Abdulah Sidran is a poet, writer, and screenwriter – an artist of exquisite, universal talent with a unique gift for empathy. When asked about his literary role models, those whom he likes to call his “pen brothers,” Sidran says that most do not belong to modern times. Entering literary waters fairly late, as a high school and university student, Sidran became a source of constant awe with his knowledge of Homer. His love for this particular form of narration is echoed by a line of his poetry: “To understand my own smallness, I need not do what I do every day, read great poets.”
The poet explains: “Without a doubt, Constantinos Cavafis had the greatest influence on the poetry I wrote in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as Czesław Miłosz, Joseph Brodsky – the great writers of the 20th century. I think it’s important that I did not seek teachers among poets. Ninety eight percent of what I read was prose, and only two percent was poetry. I didn’t learn poetry from poetry, but from folk epics, epic literature, Homer, the Iliad and Odyssey – more the Iliad – Ovid, Roman literature, from the classical hexameter and its Latin variations, from the holy books, whose language is real human speech. Poetry could never be one’s goal. Poetry is a way, magic, in which one seeks the words of truth”. Sidran sees death and futility as the central issues in his works, but also feels these are the dominant themes in poetry at large.
“The topic of human transience, that is to say, death, is the only relevant literary topic. Let us not forget that the oldest manuscript we know belongs to our civilization is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is 3,500 years old, 2000 years older than the Bible. It is a universal myth, a myth about Man receiving the recipe of everlasting life, but losing it due to his own foolishness. This Gilgamesh is modern even today, so you’ll hardly find a piece of literature you’ll enjoy more, even though it is true so many millennia have passed, for this is the most relevant topic. Regardless of what one does, there are questions that cannot be answered.”
Sidran’s books of poetry have brought the author the highest literary and social recognition. A clue to their appeal could be found in a comment by writer Marko Vesović: “Sidran’s poetry abounds with forms through which the poet addresses the Other, forms that draw the Other into the poetic structure... The person being spoken to, in whom the poet’s words must be refracted, is a constant presence in this poetry.”
Sidran’s Selected Works include not only his poems, but also his prose, film scripts, dramas, travel stories and non-fiction works, while his poetry has also been translated into Italian, French, Swedish, and German.
The most recent addition to this list of works translated is “The Balkan Novel,” which can already be found in Italian bookstores under the title “Romanzo balcanico.” The story is one of the plurality of cultures that live in Bosnia and Herzegovina, of Balkan history and literature, the formation of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and its demise, of Abdulah Sidran’s film and theatre works, a tale of the Sidran family, the anti-fascist movement during the Second World War, of Goli Otok Island and it’s notorious jail for those accused of being pro-Stalinist, of Sarajevo and its four wartime winters (from 1992 to 1995), and of today.
When asked whether he grieves the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, his response is unfaltering: “Yes. Were it a hundred times worse than it was, it would still have been a hundred times better than anything that came after it!”
Abdulah Sidran is also one of the most important screenwriters from a former-Yugoslav country, having achieved great success with films “Sjećaš li se Doli Bel” (Do You Remember Dolly Bell) (1981) and “Otac na službenom putu” (When Father Was Away on Business) (1985), both directed by Emir Kusturica.
Sidran’s next film project will be a collaboration with director Ademir Kenović, with whom he has already worked with on “Kuduz” (1989). The upcoming project is a documentary about Sidran himself, entitled “Planet Sidran.” “It wasn’t supposed to be a film about Abdulah Sidran, but about different Sidrans, the planetary Sidrans, the Sidrans throughout the world. I listed about ten of them in my script. To mention a few: Ben Sidran, the American jazz musician and music historian; Miriam Sidran, professor of astronomy and theoretical physics at New York’s Columbia University; Eva Sidransky, the novelist, winner of important American literary awards. They are all Jews, hailing from Eastern Europe, and are all surprised that there is a Sidran in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who is also a Muslim, a poet, a screenwriter. Yet in Lebanon there are Sidrans that are neither Jews nor Muslims, but something else – I found one in the newspaper, Sami Sidran.”
Sidran is currently penning an autobiographical novel entitled „Otkup sirove kože“ (Rawhide Buying): “It is about my sad realisation that our lives, in the case of my generation at least, are a sum of humiliations, and that everything we do, everything I’ve done, is to stay alive, to, if nothing else, save our bare rawhides, to live in any way possible. You can’t get more dire than that. In practice, rawhide buying takes place by slaughterhouses during the Greater Eid holiday (Festival of Sacrifice). People slaughter lambs and then don’t know what to do with the hides, so they sell them to traders who process them. I took this as a metaphor for my own life. That my own life was nothing other than a constant, toilsome and ugly fight for survival. I wrote out of compulsion, sometimes inner, more often external. I didn’t have time to think about literature even ten minutes a year. Bare rawhide buying.”