Antonija Novaković

- Croatia -

Antonija Novaković was born in Zagreb in 1979. Her first poetry collection, Lako mi je biti lošija (It’s easy for me to be worse), won the international “Bridges” award at the 47th Struga Poetry Evenings, after being awarded with the poet-debutant award “Goran” at the Croatian Goranovo Proljeće festival. The same year, 2008, she received the Prozak award for short prose writers younger than 35. The later resulted with the book of short stories entitled Birali ste broj koji se ne koristi (The number you have dialed is not in use). She lives and works in Zagreb. 

The sado-maso ball of poetry

Antonija Novaković with only two books published (one poetry collection and the book of short stories), received two important Croatian, as well as one international poetry award. For her first poetry manuscript in 2008 she won “Goran for young poets”, given by Goranovo proljeće poetry festival, awarding the best first manuscript of the poet younger than 30, the most important local newcomer prize. For the subsequently published first book, entitled Lako mi je biti lošija (It’s easy to be worse), she was granted the “Bridges” award of Macedonian Struga poetry evenings festival in the same year. In 2009 her first short stories manuscript, Birali ste broj koji se ne koristi (You have dialed the number which is not in use), won the “Prozak” annual for the best unpublished prose peace. She performed at numerous local and a couple of international poetry festivals and events, and was active as a literary blogger.

Novaković is a part of a new wave in the field of Croatian lyrics, peaking around the shift of the decades, the best represented by female poets. This neo-confessionalism was characterized by a straight delivery, brave confrontation with personal problems and everyday angst of the sensitive subject, but literature was not treated as an escapist sanctuary, but as the space of the struggle – its motto could be the good old “personal is political”.

If we would try to describe the subject of Novaković’s poems, as well as her main poetical strategies, a coin used by author’s protagonist to offer a witty description of poetry might be of use – the protagonist names it “my sado-maso ball”. This suggestive phrase marks the poetic text as the space of the double game: on the one hand, the subject is the one empowered – the protagonist often names herself a poet, the one in rule of the text, the master of her universe. At the same time the protagonist – as the object of self-observing and autoanalyses – exposes herself as helpless, week, identified exclusively with the negative categories. This infirmity is defined primarily towards the male recipient, who is the direct address of the lyrical speech, so Novaković’s poems might be read as the love ones – sort of awkward love monologues – whilst the relations between the lovers are fully out of balance. Thus, if the lyrical subject is the ultimate master of the text on the inwards level, on the outside, as an object of her own text, the protagonist tries to brake free under the paw of the never-present, cruel Other of the lover, who is ruling the game from the position of deeply rooted patriarchy. Her passivity is, thus, a sort of disguise – the protagonist makes it public as something that must be abandoned, so the opposite positions can be taken – the pain and weakness become the means of affirmation; in the final turn of the tables they become the very center of the power, the writing source.

In another sequel of poems, named “The document”, the protagonist is, on the contrary, entirely abstract – he tries to imitate the insipid discourse of an official document, regulation or form. This hyper-mimetic status is not accidentally ascribed to a penitentiary, a jail: a space defined by doors and their strictly regulated, selective possibility of passage. A bare discourse, completely devoid of figures thus becomes figural as a unit, removed from the original context and almost resembling a ready-made, relocated into a new, lyrical context. In the further sequels a “protagonist with human face” takes over the narration: everyday scenes, wandering through urban landscape and confessional sequences are pronouncedly personalized, entirely juxtaposed to the institutional strictness: again, the struggle for “the self” is fierce and open.

Answering the question about the personal meaning of poetry as opposed to public aspects of writing it, Novaković states: “For me writing poetry is primarily a mean of emotional hygiene, proofing my own pulse, and as such, for a quite while it remained entirely intrinsic activity, the effect and the results of which couldn’t be measured by no external means. Only after I have released the words.”