Life, Novels

Poetry Is More than Life
These are the words he has recently carved on his own tombstone: ”Writing is my life. Poetry is more than life.” He knows, of course, that in this disastrous time, ”high culture” is on a low level. But he belongs to it and can do nothing but remain faithful to it. Far-reaching are the consequences of present shortsightedness, sharp are the blades of dullness. We are pliable and excessively tolerant, easy in accepting others’ and canceling our own. The situation is dramatic. We are losing our language, alphabet, face, children. Thus, we are losing territories. The greatest responsibility is on national institutions and state authorities. Consequences will be difficult to repair, but we’ll have to do it somehow

By: Branislav Matić
Photo: From the guest’s archive

In the essence of everything his is an excellent poet. Everything is in it, life and what comes after. Without it, nothing. A man nicely wrote once: what Desanka means for Brankovina, Branko for Karlovci, Dobrica for Gruža, Ljuba is for Jadar and the Drina valley. With him and Sveta Stanišić, Raša Simić, Boža Kićović, Sloba Petrović, generations in Jadar learned to really write and really read. His Flame from the sixties is still burning.
Ljubomir Ćorilić (Ploča near Loznica, 1946) in National Review.

From the Serbian world. We cannot talk about poetry if we first don’t speak about the ”Serbian world”. Europe doesn’t understand. ”Serbian world” – equals ”Serbian civilization”. A historical group of undeniable truths. Serbia – Slavic, Chilandar, altar, St. Sava’s, Nemanjić’s, župan’s, imperial, kingly, aristocratic, Kosovo, heroic, chivalric, hayduk, rebellious, Čegar, Thessaloniki, verbal and healing, Vuk’s and poetic. A land of freedom. Nothing threatening.
This Serb with a betrayed American dream is from such a land. Thirsty for poetry as the most divine art: epic, wine, love, patriotic, ballad, contemplative, satiric; this sprout originating from Piva, from the Old Herzegovinian stone, from father Vojislav, from Ploča near Loznica, in Vuk’s and Cvijić’s Jadar.
One of my Ilić family members was manager of the Piva Monastery in the Turkish times. In order to avoid losing taxpayers due to Turkish sold souls who killed Serbs, the sultan ordered that taxes, penances and other duties should be collected and brought to pashas in camps by the most reputable Serbs in Serbian and most reputable Turks in Turkish villages; he gave such men a title ćor – which means respected. Thus, my ancestor was given the last name Ćor-Ilić, just like Turk Alia, who was given the surname Ćor-Alić. The Ćor-Ilić family settled in Jadar in the first half of the eighteenth century. It is not known why. It must be because they were fed up with Turkish oppression.
Father Vojislav, quiet, modest construction worker on the Zajački Road: Painful be, water, at least when I drink you / My father used to paint houses to this time / built castles of the world for my confused fairytale / my father was a construction worker in everyone’s heaven / today he is washed sand for his son and dawn.
Mother Slavka was daughter of royal captain Dragoljub Jovičić from Donja Ljuboviđa in Azbukovica, who died in 1914 in the short resistance against Austro-Hungarians. In 1919, she escaped to Lozničko Polje with her mother Natalija. In 1929, she married a ”landlord’s son” in Ploča near Loznica and gave birth to six children before the war in 1941. I was born after the war (1946). After the April breakdown of Yugoslavia, private Vojislav was taken to German captivity. Mother guarded her children from hunger, bullets and knives for four years. Food was scarce and occupation forces restricted the movements and behavior of people. The village occupation board organized a trial ”on site” because she didn’t report planting cabbage. The fact that father was in captivity was a mitigating circumstance.
Conviction: to pull out all cabbage stalks before the court. Unbearable in times of war, but life requested moving forward, forward: When mother went to labor / wheat around in trenches / growing unfolded // Children press their lips to the windows / crying in a locked house, / Chetniks ordered five beatings, / And mother Slavka found pearls in flowers / Where no one would even think of searching.

Jadar. My Yasnaya Polyana. Not Tolstoian but Vuk’s, where I plowed my first poetic furrow. I had a great wealth – poverty.
In my early poetry, Antaeus symbols of belonging to the land we spring from, our poisons and remedies, dreamlike visions of ascensions and falls, are sparkling. Already in my childhood I realized that I cannot go through life easily. I changed many jobs, like Mika Antić. I was a digger, bricklayer, stonemason, baker, I worked on stages, as journalist, editor, poet, writer; spent days and nights with books; wrote tired and absent, when the most expressive words and verses come up like Scythians.
I still remember village gatherings, where I read the folk ballad ”Predrag and Nenad” to spinsters and knitters. Women were crying and I was reading and swallowing my tears. Such readings influenced the settling of epic poetry in my poetic imagination and becoming dearer to me than Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. My son Nenad, writer and aphorist, also had a dramatic fate. He moved to the heavenly gardens at the age of forty-eight. He is my uncurable wound.
Besides my village, Vuk’s Tršić was also glowing with the convocational spirit of education and culture. I participated in the Convocation even before the amphitheater in the Žeravija valley was raised in 1964. That year, as a gymnasium student, I sang Stevan Mokranjac’s Vuk’s Anthem at the fairground. The convocation was earlier held in Vuk’s yard. Art program – on oak boards, next to the forest on the other bank of Žeravija. On Sunday, before the Nativity of Mary, many people gathered. The program included gusle competition, handing out free books, theatrical performance from folk life, competition in folk all-round (throwing stones from one’s shoulder, long jump, high jump, tug of war…).

People of Loznica. Vuk Karadžić, Jovan Cvijić, Mića Popović, Sveta Božić, Ostoja Balkanski, are coryphaei of my hometown. The prophane word pride isn’t strong enough to stand next to their work. With their shine, they illuminate Serbian education, culture, literature, geography, painting and sculpting, spiritual music. Their role as coryphaei is as large as everything given in the Serbian civilization space up to now, in their fields. There are more reputable people originating from these lands or living in Jadar, but locals are not sufficiently aware of that heritage. They will be when they’re gone.

Around Serbia. Poets, literary critics and historians say and write that Serbia in my poetry is a Balkan beauty, disobedient, suffering, magnificent, tragic, in blossom and in mourning. Serbia is all that because in it I recognize the light only a few countries in the world have. Some because they are too young, such as America, others because of lack of evidence about their existence: they don’t have such a turbulent and dramatic history, so many spiritual signs of the past…
Serbia – earthly joy and freshness, a rare example of historicity.
Furthermore, example of chivalry, heroism, defending dignity, honor and freedom! How can such a country not find its place in my poetry?
Writing about my patriotic poetry, about the book Around Serbia, a critic stated: ”There is space for the white Samodreža church, Kosovo, Čokešina, Čegar, Ravnje, Cer, Gučevo, Kolubara, Albanian Golgotha, Vido, French Ship and White Church, for Marko, Lazar, Obilić, Little Radojica, Karađorđe, Miloš, Kosovo Girl and Jugović Mother, for St. John’s Eve, St. George’s Day, St. Vid’s Day, for Chilandar, Studenica, Gračanica, Tronoša, for Višnjić’s gusle, Vuk; for Jefimija and Desanka, Crnjanski and Stražilovo. They are all symbols of Serbian male and Promethean firmness, openness and width of the Slavic soul, inexhaustible ability of renewing the valuable spiritual richness.”
In my poetry, just like in Dobrica’s Rosaries from Gračanica, destructive Serbia also has its place: many falsehoods, personal gains, betrayals… The fact that some present Serbs don’t see or won’t see the real face of the ”world empire”, change ”God’s gold” for worthless securities, their own language and alphabet for their barbarisms and hieroglyphs – is a consequence of political and diplomatic blackmails, propaganda mantras of great powers which don’t care about the future of sovereign states and small nations in the world.
Serbia is a God’s gift which we are unable to preserve. I, however, share the opinion of Rajko Petrov Nogo: Nothing has failed when everything is! And I pray, on behalf of everyone, to St. Sava: We pray to you, pious / save this spirit and body / preserve this land.

”High culture” on a low level. We are living in the ”epoch of masses”, when the most important thing for people is quantity, consumer demonic of money, brutal commercialization of the ”industry of consciousness”. All that is really brutal. I’ve recognized the brutality a long time ago, as devotee of culture, editor, poet and reporter, author of cultural programs. Already when it began arriving in sugary western packages such as the American kitsch TV series where everything is bursting with sparkles and ease of living. I used to say: ”Serbs, let go of that kitsch!” And they replied: ”You are so conservative!” I don’t say anything now. They surely see for themselves!
The so-called ”high culture” is on a low level today: both materially and in value. The authorities are also not evaluating it right – they contribute too little for its survival. Someone wrote five or six years ago that only 0,6 percent of the national income is invested in culture in Serbia, while in the past it was 2,7 percent. I am sure that Serbia has ”the critical minority” to preserve ”the grain from which culture will sprout again”.

Paradise for scribomaniacs. Being a poet is difficult today. This is a ”time of non-reading”, paradise for scribomaniacs, literary charlatanism. For charlatan subjects, reviewers, critics. Presenters of literary trash are frequently appearing on TV. Appeasing bad literary taste is at its prime. Many wonder-writers count on senseless readers, senseless readers on senseless writers. They are somehow used to each other because their price has suddenly grown. There is a crisis of the meaning of poetry in the general internal crisis of man and humanity. The cosmic and social place which belonged to poets is gone.
Poets – nonpoets are also to blame. They are writing bad poems in confessional I-form, mostly about love and patriotism, as a personal confession. They don’t notice life on the edge of death. They don’t join together to save the world. They lost the feeling for present man, although it was their main role until recently.
Serbian young poets are no longer keeping the cult of poetry, they are not guarding the archetype of their nation’s language. They are not defending Serbian language or Cyrillic alphabet from systematic obliteration. They are writing in Latin handwriting and even print their books in Latin.
Because of that, or some other reason, only a few younger poets are managing to provide greater value to their poetry, to preserve archetypes of poetic form, language, contents in a modern way, to relate their singing with tradition, permeating poems with symbols of poetry and man’s fate.
In scarce contemporariness, Dragan Marković and Slobodan Jović have grown most, but there is no new group that could direct poetry towards modern streams, such as it was the case in the fifties with S. Marković, V. Popa, M. Pavlović, B. Radović, S. Raičković, T. Mijović, B. Miljković, D. Trifunović… or in the eighties with D. Brajković, S. Ignjatović, A. Puslojić, Lj. Ćorilić, Z. M. Mandić, M. Gavrilović, B. R. Milanović, S. Zubanović, M. Vukadinović, R. Livada…

We’ll have to. The attitude of Serbs towards Serbian language and Cyrillic alphabet proves that we are an excessively tolerant and pliable nation. We accept everything foreign uncritically. We cancel our own. While others care about their language and alphabet, we behave irresponsibly with such an important identity and sovereignty issue. The ”Latinization” of Serbs has entered a dramatic phase.
We are experiencing the fate of Australian and African nations. Colonial Englishmen banned the use of dialects and declared English as the official language, thereby killing almost 500 languages in Australia. Who knows how many languages were killed in Africa by the French, Belgians and other Euro imperialists.
Serbs are also slowly losing Serbian language and Cyrillic alphabet. We are losing territories for the same reason. The greatest responsibility is on national institutions and state authorities. They must know that Serbia cannot exist without Serbian language and Cyrillic alphabet, and not only without churches. (…) The consequences of present negligence of Serbian language, Serbian Cyrillic alphabet and many more things will be difficult to repair, but we have to do it somehow. I am turning on the alarm.

Horrible, horrible. And the media, dear man! It is unbelievable how much harm some are making to the Serbian nation, culture, education, politics, diplomacy. I know what I know. I was a journalist, chief editor; edited books; cooperated with printing houses, publishers. We accused and dismissed previous editorial offices of electronic media, newspapers, valuable publishing houses – wanting more from them, with a good reason. We brought new ”officials” in their places – and what did we get: bigger and more passionate servants of the government and parties, lobbyists, tycoons, historical Serbian enemies… As Duško Radović wrote: horrible, horrible!
There are a few new and good publishers. They care about the quality of poetry, stories, novels… They are aware of their responsibility for the survival of literature in a tempest, when the demon of commercialization entered literature as well. Others, unscrupulous and foreign publishers cannot be the subject of my saying.

Children. I also address children in my poems. A painter paints with a brush and palette and I do it with words. I don’t make a difference between ”poetry for children” and the so-called ”poetry for adults”. Children literature is also art. A poem is a poem or nothing! Everything is in the poet’s power or infirmity. In the soul and gift. If a poet gives birth to a ”good poem” – it is not important who it’s intended for. It is accepted with equal attention in ”the world of children and young people” as well as in ”the world of adults”. I noticed it on numerous occasions in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republic of Srpska, Montenegro, Croatia, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Armenia… I am grateful to Zmaj, Desanka, Ćopić, Radović, Antić, Erić, Danojlić, Ršum and numerous other poets who, with the quality of their children literature, fought for the equal status of literature ”for children” and literature ”for adults”.
In our times, children face many temptations. I think it was easier for them at the time I was growing up. We knew what school was expecting from children; children were safer in all aspects. Teachers gave more parental love to children. Criminals didn’t have access to schools, neither did drugs, bad models of behavior, religious cults, mass vulgarity. Today the police must defend schools. There were no social networks which offer all kinds of things to children and young people. There was less school democracy but more good students with real knowledge and skills. The school of my time prepared children for future creative originality. I, for example, wanted to be a writer already in my third grade, and here I am.
Our task as poets is not only to write, but also to care about the growing up of children and young people. About what they are adopting, what kind of knowledge, ethical and esthetical norms. It is not moving backward. On the contrary. Without that, everything is going to hell. We must know the biological capacity of children and young people in certain development phases, what they can accept and understand in certain stages of growing up. I wish their teachers were poets as well. In this mad and dehumanized time, it is very important what kind of human luggage children will bring to their grown-up part of life.

Masters and student. Since second grade, my teachers were Desanka and Ćopić, their poems and gentle human souls. Later, Serbian Homer Višnjić, Jefimija, then Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Zmaj, and when I grew up and understood life and poetic values more deeply, and when I started writing, the desk was occupied with Orpheus, damned French poets (Lautréamont, Baudelaire), our Dis, great Spaniard Lorca, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Yesenin and Pasternak, Pushkin, Marina Tsvetaeva. Later I paid more attention to Šantić, Slobodan Marković Markoni, Branko Miljković, Tomislav Mijović, Brana Petrović, Dragan Kolundžija, Živodrag Živković, Krstivoje Ilić, and children’s poets – Zmaj, Radović, Antić, Erić, Ršum, Popadić… The most honorable teaching desk belongs to Njegoš. I dealt with some of them in my literary critiques.
They suggested that ”there was no greater sin than non-writing / nor a greater punishment than oblivion”, and the Kočić-like credo ”I don’t care at all about anyone but those who honestly think and honestly work”. The freedom necklace I carry today as the greatest poetic and human value is theirs. Besides tempering me in creating lyrical images and metaphors, they also taught me how much poetry is loved and why homeland and heritage are the most sacred vows.

Places I return to. There are places I go and return to. Besides Vuk’s, my hometowns are also Šabac and Novi Sad. Umbilical cord cut in Ploča. Two or three days later, it started ”breeding worms”. Merciful grandma Živana saved the life of the ”little dying one”. Even today I am not clear whether my salvation is joy or God’s punishment.
I adopted Šabac and Novi Sad as hometowns because of the dignified love and beauty I experienced in them and with them in my later years. After my Drina, Jadar, Banja Koviljača, Gučevo, Cer, the entire Drina valley, towards Zvornik Lake, Bajina Bašta, Zlatibor (the most fairytale-like part of Serbia!) and the valley of my childhood – above Loznica towards Zajača; after my Ploča, Baščeluk, Tršić, Voćnjak, they have grown into my life most and left marks I cannot shake off.
In Šabac, Ciganska Mala, Dudara. It had the softest and most inspirative grass for football tricks between two little goals! The Old City on the Sava and Summer House. I never wrote poems to them, but sometimes I get the idea. In Šabac, Miloje Gavrilović, painter Jovan Lukić and I, in the Youth Home, founded Plamen (Flame) – magazine for art, culture and social issues of the Drina Valley youth. In 1966, Dragoljub Rajić, Živodrag Živković, Krstivoje Ilić and I published not really the first but, as they say, valuable poems in the Flame: ”Wheat”, ”Myth about Water”, ”Slaves of Eternity”, ”Woodcutter’s Bird”.
In Novi Sad I was enchanted by the Danube quay, the unexplainable gentleness I feel in that city, Zmaj’s Children Festival, the ancientness of Matica Srpska… My connection with ”Serbian Athens” is affirmed in my poem ”Don’t Be Afraid, Novi Sad”. It was created in a single breath when NATO evil spirits bombed the Freedom Bridge on the Danube in 1999.
I have marks I return to in heavenly settlements. I see some mountain water, springs, gurgling, flowing, pebbles, deltas, lakes, tears, being touched by love and pain, human innocence and sinning, first and last human joy, wandering around are my angels, who monsters and crows are laughing at, human snakes and gorgons. I have places of restlessness, inconsolable. I love knowing I have them, even when I don’t. As Branko Miljković said: Illusions sing most beautifully. And what is poetry other than it is even when it’s not?
The most realistic are the goings out to the Drina. My body and soul rest there, my inspiration is renewed. (…) Sometimes I cannot differentiate which world is more realistic. The earthly or the heavenly. The illusion that the earthly settlement is more realistic does not calm me down. Perhaps the heavenly is more realistic. There are more of them hardworking and laze up there, ingenious and dumb, innocent and guilty, calm and restless, honest and dishonest, benefactors and thieves, savers and wastrels, drunks and bohemians, shy and shameless… Dante’s paradise and hell is full of them.


Bits from the Biography
Ljubomir Ćorilić (Ploča near Loznica, St. Vid’s Day in 1946). Poet, literary critic, anthologist. Published sixteen books of poetry (Great Billing, Serbia the Rebellious, Boy Dreaming of a Quince, A Hundred Springs…), six monographs about culture, education, health, journalism, alpinism, sport. He won about fifteen Serbian, Yugoslav and international awards: Ratković’s poetry evenings, ”Golden Chord” of the Smederevo Poetic Autumn, Vitez’ lifetime award in children’s literature, ”Gordana Brajović” award of Večernje Novosti daily for the book of the year in Serbia, Srpska and Montenegro, ”Karađorđe” Decree for life achievement in literature… He organized the anthology ”Golden Five of Serbian Poetry for Children and Young People: Zmaj, Radović, Antić, Erić, Popadić”… He is included in the international anthology of the most beautiful poems about wine. Translated into English, Russian, Armenian, Hungarian, Polish, Macedonian. He lives in his birth town.


I am writing this, the one and only life circle, still incomplete, near its closing. I have recently written on my tombstone: ”Writing is my life. Poetry is more than life.”
Some have already asked me why I wrote it. Astonished by their question, I ask myself: is it possible they are not capable of interpreting it?


It’s not Looking Good
Serbia, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Israel, Palestine… And numerous other courthouses in the world. Something tells me it’s not going to turn out well. Evil has rooted.

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