SPOMENIK

They loom over the landscape of the Balkans, the spomeniks, the few of them left over from a ghost country of an earlier era. Commissioned by the former Yugoslavian President Josip Tito, these gigantic free-standing structures commemorated the sites of battles and concentration camps in World War Two. In the town of Mitrovica in Kosovo, Singaporean poet and photographer Marc Nair found a spomenik by accident in his trek across the Balkans. Astonished by its mysterious beauty, Marc writes, “It was its own god; granite columns lifted a boat-like edifice high into the air. Indifferent to the desolate brush of its surroundings, the spomenik seemed to speak in ciphers for this land—its polemical divides, its understated beauty.”

His new book of poems and photographs Spomenik (Ethos Books, 2016) commemorates his own journey through the region, a book in which “photographs are poems, and poems are photographs,” and every memento, visual or verbal, is a spomenik.

 

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Past the gates of Socialism
after Spomenik #19

by Marc Nair

 

Think of this
as statuary: a silent Trojan with
no means of language
no face to venerate
no answer to the pillage
beneath its lonely outpost

listening to a sledgehammer
of scavengers scaling the hill at dusk
with their haul of scrap matériel
from #1 through #18

Underneath the old battlements
a vigil hums from
bones of old rifles and courage
as evening trembles and
this grandeur turns like an empty
doorway

or is this an ark grounded
after escape,
a forgotten blessing,
a haunting into wilderness

 

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woman on street

 

Reproduced by permissions from author and publisher, poem and images appear in Spomenik by Marc Nair (Ethos Books, 2016).

 

About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

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