A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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Sidebar: The Nation of Word

THE NATION OF WORD

The Boatswain's Radovan Gajic has been a writer since his boyhood days in Yugoslavia. He remembers he was different than other kids; he didn't fit in to the football games that they were playing. He was busy writing short stories and journals. Gajic has published several works in Serbian, including Rains of Kosovo, 1989, and The Damned Boatman of the Danube, 1990. His second book in English, The Silence of Word, is forthcoming. The Hostage of T. City was his first work in English, expressing the frustrations an immigrant feels in being held hostage by a foreign language:

Who are the hostagetakers?

A thousand times the question
is answered by only the chattering of my teeth.

All we want of you are
words that can see;
so that we can see.
Those which you saw
behold what will come;
those that were
behold what will be forever words.
I am freezing. It is cold.
Is the cold to last forever?
Words took me hostage.
Forever.
Words...

Stojanka Petkovic is another Serbian poet writing in Canada. Her most recent book is War Geography, soon to be translated into English. It won the 1998 Serbian Writers in Diaspora Award, given by the Emigrants of Serbia Writers Association, a Serbia organization that encourages its people, wherever they have resettled, to continue their writing. Petkovic describes her work as documentary poetry, inspired by the horrors of the Yugoslavian war. In publishing War Geography, the hope was "to never be able to write such a book again." Sorrily, she is now watching as the crisis in her homeland continues, but at a distance this time, as a Serbian Canadian.

The Serbian community in Canada is enriched by many writers who maintain a connection with their war-torn homeland and heritage through writing. They are supported and encouraged in their efforts by various associations and organizations which see the preservation and growth of Serbian culture as an essential element in the existence of Serbian Canadians and their community.

The Association of Writers and Poets - Desanka Maksimovic was founded in 1978 when its namesake, the famous Serbian poetess Desanka Maksimovic, made a visit Canada. Maksimovic is known for inspiring and encouraging the writers in Diaspora to preserve their national and cultural heritage by writing in their mother tongue.(2)

Due to the ongoing war in former Yugoslavia, many members have left the association, feeling apprehensive about belonging to an organization associated with Serbia. But others still remain - dedicated writers and literature lovers who believe that the Association's activities make a difference. Over the years the Association has published two anthologies of Serbian Canadian writers, Say, I'm Going to Tell You My Secrets, 1999 and From Hearts to the Homeland, 1989. Both are available in bilingual English Serbian versions.

Other activities of the Association include poetry readings, book presentations of writers who live here in Canada as well as guest writers from Serbia, and evenings in memory of celebrated Serbian writers. Many of them have been lost to the wars that inspired them to write. Those like, Ljiljana Zikic. Zikic wrote in Canada for a few years on a tourist visa and returned to her homeland in only two years ago after failing to attain status as a landed immigrant. Ljiljana Zikic has just recently been killed during the war in Kosovo.

The co-founder and current president of The Association of Poets and Writers is Katarina Kostic. She was born in Sabac, Yugoslavia and studied at the University of Belgrade, specialising in French language and literature. She came to Canada in 1973. Her poems have been published in a number of journals in Canada, as well as in the former Yugoslavia. Her collection of poems Runaway Landscapes includes this poem, "The Slavic Anti(Thesis) - To Desanka Maksimovic":

We have all gathered
in the fragrant oasis of your eye.
Your arm - a bridge, a testament -
has moved us into the embrace
of ancestors who lie within us.
Your voice, your words -
have become pollen of our destiny,
accompany us everywhere.
Through your words we have learned ourselves,
and spoken to the roots
of our beginnings.
Your thoughts have caressed us,
let us return like swallows
robed in garments
of history and poetry.
Inscribed by the vehemence
of Balkan and steppe
we board our cosmopolitan trains,
sit amid the sounds of our native land
and passionately traverse
the chronicles of Perun
toward ancient wisdom.
(3)

The parent organization of the Association of Writers and Poets is The Serbian Heritage Academy of Canada. It was established in 1981 as a non-profit organization with the goal of preserving art, culture and literature of the Serbs in Diaspora and in Serbia. It Academy's mandate includes:

  • Supporting the development of the Serbian language, literature, history, education, music, fine arts and folklore.
  • Furthering the development, coordination and financing of Serbian studies, research and publications.
  • Assisting in the establishment and development of creative contacts among scholars, writers, artists and other experts in the field of Serbian studies.
  • Publishing works of value for the preservation and development of the Serbian heritage such as books, journals, literature, as well as films, music and folklore, and any means of communication and information.
  • Collecting and making available for use the written and oral history of the Serbian nation.
  • Providing short and long-term settlement and integration services for newcomers and immigrants.(4)

Radovan Gajic, as a Serbian Canadian and an emigrant of the former Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists, contends that "I belong only to the nation of word." It is the literature and writing of Serbian Canadians that sustains Gajic and his community; it provide a bridge connecting them to their lost heritage and homeland. Through words and literature their heritage and culture endures. And as Stojanka Petkovic says, "It will carry us through to better days."

Footnotes:
1
The Hostage of T. City, by Radovan Gajic
(Toronto, 1998).

2,3,4
The Serbian Heritage Academy of Canada
(SHA, 1999)

3
Runaway Landscapes, by Katarina Kostic
(Krusevac, Toronto, 1990).


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