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The City and the Writer: In Skopje with Igor Isakovski

By Nathalie Handal

Image: Igor Isakovski, photographed by Marjan Stojkovski.

Igor Isakovski was a leading Macedonian poet, prose writer, translator, and editor. He was born on September 19, 1970 in Skopje and died on December 15, 2014. He was forty-four years old.

Paired Post: A Tribute to Igor Isakovski

If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Can you describe the mood of Skopje as you feel/see it?

It’s good in spring, when the harsh winter is over. It’s heavy in summer. As long as I can have a drink with a cigarette in a bar somewhere outside, it’s a good city. But it’s small, too condensed by the surrounding mountains. The city changes along with my mood—sometimes I love being here, other times I can’t wait to pack my bag.

What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?

The sound of her high heels walking away, the sound of a distant taxi dispatcher giving directions to some distant cab, watching the snow piling up with a pathetic cup of tea, feeling completely alone and detached from everything.

What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?

The nightlife, pulsating and vivid, all the way to the morning. Breakfast before going to bed. And the narrow streets where one can meet his mind while looking for the right track on a long drunken night.

What writer(s) from here should we read?

My friends, of course! Jovica Ivanovski—he pulsates with and within the city, boldly and with a song. Venko Andonovski—he creates other worlds, which most of the time helps me get through the night. Rumena Bužarovska—she still nourishes the inner child within herself. Let me cut the list here, as I don’t want to turn this answer into an inventory.

Is there a place here you return to often?

There was a bar called Jethro (after J. Tull) in the neighborhood but they turned it into crap. I miss it a lot. There are a few more bars around—within walking distance, which is very practical for my sometimes long bar tours—but I usually don’t go to them in winter. There is yet another place—a hidden bar in the center of the city (I love that paradox) where no one (except the bartender, of course) knows me.

Is there an iconic literary place we should know?

Not anymore. There was a bar where many of us gave readings, etc. Closed for good.

Are their hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?

No, not really. When I was younger, when taxis were shamelessly expensive, I walked all over. I think I know every corner of the city, which is more than I would like to know.

Where does passion live here?

In my study, most of the time. Sometimes, I find it on empty boulevards.

What is the title of one of your poems about Skopje and what inspired it exactly?

“Grad – Grd – Krik,” which would translate into “City – Ugly – Howl.”

Inspired by Levi, “Outside Skopje does an outside exist?”

Most of the time Skopje exists more outside than within itself. It is like a cranky lover that one keeps on returning to—sometimes it is more beautiful when you are far from it.

Read a tribute to Igor Isakovski by Nathalie Handal.

Igor Isakovski received a BA in world and comparative literature from Sts. Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje, and an MA in gender and culture from CEU, Budapest. He was the founder and director of the Cultural Institution Blesok, where he worked as editor-in-chief. Isakovski published numerous books of poetry and prose: Letters (1991); Black Sun (1992); Explosions, Pregnant Moon, and Eruptions (1993); Vulcan—Earth— (1995); —Sky (1996, 2000); Engravings, Blues Phone Booth (2001); Sandglass (2002); Way Down in the (poetry, 2004); Swimming in the Dust (2005, awarded Prose Masters prize 2005); Blues Phone Booth II (2006, awarded 2007 annual prize for best visual-graphic design of a printed book); Interning for a Saint (2008); and The Night Is Darkest Before the Dawn (2009). He translated over fifty-one books—poetry, prose, and essays—from and into Macedonian, English, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, and Slovenian. His work was translated and published in English, Dutch, Romanian, Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Montenegrin, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Slovakian, Korean Turkish, and more

Published Sep 19, 2016   Copyright 2016 Nathalie Handal

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