Mirela Ivanova: The world of poetry is filled with mystery

It offers a different, meaningful and luscious territory of freedom

At that stage of life, poetry is a force of nature that takes over your entire being, a daily exploration, a metaphorical cyclone, a painful struggle to create your own, instantly-distinguishable and unique poetic world. No mercy!, says poetess Mirela Ivanova in an interview to Europost.

Ms Ivanova, at the end of the month you are heading to Bavaria to participate in the Schamrock-Festival der Dichterinnen. Besides readings on the stage of the ETA Hoffmann Theatre in Bamberg, the programme will feature discussions. On what will those conversations focus?

It is with gleeful excitement that I am heading to my beloved Bavaria - because of the recognition, the wonderful opportunity presented to me and the prestigious reputation of the festival, which has been held annually, along with many other events dedicated to poetry, normally in Munich but this autumn in Bamberg. A long time ago, I lived and worked at the International House of Artists Villa Concordia in Bamberg for a year as a recipient of a stipend provided by the Bavarian Ministry of Culture, so this trip has a nostalgic aspect to it as well. The Schamrock-Festival der Dichterinnen is also a serious platform for discussions. We will talk about the fate of high-level literature, about literature's place in the hectic and extreme modern times and about poetry and its nature of a free, spiritual island, of a refuge. The poetry readings are a special ritual, often followed by audience questions. I will confess that it was the year in Bamberg that afforded me the amazing opportunity to reach the most unexpected audiences with my words, and I'd like to note that I read my verses in their German translation. So in that year I did poetry readings everywhere - from the University of Bamberg's ceremonial hall, which is housed in a 13th-century church, to the juvenile detention centre for kids with serious offences, which resides in a massive baroque monastery. These were unforgettable experiences. I hope that this year's festival will, too, create a soulful and memorable event.

It seems as though you have been writing less poetry of late, turning your attention to prose and screenplay writing. What changed for you?

I used to write a lot when I was still very young, eyes and senses fresh. At that stage of life, poetry is a force of nature that takes over your entire being, a daily exploration, a metaphorical cyclone, a painful struggle to create your own, instantly-distinguishable and unique poetic world. No mercy! What changed was my age and experience. In the past 15 years or so, my curiosity for other genres has grown. I am extremely interested in short stories and the opportunities they allow for psychological analyses of the characters within a few pages of text. I discovered the important challenge of telling the accumulated suffocating pile of stories, mine and other people's, with authenticity and yet having some creative licence with them and turning them into new pieces of life. I am fascinated by the interconnectedness of characters - how they affect each other, how they submit to one another - the natural dialogue, but also the deeper layers, the subtext, the thread of the storyline and the small and big knots along its length. It is pretty much the same with plays: the exhilarating challenge of welcoming many different voices in your head, people who try to find themselves in their interactions and the truth that binds or separates them.

Following the huge success of your latest poetry book - SEVEN. Poems (with) Biographies - and the numerous prestigious awards it has brought you, do you feel like you have conquered every possible height in poetry?

Oh, I am a mere speck in the boundless sea of literature for me to point to heights and judge them as conquered, just a free literary atom. Yes, the sense of closure following 'SEVEN. Poems (with) Biographies' has stayed with me, but one never knows what lies ahead… Let us not forget that the world of poetry is filled with mystery and mysticism, and that makes me rely on “open endings”, on surprise - I do not want to know what comes next, I do not want to promise and predict, that does not intrigue me.

Do you think that people have grown distant from poetry in the more callous modern times?

No, poetry has always been a refuge. It provides a different, meaningful and luscious territory of freedom, a vast expanse of opportunities to embolden our soul and foster spiritual fearlessness, to overcome the challenges on our path with dignity and learn stoicism in the most beautiful way. Poetry is not a cheap mass-produced item or a verbal epidemic that would sweep through the population and be gone soon after - sometimes I even worry that the dangerously widespread affliction called graphomania is taking away from the authenticity of personal experiences with poetry. The world of digital and paper books is inundated by cheap and even offensive attempts at poetry to the point of swamping.

A play of yours is set to be put on soon. Could you pull back the curtain a bit? Is this your first foray into dramaturgy or are there some others stashed away?

I wrote my first play towards the end of my college days, but the project never materialised. I have always been drawn to theatre, stage, acting. Even my poems are infused with this playful, theatrical spirit. Immodestly, I can tell you that I already have the knowledge and the feel for it, so I try not to shoot in the dark, let alone stash things away. I do not burden others with my hesitation, doubts or insecurities, and I do not show or share texts, in any genre, before I have completely finished them and have conviction about them. Now, let me pull the curtain back a bit: the play, which director Katya Petrova is putting on at the Chamber Hall of the National Theatre “Ivan Vazov”, is called Life Line and features six female roles.

What prompted you to write for theatre - specific life events or the fact that you are a playwright for the National Theatre and work with inspiring actors?

Theatre has always been a part of me; even in my everyday life I am theatrical, within reason, of course. Acting is woven into our fabric as human beings, mine including. My joining the National Theatre, working in this sacred space, interacting with more than interesting actors and directors unlocked the inspiration in me.

How do you manage to wear so many different creative hats? What are your husband, renowned novelist Vladimir Zarev, and daughter Zornitsa to you - an inspiration, support, concern or a bit of everything?

First and foremost, they are my family, infusion of love flowing both ways and an inspiring source of tension. Admittedly, I am the most reserved and sharp-edged person in the family dynamic and that is why I thank them - mostly silently, not so much out loud.

Close-up

Mirela Ivanova was born on 11 May 1962 in Sofia. She first started writing poetry as a student at the German Language High School in the Bulgarian capital. She has authored books of poetry, collections of short stories and analyses of topical social and political issues. Together with poet Boyko Lambovski, she created the poetic performance company Friday 13 as well as the eponymous Bulgarian National Television programme. Her poems have been translated into all major languages and received numerous national and international awards. Since the end of 2016, Mirela Ivanova is a playwright with the National Theatre “Ivan Vazov” in Sofia.

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