A conversation with Ivana Dostanic by the LWR Staff
At a recent gathering of poetry aficionados in Long Beach’s Apostrophe Books, we observed an interesting cultural phenomenon: the cross-over appeal of bi-lingual literature in California. The book in question is by Serbian poet Ivy Dee (we prefer to call her by her birth name, Ivana) who simultaneously published two versions of her debut collection, Blood and a Drop of Milk, one in Serbian language (Serbian variant of the Serbian-Croatian-Bosnian-Montenegrin), one in English. The author, a young woman who moved to the U.S. only a few years ago following her marriage to a Long Beach resident, didn’t have a prior literary career. Instead, she embarked on a novel path of building her presence in two languages at once, reconciling two cultures and two experiences shaping her life.
This is a bold choice for anyone, let alone a novice in the poetry world. For our readers, this is also a larger question of the bi-lingual challenge facing the second generation of immigrants. How does our diverse cultural milieu, specifically in southern California, solve the problem of preserving ancestral cultural identity while establishing a strong connection with the culture in our adopted language?
We talked about this with Ivana Dostanic one afternoon, sitting in a cozy café on Belmont shore not far from Apostrophe Books. “I started writing poetry to express my own conflicting feelings, my own ‘immigrant blues’, says Ivana.
But rather than dwelling on the negative aspects of a newcomer’s adjustment pains, like a modern-day troubadour traveling from continent to continent she found that a drop of romance would serve the purpose just as it did in medieval times, when balladeers romanced the lonely hearts from castle to castle. Only now the troubadour is a woman, who explores her own femininity within an assertive and deeply romantic melody. She speaks quite boldly and with passion directly addressing her lover, and channels her own turbulent feelings. That note of defiance and strength sets her apart as a refreshing and upbeat new voice in our bi-lingual literary scene.
“From the start I wanted to see my work in both languages”, continues Ivana. “I have two daughters, and when my older one started school in Long Beach I was suddenly confronted with the challenge of catching up with her. I wanted to be able to follow her development and her discoveries as she grows up, and to be with her in this new language” she says in her halting, but clear English. “I still have a lot to learn and couldn’t do this on my own, so I decided to find translators and see what they can do with my manuscript. This first book is not perfect, but it was a great, and necessary experience. I am now able to recognize the cadence of English verse and difference between this and that translation. This linguistic travel back and forth has become my new mantra, a new challenge, and an exciting adventure in the bi-lingual territory between cultures. More than ever, I am determined to open my own Slavic landlock and freely sail into English,” says our charming interviewee with a confident smile. “However many translation rivers flow into the English sea, I am prepared to try them until I find the right one for each of my poems and future books.”
Ivana has since completed a new book of poetry for children, dedicated to her daughters, “The World of Butterflies and Stars”. Packaged with a sing-along CD, coloring book and connect-the-dots puzzle, the book will be widely distributed in supermarkets throughout Serbia this Spring. Ivana has commissioned various translations and is currently reviewing the first drafts for the English edition. Stay tuned for more!
We welcome your comments. Tell us about your experiences in the bi-lingual Spanish-English, or any other language pair. Comments limited to 150 words. Type your comments below.
Long Beach poet Ivana Dostanic was born in Belgrade, Serbia. She embraces both environments and bridges two cultures using poetic language easily understood in both. When Blood and a Drop of Milk debuted in Serbia it immediately enjoyed great critical success. She followed it a year later with poetry for children, World of Butterflies and Stars and is currently working on the American edition of this book. Ms. Dostanic is a member of the Writers Guild of Serbia. She lives in Long Beach with her husband and two young daughters.