Boiko Lambovski: Poetry is a virtuosic play with words

As long as language exists there will be people who are overwhelmed by it

They say that poets are prophets. At the onset of 2020 we are talking with poet Boiko Lambovski about the future and the chances for restoring the wholeness of the world. Whether poetry is sometimes more real than the reality in which we are living? And if poetry is not an escape, could then our eternal quests be the way out? Poetry is a part of the literary history and of civilisation, but it is also part of our inner yearning, says Bulgarian poet Boiko Lambovski in an interview to

Poetry has never been read all that much, it is not a popular art. Do you see any future for it?

Just like any other coded language, poetry intentionally isolates itself from large groups of people and quite naturally seeks its own microenvironment. It wants to be comprehensible for the select few. And indeed, very few people follow poetry and are interested in it, and some of those are also writing poetry themselves. Very often the “consumers” of poetry are also its creators. However, this doesn't discourage me. Poetry is a function of language, and that is why I am not pessimistic about its future. As long as human language exists, there will be people who are overwhelmed by the chance to play fascinating games with poetry. It is a play with language, sometimes quite virtuosic.

Poetry is part of the literary history and of civilisation, but it is also an inner yearning. At moments of epiphany or when a tragedy strikes, people spontaneously start stringing words in a manner different from their usual habits of everyday speech. They seek something more conjuring, more commemorative, something loftier in its phrasing and content. That is why - seemingly - poetry is becoming history and no one reads it, while in fact the internet is flooded with poetic attempts (rap, for instance). It is true that most of them are mediocre, but that yearning of ours is apparent, and this is what's important.

They say that poets are prophets… As a man who looks ahead, what do you foresee and what do you expect to happen?

Poets are intuitive beings, of that I'm sure. They have the ability to easily lapse into transboundary states where the difference between dream and reality is not so discernible. Of course, the world literary history abounds in examples of nearly direct prophecies. I come to think of Vladimir Bashev, a Bulgarian poet who died too early. He wrote: “I will die on the road, flying”, and he actually died in a car accident. I also think of the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo who wrote: “I will die in Paris, on a rainy day, perhaps on a Thursday”. In reality, he died six months later, on Thursday, but the day was not rainy. Actually, poets are not real prophets, they are more like transient visionaries. Especially when it comes to their own destiny.

What do I expect to happen in the future? I wouldn't want to witness crises, but I believe they are very likely to occur. I mean economic, political and environmental crises. Globally, there are high and painful tensions in many areas, and not all of them will be easily and peacefully defused.

They also say that the rejection of Christian values has led to de-spiritualisation and the ubiquity of small-mindedness and impropriety. Is there a cure for that?

The world becomes an increasingly uniform place. The ailments of our souls are common, but in some places they progress faster while in others the process runs slower. I wouldn't like to overemphasise it, there is destruction, but at the same time there are constructive trends; small-mindedness prevails, but there is also sanctity and even greatness of soul. Apropos, it has been so throughout human history. More intense polarisation is typical of our time: some things in our society are deteriorating, but there are spheres where they are improving. It is another question that such a split results in even higher social tension and social cataclysms. For instance, the so-called “consumerism” is an inseparable part of this process. We cannot avoid it en masse, but only individually.

Can an originally collectivist culture adapt to the cold individualistic world?

Human beings are adaptable creatures. Everything is possible, but for many this is often painful. However, pain is part of life - wise people claim - and an indispensable part. There are social, political and financial crises, there are also family and personality crises. We have to cope with them throughout our lives. This is part of existence - there is no life which is crises-free, at least not in this known biological form.

How curious is the poet Boiko Lambovski about people?

Every person is curious, only everyone chooses different spheres of interest. I don't think that I am particularly curious about people - the necessity to make acquaintances actually tires me. I think that the people whom I already know are sufficient to make me feel comfortable in this world. There are people who are afraid of wild animals, but they don't fear walking on ice. Or there are people who are afraid of their bosses but not of cold weapons. The same applies to curiosity - some are curious about one thing, others, about another.

We all have fear, the brave are those who manage not to show it. Does this maxim sound right?

I wouldn't say so. To a certain extent this is just grandstanding. To be afraid is natural and everybody is afraid of something. But depending on the particular culture and its myths, fearing one thing is considered to be a disgrace while fearing something else is not. For instance, the Japanese believed that fear of dying is a disgrace while in our culture this is not so. There is no life without fear. Certainly, we are talking about healthy fear, not harmful pathological fears. Every human being is afraid of normal earthly things - not to be left alone, of bad things that may happen to their families… The fear of not meeting all the requirements, so to say, not to perform your predestined mission on Earth, is more metaphysical, loftier, and it is very helpful. If we believe that we endeavour on a certain mission on this planet, we would be afraid of wasting our efforts, of failing to understand what the mission is or of abandoning it.

Your choice is to be a poet. Is it a profession?

Certainly being a poet is not a profession. It is even embarrassing for me to publicly admit that I am a poet. Most people tend to think that poetry is something syrupy, melodramatic or too lofty, outlandish. This is what bothers me - I don't want people to think that I am some kind of a graphomaniac. Poetry is much more than rhyming popular verses, alternating “stars” with “superstars”.

A poet lives through words. Is he the person who chooses them?

- I'd rather say that poets are singled out and pointed at. But at the same time, it is expected that they will take action. And they can even pay no heed to Fate's finger. But if a poet refuses to see where it points, I think Fate can somehow exert punishment. Many poets get stuck at the beginning, on the level where they were when they were being pointed at. While a wise author starts getting armed. It is clear that they are chosen - they will have to fight. Then they start crafting weapons and protective armour… A poet has to build up skills, because in poetry, like in any other art, there are things that must be learnt.

How do you charge your imagination?

I have found out that talent doesn't need charging. Life itself and its pain charge talented people even against their own will.

What about love? Does it help the poet?

It helps in the act of living. A person in love is already a poet. Regardless of the fact that they cannot write verses. Love opens our eyes for the otherwise elusive colours of reality. Love makes our vision more colourful. And it does help, how could it be otherwise?

Does love come to poets more often?

Small loves happen more often, big loves come very rarely. (Laughs)

What do women share in common with poetry?

Both need courtship. You have to try different approaches. Both poetry and women tend to be whimsical, to get upset and turn their back on you… Poetry, like women, is the mediator between you and other worlds. Poetry mediates between you and the metaphysical world while a woman between you and the future and, in part, the past generations.


Boiko Lambovski is a poet, essayist and translator. He has published 10 books of poetry, several collections of short stories, essays and fairy tales. Lambovski is a laureate of over 20 Bulgarian awards for poetry and prose. His verses have been translated into English, German, Russian, Serbian, French, Slovenian, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, etc. He has taken part in numerous writers' conferences in France, Norway, Cyprus, Russia, Romania, Turkey, Slovenia, Germany and other countries. Until last year, he chaired the Bulgarian PEN Centre. He translates from Russian and French, mostly poetry. His translations of books by Joseph Brodski, Robert Desnos, Nikolay Gumilyov, Andrei Voznesensky, Daniil Harms, etc., have been published in Bulgaria.

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