Teaches us compassion. There is a quote there from Heine: ‘What does this solitary tear mean? It so blurs my gaze.’ Poetry gives deeper insight to that which we might have missed in the daily rush of things: I believe in man, which is why I say Maybe where there surely must be a Yes.

 

Can we live without poetry?

LS: If we can live without tears and laughter, day and night, zombified under neon lights, in front of our television set, or amid smoke and noise, we can live without poetry, learning and thinking, let someone else do the thinking for us.

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What is poetry to you?

LS: An opportunity to be alone with my thoughts… An opportunity to create something that I could, once called out, show as my own contribution to the world.

 

How would you define poetry?

LS: As an old wise serpent which only occasionally comes out to catch the sun (and scare people).

 

How useful are literary festivals and workshops, can they survive today, in these times of utter poverty, and can you learn something from them?

LS: Learning is a matter of an individual, their desire actually…

 

What did the internet give the authors, and what did it take away from them?

LS: Most certainly a bigger audience, in wider circles…who can nonetheless distill the crux of it all. The Internet is a Babylon where any author can both add and take away a brick laid, depending on one’s affinities.

 

You’re aware that in your line of work (namely writing) there is little ‘coin’ to be had (or rather there is less and less of it), and yet you persist. Why?

LS: You need to be a ‘nerd’ to be a poet, that is without a doubt, and without regard for any monetary compensation; living off of poetry is not all that doable, and success is, evidently, a category always in flux. As far as I’m concerned, I find it natural to express myself in verse, and whether I am far from any kind of recognition, well yes, I am… On the other hand, being recognized in Serbia means picking up all of the provinciality around you and publishing it.Hence why I want to be recognized outside of my country’s borders, because that is indeed recognition – proper recognition.

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According to you, what kind of generations of authors are coming?

LS: The world of prose and poetry is split into various sects which do not recognize the quality and poetic approach of their peers. What will come in the next hundred years from all of this, I shudder to think.

 

How does the contemporary literary scene look like to you?

LS: When you take one look at all of the things being published today, with zero criteria, then it’s clear that our literary scene exists merely due to money. We did not move one step out of communism. Where we were literarily is where we still are, except the market is far smaller, and poverty of intellectual and any other kind far greater. There isn’t even a Serbian literary scene, nor is it allowed to exist. Critics are at their positions, established authors at their own, primarily political, then literary, or artistic. In short, literature in Serbia only exists at the level of gossip

It is a complete systematic collapse here, and with zero respect for the author and copyright, nothing will get better and Serbia will remain a literary black hole, irrespective of the vast number of people willing and capable of writing something.

Nobody publishes poetry collections, because there is no profit there. It is well known: the author has to pay someone to publish their book, this is the alpha and omega of it all. The publisher does not care a bit beyond that. If by any chance the author ‘gains prominence’, then he will be endlessly reprinted, copyright will be broken and the publisher will claim to be doing a favor to the author by these reprints. Printing itself is cheap. For instance, someone’s book of aphorisms or short stories can be sold online, it is also in bookstores, and the author is not at all notified of this, nor has any insight into the matter.

And the publishing itself is reduced to moneymaking. You got the green, you publish the paper. If by chance you become a household name, you will be published, but the ‘sweet sweet cream’ will largely be theirs, the publishers’, and yet they will also tell you how fortunate you are to be published. So, the copyright of your works is completely vulnerable, or nonexistent. The publisher does not give a damn about quality, they don’t even read what you give them, or merely skim through it. Everything comes down to the money, cash that is, and sex. Which is, again, a good topic for a story or a novel, even journalism as a sociological phenomenon, at the end of the day. It is a mark of an era and a country.

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Not to mention the misogyny, the treatment of a woman, a smart, beautiful, attractive woman who, by the way, is an excellent writer. In short, the treatment of meat in Serbian literature.Cheap trafficking and treating the female author as a piece of meat, a sex object with no right to think, but to bow her head. You can be as smart as you want, unless you do what the slime wants you to do, nothing gets published, no career, no living by doing what you love most and know best. Speaking of various chauvinisms, why keep quiet of this one. To me at least, these people are laden with complexes and cannot achieve sexual or amorous pleasure normally, or whatever else they need, and this is where the sickness begins, the blackmail. In everyday circumstances, they know that they cannot reach beautiful, smart and talented women, and they use their pseudo-power to prove themselves to their friends and their own selves. It is cheap trafficking, and I believe that women, in that sense, have it harder than men. Little is written of this, nobody speaks of this, and it is the cancer of life in this here country, in this here system-less system and criminalized society. I still believe that it doesn’t necessarily have to be so, but now I point to the literary world not being a bright-colored gentle butterfly which contains all the beauty of this world. Talented people are leaving, we are losing the intellectuals, we are losing people who could raise this country out of the muck. And then we wonder how Mrkonjić and Ilić become ministers. It is clear: violence and sex, the basis of reality shows, completely transferred into the literary sphere, which should, at least, be a bastion against the flood of pap and primitivism.

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interview, proza

Leila Samarrai: A good author is he who isn’t afraid to speak his mind

Leila Samarrai: A good author is he who isn’t afraid to speak his mind

Interviewed by Tamara Lujak for the online magazine Afirmator.

My interview for the online magazine Afirmator (in Serbian)

A master of the short story form, Leila Samarrai is a published award-winning author. She loves writing, stating that literature is her life, she dreams of having her own manager, like American authors do. Inspired by the Pythons, Charlie Chaplin, as well as everyday events in Serbia, she writes brief, jocular, satirical short stories, filled with anger and bitterness of relief. Delve for a moment into this world of hers.

 

What is the author’s mission?

LS: His mission is to be a good writer and that’s about it. I think this was the main thesis of Joseph Brodsky.

 

Why do you write?

LS: I write out of pleasure, and because I think I have something to say.

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Where do you get your ideas from?

LS: It’s simple, I bang my hand against the table, a genie appears from the magic lamp, bows and says “What’ll ya have, oh Magistra Ludi?!” I then make a wish that gets instantly fulfilled.

 

What makes good poetry or art and how would you define the craft of the poets?

LS: Art is a game. Poetry as well. At the end of the day, you either know how to play it or not…

 

What, according to you, is a good author?

LS: A good author is he who isn’t afraid to speak his mind; he who dictates the art of the verse. A scribbler who merely keeps quiet and enjoys being lauded is nothing but a reader with nothing of importance to do. He whose written word trickles from his wounds into the world and onto paper is not afraid to both praise and criticize, this is what he strives towards.

 

What is literature and the purpose of art to you?

LS: Survival of the human species.

 

How did you come to the idea of publishing Boris K. (Everest Media, Belgrade, 2013)?

LS: In the age of absurd events in Serbia, which clash common sense, it wasn’t all that difficult to be inspired, to write an absurd satire in the manner of Monty Python, or even Chaplin or a science fiction space-time traveler, which would reflect reality in the mirror of old woman Valentine. Pythonesque burlesques interspersed with a Kafkaesque atmosphere reflected in the name of the titular hero are merely some of the references that build up the overall feel of the novel. Why Kafkaesque? Because Boris K. is, even with all of his Johnny Bravo capabilities, merely a regular, tiny man in a sophisticated cog of the system which makes mincemeat of the sophisticated, but grinds it well. The Johnny Bravo effect, the muscles of the superhero are but a part of this comedy of the absurd, because the hyperboles I like utilizing, sometimes to their upper limits in order to strengthen the absurd and highlight it in the process, are but one piece of the comedy and that comedy, so to speak, gets more comical.

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At International Belgrade Book Fair, with Zoran Stefanovic, the reviewer of my book “The Adventures Of Boris K”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoran_Stefanovi%C4%87

How did Boris K. come about?

LS: First of all, if we don’t take into account the scientific theories of existence of parallel universes, in the present day Serbia as it is, unfortunately, we can notice that in order to merely survive the people need to live in some sort of personal universe, to be ‘deluded’, as the British would say. Those with more creativity can craft up to five-six roles… Don’t many of the Munchausens find refuge in their own lies? Still, Boris K. moves through worlds of alternative history and his fate is resolved in a satirical science fiction novel which is in the process of creation, and all of this close to the encounter with the aliens of civilization number 5. But more on this some other time…

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Can we expect a sequel to Boris K.’s adventures?

LS: As someone who feels at home with long form writing, I admit that would be rather easy work were it not extremely difficult to someone whom struggles with rationality, mathematical focus and dramatic precision, but let’s say it takes time for the plot to come together, the answer is as follows: you can, the ideas are everywhere (I agree with Plato on this one), maybe not as soon as I would want them to. Boris K. is not just a short story, he is an omnipresent avatar and a portrait of an undisciplined, yet witty cosmopolitan man. And he demands only the best of plots, a beginning, plot points, my favorite peripety and a witty resolution with hints of bitter irony aimed at the society around us.

 

What are you working on at the moment?

LS: Like a sculptor I chisel away at a novel made of tangled tales waging wars for each individual sentence. This work does not demand precision in the sense of a well-rounded plot, it is fantasy in and of itself, a fantasy where the awoken sleepwalk. The novel fits my narrative sensibilities which focus both on the plot and the character nuances and has the attributes of magical realism, therefore I’m good at it and enjoy working on it. I hope to leave a footstep in the snow with it somewhere in the distant north, where the plot is happening…for the future storytellers of the same genre (magical fantasy).  Officially this genre does not exist, or rather is not named as such. There is magical realism, but this is a work of magical fantasy.

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Any advice for upcoming authors?

LS: Don’t walk the same track as others. Break patterns and remember that Kafka was extremely insecure. He considered himself a bad author, which he masked with hysterical laughter (a sort of compensation for shame) whenever his friends were talking him into reading his works aloud. Also, he wrote them late at night. This is not the type of advice you should heed if you’re an early bird.

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interview, proza

Leila Samarrai: Dobar pisac je onaj koji se ne boji da progovori

http://afirmator.org/leila-samarrai-dobar-pisac-je-onaj-koji-se-ne-boji-da-progovori/

Majstor kratke priče, Leila Samarrai objavljivana je i nagrađivana mlada autorka. Voli da piše, živi za književnost, sanja o tome da, poput američkih pisaca, ima svog menadžera. Inspirisana Montipajdonovcima, Čaplinom, svakodnevnom situacijom u našoj zemlji, stvara britke, šaljive, satirične priče, pune oslobađajućeg jeda i gorčine. Uronite za trenutak u njen svet.

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Šta je zadatak pisca?

Zadatak pisca je da dobro piše i to je sve. Čini mi se da je to udarna teza Josifa Brodskog.

Zašto pišete?

Iz zadovoljstva, i zato što smatram da imam šta da kažem.

Odakle crpite ideje?

Jednostavno je, ja kad lupim šakom o sto, pojavi se duh iz čarobne lampe, pokloni mi se i kaže: „Izvol’te, o Magistra Ludi!“ Tad izrazim svoju želju koja mi istog trena biva ispunjena.

Šta je dobra poezija/umetnost i kako biste definisali pesničko umeće?

Umetnost je igra. Poezija je igra. Na kraju dana, ili znaš da se igraš ili ne…

Šta je za vas dobar pisac?

Dobar pisac je onaj koji se ne boji da progovori; onaj koji diktira umetnost pisane reči. Pisac koji škraba i samo ćuti i kupi hvalospeve nije ništa do dokoni čitalac. Onaj kome pisana reč ističe kroz rane u svet i pada na papir, ne libi se da da i kritiku i hvalu, tome stremi.

Šta je za vas književnost i svrha umetnosti?

Preživljavanje ljudskog roda.

Kako ste došli na ideju da napišete Borisa K („Everest media“, Beograd, 2013)?

U doba apsurdnih događaja u Srbiji, koji idu protiv zdravog razuma, nije bilo teško doći na ideju, da se u duhu Monti Pajtona, pa možda i Čaplina ili NF putnika kroz prostor i vreme, napiše apsurdna satira koja bi reflektovala stvarnost u baba Valentininom ogledalu. Pajtonovske burleske u sprezi sa kafkijanskom atmosferom na šta prvo sugeriše ime junaka, samo su neke od referenci koje grade atmosferu. Zašto kafkijanski? Zato što je Boris K. i pored svojih Džoni Bravo moći samo običan, mali čovek u sofisticiranom točkiću sistema koji melje sofisticirano, ali melje. Džoni Bravo efekat, mišice superheroja su deo komedije apsurda, jer hiperbole koje volim da koristim, ponekad i do krajnjih granica ne bih li išla na ruku apsurdu te ga naglasila, deo su komedije i komedija, da tako kažem, dobija na komičnosti.

Kako je delo nastalo?                                                                16

Najpre, ako ne uzimamo u obzir naučne teorije o postojanju paralelnih svetova, u Srbiji danas takvoj kakva, nažalost, jeste, primećujemo da je za goli opstanak neretko neophodno da ljudi žive u nekoj vrsti vlastitih univerzuma, što bi Englezi rekli „deluded..“ Kreativniji razviju i do pet i šest uloga… Zar mnogi Minhauzeni ne nađoše utočište u svojim lažima? No, Boris K. nije lažov. On je nešto poput anti-zemlje. Podignut je na nivo univerzalnog junaka koji predstavlja sve ostale i date su mu, autorskom rukom, nesagledive moći, isto onako kako su mu svemoćnom rukom fenomenizacija u alternativnoj republici oduzete… Tako se Boris K. kreće kroz alternativno – istorijske svetove i njegova sudbina se razrešava u jednom SF satiričnom romanu koji je u procesu stvaranja, a sve pri susretu sa vanzemaljcima civilizacije br. 5. No, o tome nekom drugom prilikom…

Možemo li da očekujemo nastavak avantura Borisa K?

Kao neko kome je duža forma prirodan način izražavanja, priznajem da bi to bio veoma lak posao da nije veoma teško nekome kome racionalnost, matematička fokusiranost i dramaturška preciznost nisu jača strana, ali recimo da zahteva vreme da se fabula sklopi, odgovor je sledeći: biće, ideje su na svakom koraku (delim Platonov stav), možda ne tako brzo kao što bih želela. Boris K. nije samo kratka priča, on je sveprisutni avatar i portret nedisciplinovanog, premda dovitljivog kosmopolite. I zahteva samo najbolje sklopljenu fabulu, početak, zaplet, omiljenu mi peripetiju i duhovit rasplet s primesama gorke ironije na račun društva.

Na čemu trenutno radite?

Poput vajara dletom krešem jedan roman sastavljen od isprepletanih pripovesti boreći se za svaku rečenicu. Taj rad ne zahteva preciznost u smislu formirane fabule, on je sam po sebi fantazija po kojoj se budan hoda i mesečari. Roman odgovara mom pripovedačkom senzibilitetu koji se fokusira kako na radnju, tako i na nijansiranje karaktera i ima osobine magijskog realizma, te mi ide od ruke i beskrajno uživam u radu. Nadam se da ću njime ostaviti na dalekom severu, gde je lokacirana radnja, trag u snegu… za buduće naratore istoga žanra (magijske fantastike). Taj žanr oficijelno ne postoji, tačnije nije mu nadenut to ime. Postoji magiski realizam, ali ovo jeste roman iz oblasti magijske fantastike.

Savet mlađim piscima?

Ne idite utabanim stazama. Kršite šablone i setite se da je Kafka bio izuzetno nesiguran u sebe. Smatrao je da ne zna da piše, što je prikrivao histeričnim smehom (neka vrsta kompentzacije za stid) kada su ga prijatelji nagovarali da im naglas čita svoje radove. Takođe, pisao ih je pozno u noć. Ovaj savet ne morate poslušati, ako ste ranoranilac 🙂

 

Razgovor vodila

Tamara Lujak

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interview, proza

Leila Samarrai: A good writer is one who is not afraid to speak out interviewed for “Afirmator”, the magazine for the arts and social issues, by Tamara Lujak

http://afirmator.org/leila-samarrai-dobar-pisac-je-onaj-koji-se-ne-boji-da-progovori/

The master of of the short story, Leila Samarrai is both published and
award-winning young author. She loves to write, she lives for the
literature, she dreams about having her own manager, like
American writers. Inspired by the Monty Python, by Chaplin, by
everyday situations in our country, she creates sharp, funny,
satirical stories, full of liberating rage and bitterness. Dive into
her world, for a moment…

What is the task of the writer?

The task of the writer is to write well and that’s all. It seems to me
that this is the striking thesis of Joseph Brodsky.

Why do you write?

For pleasure, and because I believe that I have something to say…

Where do you get your ideas?

Is simply, when I hit the table with my fist, a genie from the magic
lamp appears, bowing down to me, saying: “I beg your pardon,
my Magistra Ludi” Then I express my desire which is, immediately,
fulfilled.

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What is a good poetry/art and how would you define a poetic
skill?

Art is a game. Poetry is a game. At the end of the day, either
you know how to play or not…

What is a good writer to you?

A good writer is the one who is not afraid to speak up; the one who
dictates the art of the written word. A writer who only scribbles
in silence collecting praises is nothing but an idle reader. He to
whom the written word is flowing through the wounds in the
world descending to the paper, he does not hesitate to give either
criticism or praise. It is his aspiration.

What is the best literature and the purpose of art?

The survival of the human race.

Where did you get the idea to write Boris K (“Everest media”,
Belgrade, 2013)?

In the age of absurd events in Serbia, which go against common
sense, it was not difficult to come up with the idea to write an
absurd satire which would reflect the reality in the witch’s “old
woman Valentina” mirror . Pythonesque burlesque in conjunction
with Kafkaesque atmosphere, in the spirit of Monty Python and
perhaps Chaplin or SF passenger through space and time, are just
some of the references that build the atmosphere. Why
Kafkaesque? Because Boris K. in spite of his Johnny Bravo
powers and abilities is just plain, small, but not so common man,
milled by the wheel of the kafkaesque torture machine “in the
penal colony” – which grinds and bites, in a sophisticated way, but
it… kills … Johnny Bravo effect, the muscles of superhero are
part of the comedy of the absurd. The hyperbole that I like to use,
sometimes to the extreme, is part of the comedy and the comedy,
so to speak, becomes even more comical.

Can we expect a continuation of The Adventures Of Boris K?

Yes, you can. Ideas ideas everywhere.. (I share Plato’s thought), Boris K. is not only the satire – short story hero, he is an omnipresent avatar representing disruptive, although an imaginative cosmopolitan. He deserves the best assembled fable, the beginning, the plot, my favorite peripetia and spicy denouement with a touch of bitter irony at the expense of society.

What are you currently doing?

Like a sculptor, I am chiseling a novel made up of interwoven narratives, fighting for each sentence. This work does not require precision in terms of the well formed plot. It is itself a sleepwalker fantasy in which the vigilant one walks in the dream. It is surreal, like moonwalking…
The title is “The Sleeping Matilde”. It has something magical in it, for me… It follows my narrative sensibility focused not only to action but on shading of complex characters in novel. It has the characteristics of magical realism and’m good at it and I am endlessly enjoying in my work.

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Tips to the younger writers?

Go not by the beaten paths. Break the patterns and remember that Kafka, who was the genius, was very unsure of himself. He thought he did not know to write, which he covered up by his famous hysterical laughter when urged to read aloud his works to his friends… Also, he wrote late into the night. This advice does not apply to you if you’re an early riser 🙂

translated from Serbian into English: Leila Samarrai

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