PEN World Voices: Bulgarian Coda

Saturday, Noon I’m in the Bowery Poetry Club meeting Lyubomir Levchev, a poet famous in Bulgaria and mostly unknown around the world. He’s here in New York City for an onstage conversation with hometown poet Bob Holman in Holman’s own downtown dive, the Bowery Poetry Club. It’s all part of the current PEN World Voices festival, which ends this weekend.

Levchev has a gentle manner and a warm smile. He’s been on the scene since the late 1950’s, when he and several other poets of the day were known as Bulgaria’s “April Generation”. These were the post-Stalinist years when the small Eastern European nation was feeling out its ability to support an independent local arts scene. Despite the stark political circumstances, Levchev’s early writing style will feel familiar to anybody who’s read American beat poetry from the same era. Here are a few verses from The Garden Before Paradise, a dark story-poem about the aged and exhausted remnants of a downbeaten army:

The Field Marshal went by.
He didn’t like the town.
The tanks went by.
The trucks went by.
And only a bumpy road remained,
And a hundred injured horses.

A sentimental commander
had made a strange gesture —
he had given a team of horses
freedom and peace …
And this during wartime hunger.

These weren’t graceful circus performers
nor slender-legged steeplechase jumpers.
These were warhorses,
made deaf by guns,
blind by fire,
horses with spotless honor.

Decorated with monstrous wounds,
they grazed slowly in an orchard,
and drank long from the stone trough
their last sacrament
before going
to Paradise.

Levchev (the name means “lion” in Bulgaria, he says) has been active in Bulgarian poetry since the 50’s, and he jumps at every chance to plug other poets besides himself. I get the feeling he’s sort of a Eastern European equivalent of our own Bob Holman, a spoken-word scenemaker who inspires groups of people to create poetry together. The two men look alike — bearded, stocky, with big smiles — which makes the similarity even more pronounced.

I step out of the dark cozy Bowery Poetry Club space into the bright East Village daylight. There are two final PEN performances I’d like to catch, one at 4 pm and one at 4:30, but I’m also feeling a little burnt out, and when I spot a peace march walking down Broadway (it turns out there is a major event scheduled for today, and there’s a big turnout) I get diverted. I follow the crowd to Foley Square where dozens of anti-war organizations are manning booths and handing out URL’s and stickers. It’s a lively crowd, and I even find an inspired literary reference in a gang of ragtag protesting musicians, dancers and clowns who call themselves ‘The Rude Mechanicals’ (this is a Midsummer Night’s Dream reference, if I’m not mistaken).

It’s too late to make it to the uptown events, and as I look at the colorful mass of protestors around me it occurs to me to hope that some of the foreign writers here for PEN have found their way to this spot as well. Just as New Yorkers like me are first encountering these foreign writers at this festival, so many of them are encountering this city for the first time. The sunlit scene at Foley Square is the New York City I’ve always loved best — freaky, eclectic and opinionated.

I hope all the visiting PEN writers had a great time at this festival, and I’d also like to take a minute to thank Bud Parr of Metaxu Cafe for organizing a bunch of us bloggers to work together to cover this event. I think it’s been a very successful experiment — Bud, you rock!

2 Responses

  1. The Roar of TruthThe Garden
    The Roar of Truth

    The Garden Before Paradise by Lyubomir Lemchov is very moving and alive. I believe this “Lion” has the roar of truth. I want to read more of his work.

    Levi, thanks for making me feel like I am there. So fitting, the peace march.

  2. Many unknown PoetsThere are
    Many unknown Poets

    There are many great unknown Poetry writers around the world. I have to say that the poetry writer that has inspired me the most has got to be
    ” A SERIES OF DREAMS ‘ BY Flavius B.Vlad.

    His poetry is amazing and if you get a chance to read it , you may see what real poetry is about. His work is amazing. Here is a sample of some of his poems .:

    Dear Girl

    “Nisi Dominus, Frustra.”

    I have seen you once before
    When my eyes were not so poor
    When your hair in hands would curl
    And your lips were mine-dear girl.

    I have seen your smile shine
    In my cup filled with wine
    And my fingers clasped would furl
    Round your shoulders bare-dear girl.

    I have known you to despise
    Exchange the truth for bitter lies,
    When love-your hearts eternal pearl
    Was breaking down your walls-dear girl.

    And I will know what death will bring
    When to your heart no more I’ll sing
    Come the night and soon I’ll curl
    In your casket cold dear girl.

    Flavius B. Vlad


    “The Kings Garden”

    You are a Kings Garden, A Lily set aside
    The Rose Of Sharon, the psalmist only pride.
    Time has been a winepress, and you the grapes therein,
    Though life had crushed you down, Love will surely win.
    For you are the new wine, served at the wedding feast,
    The best is yet to come, lest we forget the least.
    You are The Dove Of Zion, rising up in love
    Returning every morning, with blessings from above.

    And I am he that greatly sinned, who fell in lowly shame,
    Who chose Illusions new and old over an honored name!
    They blame me for my downward turn,
    I blame me for my fall-
    I, tempted sinned and your love spurned,
    But I know that this can not be all.

    “For Gods ways are not our ways,
    He does not see as man,
    Within his love there must be room-
    For those whom others ban.”

    And you are The Kings Garden and I will walk within-
    And lay Beaneath a willow tree and so forget my sin.
    You are The Rose of Sharon-the thorns can make one bleed,
    But petals crushed give off perfume and plant a brand new seed.
    You are The Balm Of Gilead-the ointment soothes our heart;
    The Pillars in the Temple are never far apart.
    This dark night is past- this night we will forget
    And love and faith can move with hope-A life we won’t regret!
    You are my heart of hearts, I can not breathe without you-
    You are my first love, and I will not live without you…

    Flavius b. Vlad

    These are just a sample of some of the poems that he writes and I absolutely love them.
    Here is the link for anyone interested in geting a copy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What we're up to ...

Litkicks is 26 years old! This website has been on a long and wonderful journey since 1994. We’re relaunching the whole site on a new platform in June 2021, and will have more updates soon. We’ve also been busy producing a couple of podcasts – please check them out.

World BEYOND War: A New Podcast
Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera

Explore related articles ...