It’s difficult to know where to begin writing a review that will do justice to Muddy Shoes Candy Heart, a collection of haiku, senryu and tanka by Saša Važić. Važić, who lives in Belgrade,
is a well-known poet in Serbia and Montenegro and many of the poems in this
collection are being re-published. However, Muddy Shoes Candy Heart is
an e-book on CD, and even if you already know some of the poems, seeing and
hearing them in multimedia format will be a new and fresh encounter. In addition to Važić's reading the
poetry, the sound track includes traditional music by Aleksandar Sanja Ilic and
his ensemble Balkanika. Interspersed are photographs by Aleksandar Gubaš, Rajko Karišić, Slobodan
Vitković, Jack R. Johanson, J. Virgil Gurchinoff, and two historic photos
from Slobodan Vitković that also evoke a sense of place. The whole has
been edited and designed by Anita Virgil, the e-book produced and directed by
Why an e-book? Virgil is one of a very few haiku poets who have gone this
direction. In an interview by Robert Wilson (Simply Haiku, Spring 2005), Virgil explained that what drew her to e-book publishing was its flexibility and cost-effectiveness, as well as the
outlet it offers for her interests in art and design. Her own Summer Thunder
was published by Peaks in 2004, also as an e-book including spoken word and
music.Here, as she learned to take advantage of the possibilities offered by multimedia, is where Muddy Shoes Candy Heart was
The CD includes two versions of Muddy Shoes Candy Heart. The first is a PDF
file that may be read either as a simple e-book with the computer’s sound
turned off, or in a full audio rendition. The sound option requires Adobe
Acrobat Reader 6.0 or later. The second version of the book is actually a
QuickTime movie. The CD also includes a “read me” file with instructions for
the various options and for upgrading your software if needed.
It is a beautiful, worthy publication. As Virgil says in her Introduction, Važić’s poetic voice is a "quiet lonely one that brings us vignettes of an old world—sometimes Dickensian, sometimes
almost fairytale-like in its latent fears." And Wilson, in the Forward he provided for the book: "She sees life through eyes that have seen more than most people have or would want to . . .
paints in three lines what most poets have trouble painting into long poems."
Indeed, Virgil has created a visual presentation that guides the reader/viewer into the
poetry. The book opens with the book cover, an icy streetlight beneath strings
of holiday lights. After a few moments of silence, Sanja Ilic’s music fades in and follows you as you page through three more photographs of Belgrade cityscapes, digitally altered to have the look of
post-Impressionist paintings. Then on into the prefatory text pages, whose
parchment beige and rubricated titles echo the colors of the architecture in
the illustrations. The spoken word enters with Wilson and Virgil reading their
own pages, and through a vocal part in the music. One more winter street scene,
looking down from an upper story window through driving snow and bare branches,
onto a boulevard with evening traffic.
Thus, with this subtle guidance, you’re prepared and anticipating the poet’s voice
when Važić makes her entrance. The next page brings a single poem, and the
author’s voice framing it in the center of the page:
City in mist.
Voices of passersby
across the street.
And on the following page:
on the windowpane -
darkness and my face.
It is a precious experience to hear Važić read her own poetry. She has a low, gentle voice that conveys the warmth, sadness and humor in poetry with clarity yet also with a Slavic cadence of speech that evokes a sense of place. The book opens with a series of winter poems. Through them you become intimate with the cold, wet Balkan winter—the neighbors, voices, silence and windows through which one is outside
looking in or inside looking out.
From winter, the haiku seasons progress to New Year's, spring and on through the year. Between spring and summer the NATO bombing campaign in the spring of 1999 also makes its appearance. It begins ominously with a lurid sunset viewed through the rooftop antennas and satellite dishes of Belgrade. The beat of the music and the pace of the presentation quicken, two poems per page, lettered in sanguine red.
Haiku is not a poetry of violence and ironically this may be why it is so effective
as war poetry. Važić’s approach is to depict by implication:
under the war sky-
fruit trees blossoming.
Through clouds of smoke
The reality of living beneath aerial bombardment is depicted with detachment. We don't see the air strike but its aftermath of fire, smoke, birds startled into the sky and spring continuing despite the disruption of human affairs.
All the lights turned off.
A starry sky.
Randomly, erratically, missiles appear, and buildings burn or are abandoned. People (always in the collectivity of crowds) gather to exchange news and hurry through the train station that may likely be a target. Through Virgil's editing, the cumulative effect is such that when the poet herself appears, terrorized by a thunderstorm in the midst of it all, your nerves are as shattered as hers.
Finally, Victory Day and an old woman mourning on a bench. We move into summer and life returns. There is only a smattering of poetry and photographs about old villages, peasants and grandparents in military dress from the Balkan War of 1913, the precursor to World War I. For the perceptive reader, they are reminders of how long and deep are the fault lines of culture and memory that run across this land. The book concludes with the return of the snow and a photograph of the equestrian statue of the nineteenth century prince Mihailo Obrenović, which stands in front of the National Museum in Belgrade.
Ironically, my review copy of Muddy Shoes Candy Heart arrived in the mail just as Slobodan Milošević died, bringing his trial in The Hague to an inconclusive end and catapulting the tragedy of the Serbs briefly back into the evening news. For me, as for most Americans, the roots of the 1999 conflict are difficult to comprehend. Our own national history is not one of suppressed aspirations and we have not truly experienced war on our own soil since the 19th century. Moreover, our development of a hi-tech military has tended to make war into something like a video game, and it’s too easy to forget that the special effects are real bombs falling on real people who can duck but not escape.
For me, the genius of Važić’s and Virgil’s achievement is that they have stripped away the desensitization that results from this media-driven worldview of ours. The people and the place are depicted in all their human complexity. By the time I finished and hit 'eject', I had gained a sense of what it means to be in this place where “old world” Europe lives on in our age of globalization.