By Lyubomir Levchev
Edited by Richard Harteis
Artwork by Stoimen Stoilov
Translations from Bulgarian by Valentin Krustev
($24.95 (7″ X 10″) 254 pages, with 41 color and b/w paintings, illustrations and photos)
Levchev is a world-class poet of irony, historical depth, humor, and great compassion, watching with wistful amusement, as in his celebrated “Roofs,” while the world shifts beneath his feet.
— John Balaban
One of the greatest achievements of the Bulgarian poet Lyubomir Levchev is his ability to rise above the ordinary purpose and the small elements—things as insignificant as a pair of shoes or a drop of blood—up to the endless poetic heights.
— Citation by Fernando Rielo for the World Mystical Poetry Prize
Lyubomir Levchev, the poems you write are written by the sky and the street and the old people who died 400 years ago and the little kids who will be born 400 years from now and they are poems of profound joy and swift sorrow…
— William Saroyan
People in the streets of Bulgaria greet their national poet “Lyubo” with love and respect. In him the words “poet” and “conscience” are twins.
— Yevgeny Yevtushenko
The William Meredith Foundation, in co-operation with the Griffis Art Center, Little Red Tree Publishing, and private sponsors is honored to present the 2013 William Meredith Award for Poetry to Bulgarian poet, Lyubomir Levchev. The Meredith Award for poetry has no application process but comes to the author unsolicited in the spirit of generosity that informed Meredith’s interaction with the world of poetry when he judged competitions and invited poets to the Library of Congress as US Poet Laureate. The William Meredith Award for Poetry helps preserve the legacy of an extraordinary human being and the impact he has had on so many lives. Poet, pilot, arborist, beloved teacher and friend, this legacy is a treasure we wish to guarantee for future generations.
As First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton noted in a letter celebrating Meredith’s 80th birthday, “The arts have always been a unifying force in our world, bringing people together across vast cultural, social, economic and geographical divisions. Through his work, William Meredith both enhances and strengthens the American spirit. As you honor Mr. Meredith, you celebrate the timeless power of poetry and poets as our American memory, our purveyors of insight and culture, our eyes and ears who silence the white noise around us, and express the very heart of what connects us, plagues us, and makes us fully human.”
In 2009, the Hygienic Art Gallery opened a fine exhibition tracing the history of years of friendship between the artistic communities in Bulgaria and the city of New London. The bridge between our countries first took form when William served as the Poet Laureate of the US and invited Lyubomir Levchev and other Bulgarian poets to the Library of Congress in 1980. An ardent Cultural Attaché from the Bulgarian Embassy, Krassin Himmirski lobbied hard for Bulgarian poetry and explained the renaissance in this art form that was taking place in Bulgaria at the time, preparing the way for these invited poets. In the following years, William visited Bulgaria many times and helped establish scholarships, art exhibits, readings and publications, and for this work in the culture he was accorded Bulgarian citizenship by presidential decree in 1996. Meredith always defended democratic values and artistic freedom during those sometimes contentious writers’ symposia in Sofia, but he always maintained that if poets can not meet and know each other at the human level, to shake hands across political borders as it were, there is no hope for any progress. And so his friendship with Lyubomir Levchev and his family and other Bulgarian artists deepened. He continued to support the wonderful artist exchanges and projects that began to take form through the generosity of the Griffis Art Center in co-operation with Lyubomir Levchev’s own Orpheus Foundation. And so, this award recognizes not only Levchev’s talent as a poet but also the brotherhood in the art each man felt for the other.
There is an oft-quoted proverb that success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan. Fortunately for New London and Bulgaria, the extraordinary relationship that was born between the artistic communities of our two countries in the ’90s has now fully matured and continues to grow through succeeding progeny. It stands as a remarkable achievement, a model of how artists can grow and prosper and help us in our common human endeavor when goodwill, hard work, philanthropy and talent come together.
While Levchev’s poems sometimes obliquely take on political positions—how could they not, politics is, after all, simply the way people live and organize their lives in society—the publication of this book recognizes his talent as a poet, not as a politician. In his memoir, You Are Next, published in English in the US and in Bulgaria, he addresses the question quite candidly himself, refusing to recant a lifetime dedicated to socialist ideals while recognizing the failures of Communism.
The Russian critic Maxim Zamshev gives us this rather subtle analysis: “Levchev matured as a poet in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. The surrounding world was also changing. Good and evil were continuing their fight even under peaceful conditions, and sometimes that fight was no less furious than the fight on the real battlefields. The poet has preserved throughout the years his understanding that the poet’s force is in his ability to endure, to keep silent, to lead the readers along the serpentine paths of his poems, in the ability to turn the temporary failure into a constant victory. Man has no right to lose: this is the figurative quintessence of Levchev’s poetry of the seventies and eighties.”
As noted in the introduction to Skybreak, Levchev’s career represents a: “lifetime of verbal mastery and careful observation. His speech is informed by a metaphorical vision of great beauty and power. It is a unique voice, that of a poet, like his native Bulgaria, caught between past and future, East and West, who ultimately transcends these polarities. At various times sad, bemused, giddy, mystified, awestruck, and wise, it is often a lonely voice; and when there is no audience, he is content to sing to the stars. Like Shelley or other great Romantics, he speaks to us directly, a lyrical leap out of space and time. In the East, it is said that ‘between one person and another there is only light.’ The world is brighter for the light that shines in this work.”
The inclusion of Stoimen Stoilov’s art in this volume continues what is becoming a tradition for Little Red Tree in publishing a healthy collection of visual art to balance its poetry. Despite what some purists may believe—that poems should stand alone, naked on the blank page—Little Red Tree sees no contradiction in having these two art forms speak to each other in a book. Such art is not meant to “illustrate” but enhance the work Michael Linnard is publishing so beautifully these days. Not only are Stoimen and Luybomir longstanding friends, but each of them knew and loved William Meredith. Stoilov’s generosity knew no bounds when it came to providing art for publications. His marvelous illustrations of Meredith’s poem eulogizing the loss of 128 sailors on the SS Thresher were presented to all the families of those lost at sea. His work graces many volumes of poetry published in the US and he has exhibited his work widely in the US. Two reviews of his work precede the paintings found in the galleries here, as do reviews of the volumes selected for inclusion with the newly translated poems.
In Window on the Black Sea, we felt it necessary to say a word about translation and, so it is here. When we asked poet friends to consider translating for that volume, one poet, in particular, said she could not use the time remaining to her in life this way, that all one could say about an interesting translation was that it must have been beautiful in the original. And it is true that in a sense, all translations are adaptations. This is the case here as well, depending on who has translated the work, some being more or less literal translations, others such as those in Skybreak reworked by Niles and Pamela Bond as adaptations. William Meredith’s masterful translation of Levchev’s poem “Roofs” is an example of how politics and personal anecdotes may blend seamlessly while adding a rhyme scheme not found in the original poem. But the fingerprints of so many translators can be found on so many of the poems, it is sometimes impossible to assign credit to one translator or another. Green-Winged Horse features a great number of new poems, however, uniquely translated by Valentin Krustev. Here once again, history and talent come together in friendly synchronicity. Valentin was one of William’s oldest friends and was one of the very first translators assigned to William when he first began attending Peace the Hope of the Planet, the writers’ conferences sponsored by the Union of Bulgarian Writers over the decades. Valentin’s friendship has been essential in the voluminous correspondence and translations required over the years to keep projects on target. He has our deep and abiding gratitude for the hard work and professionalism he always exhibited.
After an extended visit to New London sponsored by the Griffis Art Center, under the enlightened hospitality of its director, Sharon Griffis, Lyubomir wrote a beautiful series of poems, Skybreak, in which he dedicates poems to all his new friends in America. In the title poem, he writes,
“William has reigned over many a
chasm. And he presented this chasm to me:
New England – The secret garden of poets.”
The gift we have all received in return has been the friendship of so many extraordinary Bulgarian artists, and the chance to share our work and our lives with each other because of the generosity of the Griffis Art Center and the Orpheus Foundation. It’s in the shelter of each other that we live, the Irish say. The story of these friendships gives heart, and recalls the opening lines from William’s poem, “Dalhousie Farm:”
“Will you live long enough to sit in the shade
Of that tree, old man? the children asked,
And the old Chinaman planting the sapling replied,
This world was not a desert when I came into it.
Now, I myself have raised some thrifty trees
And children, entirely from words,
But it is friends with real trees and children who will become,
Probably, my testimony, my best tongue.”
President, William Meredith Foundation,Florida, May 2013