Most recently, poetess Aksinia Mihailova received the prestigious French Max Jacob Prize with her book The Kiss of Time. This is the second prize from France, following the Guillaume Apolliner Prize in 2014, and the second book written directly in French. The news is a bit of joy in this tense world situation. It is an occasion to feel proud, because it is not only a personal award, at least in my opinion, it is an award for our country and for Bulgarian poetry as a whole. I talk to Axinia from a distance, but her answers are warm and sincere.
Your award-winning poem is called "The Kiss of Time." What is your time?
As a person born in these latitudes, I have a European matrix in which time is linear. The good thing about this idea is that when something in the present makes us feel sad, we can go back. We can design ourselves at another time from our personal experience, in which we were happy, free and protected, in which everything was possible and forthcoming, such as our childhood. Or choose to "sink" into a distant historical age with other values that are closer to us than they are today. For the latter we don't need a time machine, we just have to open a book.
In addition, linear time is constantly creating new prisms, powerful binoculars, through which to explore basic moral and emotional categories such as love, faithfulness, friendship, death, life, mercy ... the future is just three layers that go together, happen at the same time. This click, a flash, becomes instant, in the process of writing, when in the sliding of these simultaneously existent time layers there is a gap and you can see something in the future or see a picture of the past. Just like in dreams. It rarely happens, but when it does, the European notion of time, like a linear event, is already shaken.
There is an opinion that Bulgarian poetry is not at a good enough level to be commensurate with the world. On the other hand, Bulgarian authors get really high honors from foreign competitions, as is the case with you. What is your opinion? Where do we stand globally?
Opinions are usually given to critics and researchers who have a powerful and centuries-old literary tradition behind them. Between the courtly poetic tradition of the troubadour movement, which originated at the end of the XI century in Occitania, and modern French poetry lie ten centuries. What is the basis of Bulgarian poetry, in what century did the founder of Bulgarian Revival literature, Petko R. Slaveikov, begin to adapt Greek and Turkish song-songs in order to lay some foundation in this genre?
This proportion has always been to our detriment. We have always tried to catch up to someone and something, to catch up, to fill in the gaps, hence our low self-esteem. And I think it's high time we put a stop to this. As a matter of course, we respect the foreign literary tradition and its achievements. But let us realize that many of these opinions, which try to push Bulgarian poetry into the periphery, lie on the old laurels. At the end of the last century, many books with translated poetry appeared and are being published now, at the beginning of the XNUMXst century.
Due to the flourishing of technologies and the Internet, we can read what and how our colleagues from all over the world write, what topics excite them, what poetry they create - to compare with them, to compare Bulgarian poetic searches. Then, if we have the senses and the preparation, we will understand that contemporary Bulgarian poetry goes in line with the world. That there is no reason to put ourselves at a lower level. Of course, I'm not talking about "epigone" and imitation of foreign models and fashion poetry. Proof of this are my two poetry books, which have received two of the most prestigious poetry awards in the French-speaking world. Like the confessions of other Bulgarian poets and writers outside Bulgaria.
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For the second time you bring a prestigious award to the publisher. The first prize was in the name of Guillaume Apollinaire for the book "Sky to Lose." In fact, how did the Galimar issue come about?
I have been working with Galimar Publishing House since 1995 when I collaborated with Paradox Publishing House, to which I am grateful that it gave me a chance to be a translator. When my poems in French became quite, and I had a happy period of writing with Heaven for Loss, things just came and went in French. Something that had not happened to me before, even in Bulgarian, I decided that I could think of a book. Anyway I had the coordinates of Galimar Publishing House. Although it sounds crazy, considering what kind of authors were published there (I just want to mention that one of the top three published in The white collection of the publishing house when it was created in 1911, is not anyone but St. John Perce), I decided to send my manuscript there. I had nothing to lose. And it happened. The Kiss of Time, the second book, was sent under a clause in the first contract. And I'm happy that it was accepted and published! I had some concerns because, according to some French colleagues, it is much harder to publish a second book in Galimar than the first.
Can you compare your poetry with that of your French colleagues? What sets you apart from them, and what do you think they value most in your poetry?
I do not like generalizations, but it seems to me that the French are closer to reason than to heart. They have a deep respect for philosophy, the rationale, the idea in its purest form, which is historically conditioned. In addition, in recent decades, all types of art have tended to fragment, experiment, reduce the image and the idea to a mark and abstraction. I see nothing wrong with this when it comes from the nature and the individual creative palette of the author, not an attempt to emulate a certain fashion and follow external rules. If the poet breathes fragmentarily and sees the world this way - wonderful. But if he breathes in color, smell, image and wants to suppress them, simply because it is not 'modern', because others do not write that way, because it will not be quoted here or abroad, much less so for poetry. I could probably be counted on the lyrical poetic tradition in French poetry.
And what I value most is hard to answer. I hope its authenticity, simplicity of expression and ability of the poems to touch not only the mind but also the heart.
How do you decide which exact poem to write in French and which in Bulgarian? Do phrases come directly to you in a foreign language or are you thinking in advance about what and how to write it?
When a poem comes, it comes with its form, rhythm and language. Language is secondary to creative energy. But for sure, the channel my native language runs on always stays on. The creative act of writing poetry is a breakthrough, short on, intense. No, I am not thinking in advance what to write in either Bulgarian or French. That would kill any poem. Because at the time of writing you are another, obsessed. You're here and you're not. You vibrate at different frequencies. You feel humble and small because you realize that there is something bigger than you on which you are a momentary conductor.
But you can't "control" it. You can't summon him when you want. You can only be grateful when it comes down to you. And at the same time you feel "chosen" and happy, because in those moments you are part of one whole, of one common energy. These are rare moments. Those who have experienced them at least once in their lives know. The language you write is irrelevant. It is a material, a means by which creative energy gains flesh. Like the brush and oil paints for the artist.
Do rewards reassure you or make you feel more insecure?
There are both. Each award appreciates the poet's work. Because it is about France, that is, a space that I do not physically inhabit and cannot participate directly and continuously in the presentation of my books, these awards, I hope, will make them more visible and increase their chance of reaching a large number of readers. But the awards also create expectations, demands on the author, which creates uncertainty and fear, because true poetry is not something that can be planned. It is patience, waiting and God's mercy.
In your opinion, what makes poetry really great?
Her ability to create worlds and love, to create, to follow her inner rhythm and nature, to be indulgent. Do not hurt. Or if it causes pain, then he can cure it afterwards. Build homes that can accommodate different people for a short or long time. Non-mortal homes where people can enter, rest, rejoice or cry, fill their eyes and lungs with the sky, and then continue on their journey. To persist in trying to cross borders, to name the essence of things, and to say "the directions of what does not fit the eyes, because it is greater than words"(The quote is from a poem of mine).
What is the Time Kiss for? What is the most important sentiment you hope readers will draw from the book?
The interpretation of the authors almost always narrows the meaning, depriving the reader of the opportunity to put himself in the text, to make it his own, to experience it as his own. Poetry is the experience and exultation of all the senses. The versatility and uniqueness of poetry is precisely that it does not formulate answers. I would be happy if every reader recognizes at least one poem in the book and makes him feel at home for a moment.
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