a real story from the 53rd Struga Poetry Evenings, Macedonia 2014
by Sonnet Mondal
A sudden Facebook text this morning by Nikola Gelincheski transported me to a day before the final event of the 53rd Struga Poetry Evenings, Macedonia, 2014. My poet friend Márcio-André, whose actions might be attributed to a modern day Ezra Pound added me to a group-chat in Facebook, where Nikola Mentioned : Hello guys:) Here’s a small tribute to the event from 2 years ago. I decided to take the first sentence from your story and use it on my lessons as an activity for practicing past tenses . His words invoked a night that had incited me many times, to write about it, but not so much as today, may be due to this still night — silent, except for a breeze that makes me remember of a similar flurry of air — when I stepped out of the Skopje airport — bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, in August 2014. My trip to this poetry fest was loaded with fervour and eagerness, much due to the fact that it was my first tour outside India — that too for a cause woven around my passion. Rest remaining same (as expected out of a 50 year old fiesta), the fourth day drew me into a side-splitting yet spunky escapade that became an anecdote to be shared with later visitors to this annual poetry conclave.
Along with the enthusiasm, that this visit brought with it — there was a series of episodes, which uplifted my spirit to get involved into the act — that inducted into the list of the three poets who stole a boat at midnight. The very first inhalation, after stepping into Macedonia was like a breath with the smell of individualism — something like escaping with your passion from the shackles of daily dos and don’ts. From a Yugoslovakian restaurant to a local dance concert in Ohrid, I was imbuing myself with the prevalent Macedonian culture. It is climacteric to mention here that my fateful urge to marry at an early age led to a quick separation and that happened just one month before this visit. Toing and frowing with agony and blames, I was still searching for an escape-tunnel — like a desperate rat searching for its lost hole. It was haunting to realise how life changes as we step into obligations from carefreeness. It was much like those childhood stories of phantom and fantasies growing insignificant with age.
The transfixing weather of Struga — with a set of hills by the lake Ohrid, an all time party environment, warmth of the Macedonians and the joy of getting together with new poets were lifting me up, from an inner recluse to a space that screamed to me — common just do something. The excitement was getting fever pitch and I didn’t want to dial it back. This do something intensified on the second day of the festival when a Norwegian poet Endre Russet and a Finnish poet & singer Niillas Holmberg, jumped — drunk and naked into the canal flowing beneath the Bridge of Poetry. A freezing palpitation inside me, slowly melted away upon seeing the two getting up the ridge like two drenched chickens. The crazy drunken night, that didn’t want to sleep a wink was further energised by Vladimir Martonivski — when he took me to the shore of the lake — introducing me to Macedonian songs till daybreak. A group of Macedonian poets singing adorably to the vibrating strings of Vladimir’s Oud reminded me of the Bauls in India. The world, however diverse seemed to be coupled through common ties, interests and similar spirit of enquiry. While they sang, I wended my way toward the hotel room, looking drowsily at the sky and murmuring in a soliloquy – stories land from nowhere and flies you to nowhere — a nowhere beyond your perceptions and dreams. The main story was still waiting in disguise — as unpredictably as a twister shaping itself in whispering grasslands. The light of dawn emerging silently and subtly from the hills bordering the lake — looked as if it doesn’t wish to show — how a day unfolds itself. It was like the story of life — emerging from the unknown to vanish into the mysterious. Musing upon my comprehensions that — nights and days were just a perception of eyes, I was out like a light at about 5 a.m.
The following day — full of poetry and poets from across the globe witnessed the Bridges of Struga event and what came off after the event, was the chapter, that inspires the title of this piece — The Poets who Stole a Boat in Struga.
Just after having a light dinner at Hotel Drim — where the poets of the festival were putting up, I was walking to the park of poetry — when a Brazilian poet Márcio André came running behind with two cans of beer. I thought we would paint the town red pushing tin all night. Contrarily, sitting on a bench behind a tree dedicated to Pablo Neruda, both of us pondered over a line — sorrows have no benches to settle from a poem by Endre Russet, which he read the previous day at an auditorium. The Brazilian, always on a mission, suddenly shot an idea of stealing a boat from the shore of Lake Ohrid and peddle it one kilometre into the waters of this old lake. What! Really? Steal a boat? Are you out of your mind? My intellect was running out of steam and this sudden idea from Márcio — acted as a stimulating drug in my veins. It was supplemented with a spontaneous Yes Yes Yes! from Márcio. I have already stolen a knife from the hotel kitchen for this purpose, he added. He had a ploy of cutting one of the ropes with which the boats were held to the shore. We went to a nearby pub to have few Tequila shots before we could muster courage for executing such an act without the trepidation of being behind bars in a foreign land. As he got up, I asked, Are you still sure? He threw a sardonic smile at me and took me to the hotel again. We could go straight and do it, I said. There’s another one to join us, his eyes gleamed with killer ideas. Just then Harry Man, an English poet, who was awarded the Bridges of Struga earlier that evening stood beside us with a white towel in his hand. Can we …, he exclaimed. An ascetic face of Harry smiled like Mr. Bean and Márcio — in a queer attire of black coat and white shorts danced around with the stolen knife. There was no escape from this adventure. There was no looking back. We stepped out. It was 2 am at night.
Márcio walked left from the hotel and we followed, treading on the wheels of the unexpected. We power walked, straight to the lakeside where the boats were tied by ropes. Psyched up for a swim followed by a boat tour, Márcio opened his coat and Harry his shirt, as I stood behind, hovering like a kite — whether to break loose and fly or remain tied to the ground. Márcio beheaded my concerns by tearing off my shirt and perhaps — I was biding for this time — to leap into a late night adventure. As we slowly foot-stepped into the lake, an amicable warmth greeted our pounding hearts. The only sound was — of the waters moving around our bodies and we three felt like three spirits breathing alive in the hush. Far away from our homes, we were in for an operation, that we never even thought of trying in our own countries. The vivacity of the unsure was rhapsodic. Suddenly Márcio trudged out of the waters toward a boat and I went after him. He picked up the stolen knife and cut the rope that anchored the boat to the shore. We did it! I was hesitant at the beginning saying, Our reputation is at stake Marcio. What fuck is reputation, he exclaimed and started pushing the boat into the waters. I thought I was getting into some mistake but then something flashed across my drunken mind, We are afraid of presumed mistakes and sequels — because the quest of trials and errors in life is full of dilemmas. And as we become exhausted in our quest to achieve true happiness from ‘available resources’ and ‘information based understanding’, we tend to become seekers — seekers of the very nature of the energy that makes us, sustains us and liberates us. Money, Fame and Power are all at our eye level. We should try to look upwards, beyond that and realise the worth of our movements — in front of the discipline of rotating planets and homeless asteroids. The very hypothesis of slipping into the world of mistakes won’t create any stir then. We should never fear probable predicaments, in the quest of experimenting with our energy. We have been born out of energy and this energy expects us to decode its existence in every bit of our breath.
Without another thought, I jumped into the waters pushing the boat deeper into the lake. Márcio started paddling it while I and Harry swam around.
As we were about to get up on the boat and declare the lake as our property — we saw a torch from the bank — pointing like a lighthouse beam towards us. Before we could apprehend anything, someone started whistling from the shore — the coastguard. Without misspending any moment, we sprung inside the waters and tried to keep low. The guard came in a paddleboat to liberate his property from the clutches of three crazy poet-thieves. We tried hard to keep our heads inside the waters but as we started running out of breath — our drenched despicable faces were revealed. You steal Boat, I call the Policia! the man panicked as he took out his mobile. No No we saw the boat in the lake and we came down to rescue it. Don’t get our virtuous activity wrong old man, I lied brazenly. Harry looked at my shamelessly lying face while Márcio in his ever enthusiastic voice exclaimed No Policia…Poesia…we are here for Struga Poesia! Harry added yes and we would help you get the boat out of here. Push Sonnet, Push Márcio! We started pushing the boat and somehow we were able to dispel the guy’s doubts about us. He got convinced that we were poets and the police involvement could be avoided. We were full of beans from inside, but looked as if the butter wouldn’t melt in our mouth. We had a narrow escape, yet we failed to control our smiles — they were partying hard inside our seemingly serious cheeks and lips.
We pushed the boat to the point from where it was pulled down into the lake. Beating a hasty retreat, we took back our clothes and started walking fast toward the hotel. Soaked, saturated and cold I asked Márcio and Harry about the knife. Where have you kept it? — It is inside the boat, he laughed wickedly. I needed some good sleep. It was almost 3:00 am but the epilogue was still to be written. We stopped by a closed Albanian bar. Few people were sitting and relaxing outside — who later familiarised themselves as the bar owners. As we introduced ourselves to be poets from three different countries — they brought beer cans and a soccer ball from inside, played a loud music for us to dance and started playing soccer with us. Four on three — we were badly defeated. Suddenly, a guy came up to me with a bucket of ice asking me for an ice bucket challenge. It was cold but my zeal kept me warm. I took the ice bucket challenge twice, as Harry and Márcio danced crazily around me like lunatics. This was like a VICTORY celebration of the triumphant Boat-adventure we just had.
We returned to our respective rooms at about 4 am, and I fell flat on my bed. An unusual sense of achievement loomed over my wits. Sometimes succeeding in life goes without any real accomplishment. Sometimes it is realised by exposing ourselves to our immediate nature and surroundings. Perhaps on that night we realised Poetry beyond the Bridges event. This story which has been a gossip in many festivals, may fade with time, but the waters of lake Ohrid and the mountains nearby will always murmur it to anyone who visits them in the dead of the night.
I can still recall the smell of that night and the zeal that persisted within us on that day of the 53rd Struga Poetry Evenings. For people like me who believe poetry to be as exciting as a blooming flower, this night was like a breathing poem.
About the author
Sonnet Mondal (Kolkata, India) is the author four books of poetry, and editor-in-chief of The Enchanting Verses Literary Review (www.theenchantingverses.org). His most recent book, Ink and Line, was co-authored with Sukrita Paul Kumar. He has read, and represented India, at festivals in Macedonia; Cork, Ireland; Istanbul, Turkey; Granada, Nicaragua; and Slovakia. His poetry has been translated into Hindi, Italian, Slovenian, Slovakian, Turkish, Macedonian, Bengali and Arabic, and published across Asia, Europe, Australia and North America. He was listed as among India’s celebrated authors in Forbes magazine in 2014 & 2015 and was listed among famous five Bengali youths in the India Today magazine.
His recent works have appeared in the Kyoto journal, Irish Examiner, the World Literature Today, the Mcneese Review, Palestine Chronicle, Drunken Boat, Indian Literature, Asia Literary Review and Two Thirds North. A guest editor of Poetry at Sangam in 2017, Sonnet is the curator of the Odisha Arts & Literature Festival, India.
Winner of the 2016 Gayatri Gamarsh Memorial award for literary excellence, Mondal was one of the authors of the ‘Silk Routes’ project of the IWP, University of Iowa, from 2014 to 2016. Sonnet’s poems in Slovenian translation by Barbara Pogacnik, were aired at the Literary Nokturno program of the Public Radio & Television of Slovenia in 2016 and was included in Sahitya Akademi’s Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians edited by Sudeep Sen.
Mondal led an Indian cultural delegation to the Ars Poetica International Festival, Slovakia in November 2016 and read at the 2017 edition of the Cork International Poetry festival, Ireland. A Writer in Residence at Sierra Neveda College’s MFA in Creative Writing program, Mondal represented India at the 10th year anniversary edition of the International Istanbul Poetry and Literature Festival.
Prior to this, Sonnet has read at the Struga Poetry Evenings, Macedonia in 2014, conducted poetry workshops at the Uskudar International Poetry Festival, Istanbul in 2015, delivered talks at the International Young Writers’ Meet, Istanbul in 2016 and was a part of the International Poetry Festival of Granada, Nicaragua, in 2016.