Reading and Writing Bosnia

Black Lawrence Press sent me Vedran Husic’s story collection Basements and Other Museums this week, and I feel moved by his work. The stories revolve around experiences of the Bosnian war and emigration to the States. The writing is packed with wise observations, mystery, lyricism, and dark humor. Here’s a striking passage from the story “Deathwinked” (available in its entirety on Electric Literature) about the city of Mostar:

Mostar, my city, you are far from me now, but I peek through the spyglass and you appear so near. In my third floor apartment, in the neverdesperate America of my childhood dreams, at my desk, armed with pencil and paper, sensitive as a landmine, fumbling similes like live grenades, I, the young, triple-tongued poet, write down the name of my birthcity like the name of a former lover. Mostar. Mostar, my city, stunned quiet. They took the Most, threw it into the river and made you unnamable. My city, one night you went dark all around me. You trembled and could not be embraced. The bombs fell on you, near-constant and heartbeatloud. I recommend war-tourism to any artist, poet especially, a month or so of up-close-death, a month, or twenty-three, of dark-houred explosions in a world maddened by sirens. You’ll never lack material, or have to account for sudden mood swings, and you’ll never lose at those drunken games between friends, intimate games, those poetic games of whosufferedmost.

I keep slowing down to read and reread passages like this one, even though their rhythms urge me forward. I want to visualize the narrator’s images faithfully while allowing space for the memories they conjure up for me.

The most recent essay I wrote is about Bosnia. It will appear in The Rumpus in a couple of months. It describes my return to Sarajevo eleven years after my family’s war-time departure. Writing it brought up the city’s streets for me, its pockmarked buildings. It brought up my grandmother’s old apartment in the Grbavica neighborhood. I felt restored after finishing the piece, and more aware of how rich the past had been. I feel honored, and a bit nervous, to share it in The Rumpus. I will post a link here once it’s live.

Good news also came from the lovely Denver Quarterly. They will publish one of my poems in their upcoming issue. I will share a link here too, once the issue is available.

New Projects

This past fall, lots of starts and stops broke my writing flow, but when winter came, things evened out. Most recently, I completed an essay about visiting my native Bosnia. The visit took place about ten years after my family left Bosnia due to the war in the Balkans. The essay unearthed lots of buried memories, and it is surprisingly filled with lushness and sunlight.

Currently, I’m working on a short story about a young woman’s sexual awakening—it is darker in nature than the essay—and I look forward each day to uncovering more and more about my character.

When it comes to publications, my short story, “On the Dalmatian Coast,” was reprinted this fall in the anthology Everywhere Stories III  by Press 53. I was so excited to give this piece new life. Each of the stories in this volume takes place on a different spot on the planet or in a different state in the United States. I’m grateful to Editor Cliff Garstang for all of his meticulous work.

The lovely Baltimore Review also just gathered the pieces they published in their online issues this past year into a print issue. I was delighted to receive my copy this week. The issue is thick and packed with good work. My short story, “Peephole,” is included in its pages and also remains available online on the BR website. Finally, I’m excited to have two poems forthcoming from New Ohio Review and Moon City Review this spring.

I’m so looking forward to working on new projects and connecting with other writers in 2019. Happy New Year!

Two New Pieces Available Online This Week

I’m thrilled and grateful to have two new pieces out this week. My poem, “Fat Tuesday in Samsara,” has been published by Lunch Ticket,  the literary journal of Antioch University Los Angeles. The idea for the piece was sparked during a brunch with fellow writer Nicole Lawrence, when we noted that Mardi Gras and the Tibetan New Year took place on the same day this year.

My essay, “In Search of Duende: A Bosnian War Memoir,” appears in Fanzine  today. In it, I describe some memories from my Bosnian childhood and look through another writer’s memoir of the Bosnian War. The piece was difficult to write, and I hope to explore some of the feelings it raised in future work.