The Italian edition “Dendrarium” (Musicaos, 2021) by Alexander Shurbanov, has been translated by Francesco Tomada and Valentina Meloni, and is published with the latter’s extensive and learned afterword, complete with all the necessary cultural, philosophical and literary references.
As confirmed by the title, trees are protagonists of the collection. The author makes use of a language that establishes a communication capable of making them a means for a deeper and more genuine understanding of our human predicament. Shurbanov’s poetic words are marked by rapport with the reader; he avoids any drift of the intellectual or hermetic type, preferring instead a clarity of exposition conducive to credibility, for he knows how to combine simplicity and straightforward expression with originality of themes and ideas, turning them into values, reinforcing the message and rendering it relevant and open to all. The Italian translations refer to the English version (2019) done by Shurbanov, who translated his own poetry from its Bulgarian-language original: the Italian renditions are faithful, coherent, intense.
What looms large in the whole collection, as clearly emerges from the epilogue, is the will to “return to the trees”, to be “among the leaves / the blossoms”, not as an irrational departure from the world, a bucolic or Arcadian escape, but rather as a way of coming to understand it better, to restore the authentic correspondence between word and world, so that man can escape from his self-inflicted doom of “dismissal”.
The author tells us that his tongue has grown stiff, and it is up to poetry to lead language back to its task, of re-educating man to have a respectful and equal relationship with Nature. And writing is naturally what supplies the nerves to this soil: it is the humble tool to express itself precisely on the paper whose “fleshless thinness” is obtained from the bark, this “circumcised and quartered” tree, “silent / and white as death”. Paper is a witness to how the tree, sacrificed to the practical needs of man, offers him an instrument of redemption. Then, in a splendid haiku, the birches become “scrolls unrolled from heaven”.
And so, it is necessary to break the anthropocentric prejudice, the presumption of man’s implicit superiority on the basis of the evolutionary chain; or rather to reverse this scale of importance, in order to be able to look up at a tree and admit “that it is right”. Indeed the trees demonstrate to us daily that they really know the meaning of the ascent, that they are the ones who know how to “go for a stroll in the sky”, forcing those of us “of the race of those who remain on the ground” (Montale), to lift our gaze from the ground, widening the line of our horizon. We have in common with trees the unavoidable sense of precariousness, of transience without appeal, which – and here Shurbanov is working with a long tradition behind it – focuses on the analogy of man to the leaf, in the awareness that it should lead us to reduce our arrogance and will to dominate Nature: we too “silently count our leaves”.
Shurbanov’s poetry teaches us that we owe a lot to the trees: through them we can put in order the distorted hierarchy in which we live, which we believe is the only valid and correct one. We must then necessarily return to the trees, go back to being a “forest” without our childish fears of “the dark”, because, despite everything, the trees only “dare continue to side / with what’s doomed”. They return to us an original sympathy that has been lost and, moreover – as Shurbanov disarmingly admits – “I don’t recall doing anything / that might deserve it.” Here is the key: to return to a genuine intuition in our relationship with Nature, thus avoiding that inevitable degradation and collapse of which we are the main, if not the only, cause.
Shurbanov’s work, even before being ecopoetry or poetry animated by a strong ethical thrust towards good and right, is above all a confession of love for these extraordinary creatures: trees, plants, flowers, shrubs, including weeds, which play an equally important role in the natural order. He manages to lead us by the hand into this communion with simplicity and frankness, with a sincere and participatory sensitivity, with the enthusiasm of a child looking out onto the world and intuiting its pulsating soul. He does it with language that is plain and discursive, but illuminated by internal thrusts that never sink into prose, a language that avoids botanical technicalities, a language that is poetry by its natural constitution. Because poetry simply offers itself. And he really knows how to submit us back to “an unspoken love / that has been mute too long.”
(English version edited by Rishi Dastidar)