Ivan Hristov

- Bulgaria -

Ivan Hristov is a Bulgarian poet and literary researcher. He is the author of the poetry collections Farewell, Nineteenth Century (winner of the prize for best poetic debut from the National Southern Spring Competition 2002), Bdin (winner of the national literary prize Svetlostruy 2006, in 2015 Bdin was published in Turkey), American poems (2013) as well as the academic monograph The Sagittarius Circle and the Idea of the Native (2009). In 2016 in Romania was published the book Bdin, followed by American poems which contains his last two poetry books. In 2018, his fourth poetry collection called A Dictionary of Love came out. Since 2010, he has been a member of the organizing committee for the international Sofia: Poetics festival. He currently works at the Institute for Literature at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

Mythologism and Recognizability in the Poetry of Ivan Hristov


Ivan Hristov is an author who holds a specific place in contemporary Bulgarian literature, who participates actively in Bulgarian cultural life and who has taken part in significant national and international literary festivals, where he has won awards. His first poetry collection, Farewell, Nineteenth Century (2001), received the Southern Spring Award for best debut in 2002. His next book, Bdin (2004) won the Svetlostruy Prize in 2006. In 2013, his poetry collection American Poems was released. Two of his books have been translated – into Turkish and Romanian, while his poems have been published in over ten languages. In 2018 he published his fourth book of poetry, A Dictionary of Love.

Ivan Hristov’s poetry enriches Bulgarian literature with its innovative metaphysics. It constructs a quite believable yet also imaginary world – a world of utopias and mythologies, but also one that is recognizable as Bulgarian. A clear representative of postmodernism in contemporary Bulgarian literature, Ivan Hristov frequently makes use of repetitions or inversions, while his poetic works take on a refrain-like character and inspire new interpretations of parallels with other authors, as well as the search for connections with other realia and utopias.

But here I would like to ask – do you think tractors and poetry have anything in common? One of the possible and most brilliant answers to this question can be found in Ivan Hristov‘s first poetry collection Farewell, Nineteenth Century. A book in which memory and play, language and nonsense, are constantly in a dynamic exchange; at the same time, poetic texts and parodies of the poetic, provoking laughter and shock, scandalizing the reader. With this book the poet lays the foundation of a new mythology, of a new contemporary identity; he designates new values and problems and then quickly rejects them. The emblematic poems “The Bear’s Monologue,” “A Mistaken Tragedy,” “There Are No People Like That,” “Folk Song about a Tractor,” and “Autobiographical” confront the Bulgarian reader with a mixed-up, unrecognizable world, similar to Escher’s drawings in its suggestions, ambiance and essence. Emilian Nikolov comments on the unrecognizability of the world in the book:

“The unrecognizability of the world is expressed through the motives of disintegration and departure. The motif of disintegration, scattering and flying away is fundmental in the first poems in the book. (…) The motif of wandering – both externally (from city to city), as well as internally (from book to book, and heart to heart) – wandering as restlessness, as seeking, the exhaustion from which comes when everything has to start over from the beginning.”

His second poetry collection, Bdin, for me is a step forward in identifying the unknown; a new examination and expressing of the recognizability, but through different voices. Bdin is a pantheon of Bulgarian names in a space of Utopia and reality, of Death and Eternity. This is certainly why Penka Vatova, praising the book, emphasized the following: “Bdin is a book about the deeply personal experience of a place of ruin, of exhaustion, of impossibility happenings, of has-been, nit not of being… Designated as Bdin, from a place where we are born, the homeland in Ivan Hristov’s book becomes a place in which life does not begin, but is already over. But this is not only the usual philosophical rationalization of the eternal cycle of life, of eternal motion, which eternally repeats our “arrival” and fuses birth with death. Because the book, after that first poem, unambiguously leads the reader into the painfully familiar here-and-now of our lives.”

The eternal motion that is noticeable already in Farewell, Nineteenth Century from the words: “I wandered/from city to city,/from book to book…” continues as a poetic building block in American Poems. The Belarus tractor (from Farewell, Nineteenth Century) and the Ukraine bicycle (from Bdin) are leftovers from the poet’s previous poetic worlds. The Chevrolet automobile now takes center stage (from the very cover of the book) – a car that hungrily swallows up highways and at the same time takes on the faint silhouette of mutual penetration of times and spaces. And with this, what has been covered, passed and experienced takes on distinctness and longevity. This is a narrative book about real events, places and names, in which, using the tools of postmodern stylistics, the author has created poems which we could tentatively divide into those which have a mythological core, and those which bear the stamp of American influence, and still others involved in searching for and finding one’s own identity.

The newest collection, A Dictionary of Love, “dresses up” Ivan Hristov’s poetry in the stuff of new names. Here repetition has given way to exhaustive and very concrete naming, which provide a vision of the mythological basis and of that which today does not allow the lyrical narrator to rest. A Dictionary of Love represents a rich selection of objects and phenomena, which provides new knowledge and shows the reader that things have more than one meaning. Thus the associative expressiveness is achieved – arrived at in an indirect, rational way, setting out from the names of the objects, which are related to love – to love’s hot core. Elka Dimitrova describes the book as follows: “The selected code words are ordered alphabetically, a poem is written about each of them, while for each poem a brief research study has been conducted. In this way a very particular mysticism has been created – emotional and rational at the same time. A play on words and associations, but also numerous sensations weave its material on the path towards the roots of the feeling of love – with both pain and delight.”

This reading of Ivan Hristov’s latest poetry collection again brings me back to the question of recognizability in his poetry. Does it exist, since A Dictionary of Love arrives to give us new knowledge – and to fill our empty spaces? Theoretically the cognizability of the world is possible due to knowledge accumulated from and by civilization, accumulated through every individual human experience, in each human life. Thus we arrive at the old adage, which says “in much wisdom is much grief.” And both grief and pain are that lever which, if it does not lift the world, at least releases the springs of a valuable, more deeply existential poetry. And the search for the optimal image of the recognizability of the world continues, every time, with each new poem by Ivan Hristov.