I first heard of “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” a little less than two years ago, from a friend who owns similar taste buds when it comes to life and art.
Although I could not immediately make out what it was, it was clear to me from the title itself that I was in for a pleasant discovery. When I finally understood the premise, my little dark heart – that is delighted by and gets carried away with everything melancholic – jumped. Then came the realisation that before me me was a metaphorical treasure chest – an almost inexhaustible source of (literary) inspiration, and at the same time decision that this dictionary *must* one day serve as a foundation for something new, different … more.
What you have the chance to read in this special edition is the result of that decision.
Good literature, and even more so good poetry, cannot come from simple, binary emotions such as love, happiness, hatred, sadness or envy, words that are so one-sided, so comprehensive that they actually mean nothing, words that we learn in the initial stages of getting to know a new language, along with everyday terms such as door, chair, pencil – or numbers from one to ten. This is precisely why this Dictionary is extremely useful for anyone involved in the art of words – the emotions that are defined there are invariably complex, and mysterious on top of that, because they were previously unexplained – and often inexplicable.
The creator of the Dictionary is young American John Koenig, who started it for the purpose of writing his own poetry, and the goal of each of his original definitions was “to fill the gap in language”, that is, to name the feelings that (almost) everyone sooner or later experiences – but we do not have a name for them. These are not randomly invented terms, but neologisms based on Koenig’s study of etymology, incurred by combining prefixes, suffixes and root words, whose task is to recognize and name what has hitherto been nameless and hidden.
The original English term used in the title of “Obscure Sorrows” sounds emotionally charged, strong, so wonderfully overwhelming. “Obscure” translates to Croatian as “nejasno” (vague), “mračno” (dark), “nepoznato” (unknown); “Sorrow” as “tuga” (sadness) or “žalost” (grief). However, we could not find a satisfactory translation; no combination was close enough to the original – until an English major colleague thought of the word “sjeta” (melancholy). That is what it is in question here – the melancholic states, states of contemplative sadness.
Projects or co-operations of this kind (either within a single discipline or between a few of them) are a great experience for all those involved in art and can be very useful, because by participating in them you have a unique opportunity to communicate with colleagues, exchange ideas and tips, but also learn a lot about myself as an artist and your own creative process.
In this project, members of the Sarajevo Writers’ Workshop participated, many of whom already have experience with similar collaborations. In 2015, they were a part of the first edition of “Narrative Witness” organized by the University of Iowa, where they worked together with colleagues from Venezuela and that was carried out in four languages (English, Spanish, Bosnian and Croatian), and a recent collaboration with writers from Atlanta, “The Borders Project” which will see the light of day at some point this year.
This time, a total of seven authors who live in Boston, Istanbul, Sarajevo, Berlin and Barcelona have written three short stories and four poems in Croatian, Bosnian and English.
However, in order to make this project complete, it was clear that we could not omit the visual dimension, and in addition to the writers, one or more persons were needed who would offer the author’s response to prepared literary works – and we found her in Split.
The project was carried out in two phases: in the first phase the writers and poets chose their topics and create their own short stories and poems; in the second phase our visual artist produced drawings and photographs inspired by them. Magdalena Modrić, whose works NEMA has already published, imposed herself as the only logical choice right from the beginning. In Magdalena’s works we can find a lot of mystery and darkness which is why she fits perfectly into our melancholic project, and helped giving it that depth and the occasional hint of mild eeriness which we had hoped for.
The concept of the author’s response was introduced to these parts by an intermediate platform Fictionplaygrounds and it means just that – a reaction (response) from one work of art to another, with the author who gives the “response” having the absolute artistic freedom of expression and being able to “take” as inspiration from the first work as little or much as they want and need.
The idea, therefore, was not for Magdalena to simply illustrate offered stories and poems, but to let the concrete work and the definition of the feeling on which it is based inspire her to create her own piece of art.
Before you is the final version, the product of four months of work.
Matea Šimić, Editor