Literature as a European mother tongue: In our series “One is a CROWD”, we introduce you to authors from all over Europe who will be involved in the CROWD omnibus reading tour, taking place from May to July 2016, featuring 100 authors who will be travelling through 15 European countries. We asked them questions about text production, reception and mediation. In case you were wondering what a literary activist from Sofia looks like, meet Tsvetanka Elenkova!
Do you see yourself as an author? Are you the originator and main authority of your text? And if not, who is, if anyone at all?
Nobody is author, but only One – the Word! We all are translators. Having a publishing house Small Stations Press we decided to produce a book with Raymond Carver’s poetry. For that reason we needed to make contact with his widow, the American poet Tess Gallagher, and ask her for the rights. She wanted quite a big amount. We said we are just beginners, could she be more modest? No, she answered, the author is everything. We didn’t agree – the author without translator is not relevant – neither in practical nor in spiritual meaning. You can be a great author and stay incognito for all the world, because a translator didn’t find you; and in spiritual meaning – you can’t be a great author if you are not first of all a good enough translator – to transfer the searching of truth from the Word to the words. The famous Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert says that truth is not a theme of poetry, but of science. He said this ironically, of course. To look for the truth is the only true meaning of poetry and of life. Pilate asked Christ – What is truth? He didn’t answer him simply because the question was asked wrongly, according to the Fathers of the Church. The right question has to be – Who is truth? St Isaac the Syrian says, from another side, “Everything that is above another is concealed from what is beneath it” (Homily 26). So, I rather share his vision – the aim of good poetry is to reveal the truth.
Reading is writing is reading is writing … – why, and if so, how?
I could put travelling at the end. My last two books were inspired by our visiting 140 Orthodox monasteries in Bulgaria and around 30 waterfalls. Thus were born my book with essays on Orthodox frescos called Bulgarian Frescos: Feast of the Root with 125 photographs by the English translator and poet Jonathan Dunne, followed by a poetry book about the faces and figures one can see in the rocks and the water of waterfalls – Magnification Forty. Waterfalls are a kind of revelation. Of course not only through experience but through reading we write, going back and back into the past to the very first words-Word. For me even the title of a book comes before the book itself. My books were fact before I wrote them. Writing also is a question of focus – what you see. Not the trick with the cup (time, text) – put it too close to your eyes and you can’t see it, neither can you too far – but what is at an appropriate distance, that is good. I am personally only interested in focus in terms of the ability to see things – with each focus, different things. You can imagine how many things exist that we don’t see just because our eyes have no lenses set at a certain focus. So for me writing is a question of focus.
What is your favorite literary spot in Sofia? (literary venue, bar, meeting spot etc.)
My favorite literary spot is my home in Sofia, Bulgaria, or any little house in the Bulgarian mountains; the International Writers’ and Translators’ Center of Rhodes; the whole of Greece with the sea; and of course any Orthodox monastery – not to forget that monasteries are the best literary spots. What do monks do? They pray, work with the earth and translate. Every prayer is the highest form of literature, of poetry.
Photo by Daniela Papantcheva