Marija Dejanović

- Croatia -

Marija Dejanović is a poet, critic, and feminist born in Prijedor, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1992. She grew up in Croatia, Sisak, and currently lives between Zagreb, Croatia, and Larissa, Greece. She studied Comparative literature and Pedagogy (University of Zagreb).


In the year 2018, her poetry book Ethics of Bread and Horses (Etika kruha i konja) won the Goran award for young poets and the Kvirin award for young poets. The poetry book Heartwood (Središnji god) won Zdravko Pucak award in 2019. 


In 2021, her third poetry book, Kindness Separates Night From Day (Dobrota razdvaja dan i noć) was published by Sandorf (Zagreb, Croatia) and by Treći Trg (Belgrade, Serbia), and shortlisted for the biggest Croatian award for poetry, Tin Ujević, and the regional award Avdina Okarina (BiH). 


Her poems were awarded the Milo Bošković Award (2021), the Castello Di Duino (2022) Award, the DiBiase Poetry Contest Award (2021), and her theatre script Ne moramo više govoriti, svi su otišli (We Don’t Have to Speak Anymore, They Are All Gone) was awarded the Marin Držić award (2021) by the Croatian Ministry of Culture.


Trilingual selections of her latest poetry were published in Greece (Kyklos Poiiton, 2020) and Germany (Hausacher LeseLenz, 2022), and translated poems by the author were published in around 20 world languages. The Greek, Macedonian and USA editions of her book Kindness Separates Day and Night are upcoming in 2023. 


She presented her poetry at numerous international festivals and readings around Europe. She is a member of the Croatian Writers’ Society, Croatian PEN Centre, and international poets’ and festivals’ platform Versopolis. She’s one of the editors of Tema magazine. She is the assistant director of Thessalian Poetry Festival (Πανθεσσαλικό Φεστιβάλ Ποίησης) and works as the editor of translated poetry for the publishing house Thraka.


She was the recipient of Reading Balkans residency in Belgrade, and Traduki residency in Bucharest.

She was nominated for the woman of the year by the feminist portal VoxFeminae in 2022.

As an author, Marija Dejanović has received unanimous critical acclaim. Her poetry books and theatre plays received many local and international awards and were translated into around 20 world languages. The prominent Bosnian writer Miljenko Jergović wrote that she is a “great poet – young in life, very old in poetry”, and that her “extraordinary poems […] could be a graffiti on the facades of the houses where there is no more Marija”. In the Balkan region, she is mostly known for her poetry books “Etika kruha i konja” (Ethics of Bread and Horses) and “Dobrota razdvaja dan i noć” (“Kindness Separates Night From Day”). Her debut book, “Ethics of Bread and Horses”, is an ecofeminist story of origin full of references to Slavic mythology, oral tradition, and real-life historical and family events the poet has gathered.


Writing about “Ethics of Bread and Horses”, Hana Samaržija noted: “[t]here is a common misconception, a pervasive platitude, that we as human beings are capable of learning from experience. Quite the reverse, there is nothing inherent in agonizing events – wars, torture, peer brutality, violence, rape, and ostensibly immutable gender roles – that hinders us from repeating them. Instead of learning from experience, we learn from reflecting upon the experience, and the darkness of contemporary poetry can be a valuable instrument in this process of self-evaluation. […] Marija Dejanović’s award-winning and translated poetry collection The Ethics of Bread of Horses [is] a poignant and ornately symbolic musing on exile, war, the torments of girlhood, and the human capacity for evil. Dejanović’s figurative world of horse girls, enigmatic sorceresses, murdered bakers, butcherers, bread, and soldiers conveys the affective world of being exiled from one’s hometown due to war, of living through a sociopolitical moment of rife destruction, and achieves this feat with unbearable lightness and distressing clarity.”


When reading the “Ethics of Bread and Horses”, it is obvious why this highly conceptual poetry book, which is sometimes also regarded as a verse novel, uses a character of a girl-horse to make an important stance about the societal role of women in the rapidly modernized rural pre-war Yugoslavia, and in the newly pseudo-urbanized, repatriarchalized Croatia of the 90s. It is a story about a young sorceress’ apprentice who, after her death, moves to a human family residing in a small war-torn city, an allegorical tale about Dejanović’s own experience as a child refugee. 


“Kindness Separates Night and Day” is, as Nikola Jelinčić wrote, “the third book of a poet who already proved herself to be one of the most interesting regional poetic voices. It is a book written in a more communicative and open tone than her debut book “Ethics of Bread and Horses”, in which the author speaks, in an autobiographical and narrative tone, about the relationship between space and identity, about departures and arrivals, the question of the origin and a pursuit of the answers through the recapitulation of the current and the past moments.


Images of memories, achieved by simple and unpretentious language, evoke the crucial, formative moments of those who are home-less, of those who changed too many apartments in their life. […] The poems speak about the types of exile, and the search for oneself […], and the verses are a combination of the intimate and objective observation of the world and nature around us, with a clearly emphasized compositional logic. […]


The second thematic layer that appears in the text is contained in the verses that depict the unity of the lyrical subject with the animal world. Maybe those verses could be read as a departure, escapism, as establishing order by returning to nature […]. On the other hand, the focus is on the symbolism of the animal world, often gentle or surrealist images that combine the vegetative and animal world […]. The goal of the lyrical subject is to admire the bee and the fish, to find a mystical harmony in the animals’ symbolism, way of life, and names; to find harmony in the connectedness with the soil, the mud, and the smell of herbal roots, to search for the history of humankind in the root of the history of the soil. With the semantic play of the named motives, the whole collection achieves to be fully compact with the previously named motives of traveling and dislocation, putting in front of the reader a praiseworthy text, with which the author positions herself at the very top of the current poetic production.”


Zorana Simić writes that after “the books “Ethics of Bread and Horses” and “Heartwood”, which were exceptionally accepted and awarded both in Croatia, and in the countries that surround it”, the book “Kindness…”, which “could be grouped in the corpus of migrational literature”, possesses “an (eco)feminist conscience, pacifism, and postcolonial potential”, and “reveals a serious, talented, educated and mature author, recognized by the critics, since the beginning, […] as the herald of the new poetic tendencies and a new era in the Croatian poetry”.   


Simić writes that “like her previous books, “Kindness…”, too, is a text about the permanent (re)construction and Pessoian peeling of the layers of the identity of a singular female lyrical subject. Already in the opening line – “The moving of our organism happened overnight” – one can read a number of its important aspects: the motive of migration […] with her recognizable emersion in the organicism: “our organism” can, on the level of the whole book, […] be connected to the relationship between the human and the animalistic, to the societal collectives, to the narrower familiar matrilineality and the intimate erotic relationship, but also to the problem of the linguistical coding and (literal) translation of the experience. […] At the same time, the duality/plurality of her “origin” is suggested, as well as her emergence through the speech, especially in the limits of the patriarchal, (post)war, capitalist, consumerist context. […] Marija Dejanović achieves to preserve the high level of the quality of her poetry, not giving up on the strong melodiousness and striking poetic images, which are now often immersed in the warm Mediterranean stimmung, imbued by the deeper (mildly eroticized) atmosphere, the colors of the sea, fish, oranges, and sun. Her secluded lyrical subject is self-constituting in a more bare way in its permanent elusiveness and pursuit of its own identity, mature in regards to the relationship toward the beloved being, but still not accepting the illusions of the absolute or eternal belonging”.