to the small poem and the quiet voice within

dimitar anakiev | balkan haiku

Painting by Ivan Generalic



Dimitar Anakiev

Editor’s Note: The universality of haiku throughout the world is understandable yet continually surprising. To find it alive and well (and dark) in the prophetic and profound little poems in this book, RUSTIC…in the bloody history of the Balkans …rings especially real, memorable in my psyche, coming from a bloodline reaching back to the sad and violent history of Eastern Europe.

I am an old world mongrel mix of Czech (Bohemian), Croatian, Hungarian and German. I understand and witnessed the dark side of that legacy in my American childhood and youth, long before I came to terms with the historical context of ‘Balkan-mind’ which translates (without thinking), into anger, violence, depression, jealousy, selfishness, conflict, abandonment, isolation. To hell with you.. I’m not talking to any of you again! You can all go kiss my ass!

Only two aunts remain in my family.. One still lives in the old neighborhood, the other close by. They both speak the old language as well as English. They both cook and bake in the old world ways. They are both ‘characters.’ They are both in their 80’s. Neither has spoken to the other in the last 25 years. “Something” happened. Enter: darkness.

Not that there wasn’t a bright side as well: loving and vibrant grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, laughter, stories, kitchens (the heart of the household, alive with language, aromas…boiling pots on the stove, ovens at full blast…old world food! Eat! Eat! Take some more. What’s the matter, you don’t like my dumplings? EAT for crissake! Then a word, a feeling would be mistaken. Then, the knives would begin to fly. Metaphorically. Sometimes, literally.

My great grandmother, on my mother’s side, came from Bohemia. My grandmother (my beloved ‘babi’) was born and historically trapped in the small village of Kociniza (all Czechs) which became part of Yugoslavia, where I traveled to in the 1970’s, in search of my roots. It felt like home. Looked old-world-idyllic. I began reading their writers and poets…researching their artists, delighting to this day in my discovery of the naïve paintings of Ivan Generalic, who painted an old world I loved and longed to live in. (Call it “Croatian magic realism”). But there were troubles brewing in the Balkans. Darkness (historically) would be upon them once again.

Dimitar Anakiev speaks to all of this (in haiku, no less) in this extraordinary little volume published by Jim Kacian’s Red Moon Press, which never fails to deliver Big in its own little way. (The book measures 4 ½” x 6 ½”).

There is so much useful information in the book and format. I can’t describe it all
in detail except to mention an excellent introduction by the author, as well as his notes, in the back of the book, describing the particular history in the writing of each poem–extremely valuable to beginning writers as well as seasoned practitioners.

I might add, when Dimitar speaks of “goats milk”…think of “tea” in our time. But that’s the dark Croatian in my soul, wanting to get in the last word. — Norbert Blei

the start of the war—
Through bare branches I spy on
my neighbors’ houses

Author’s note: The last two lines of the poem were written in Tolmin, Slovenia, in the winter of 1990 just before the Yugoslav war started. I was aware of the nationalistic excitation of my neighbors, but not being an ethnic Slovenian it had not made an impression on me. Five years later, in the middle of the war, I accidentally found a piece of paper in a pocket with just these two lines and was able to finish the poem.

Neanderthal man
is bombing Afghanistan back
to the Stone Age

Author’s note: The idea for this poem came after the first massive bombings of Afghanistan in 2001. It was published on the Italian poetry site Casa della Poesia as a part of their “anti-war” poetic action. Apart from this poetic event it has less in common with any particular criticism than with speaking about the very nature of mankind: humanity is continually enacting a modern Stone Age, without any ability for moral progress.

Young grasses…
A mountain bleeds from a helmet
full of dreams

Author’s note: This poem was introduced at the founding conference of the World Haiku Association, in 1999, in Tomlin, Slovenia. It is written after the famous Matsuo Basho poem:

The summer grasses—
Of brave soldiers’ dreams
The aftermath.

(translation by Donald Keene)

Basho—and particularly this poem—have been for a long time my great inspiration. I had been living in Tomlin for 20 years, a small Slovenian town by the Soca River on the very edge of a famous historic battlefield of WW I, the Battles of the Isonzo…where over one million people died during 3 years of entrenched battles all around the Tomlin area. I often find remnants of material even today.

This poem is considered to be an “anti-war” poem following the “ant-war” ideology but I doubt if good haiku can be an expression of any ideology. This poem speaks naturally to the horrible events that happened but war must be considered a part of nature. I was happy and honored to link my poetic feelings to that of Matsuo Basho. Though geographically and historically distant, I am constantly aware that haiku is not the only thing that links our destines.

The capital
of my heart: just one
sharpened pencil

Author’s note: The idea for the poem came as a result of becoming conscious of the cruelty of the poet’s job. To be a good writer or a good poet means making poetry and literature the most important thing in one’s life. No compromise, merciless. A gladiator’s job.

Cerberus, at the door
of the Slovenian gulag
is a democrat

Author’s note: This poem expresses a very interesting idea related to democracy: just as in the case of The Trail of Tears, the contemporary case of the Slovenian Erased people is the result of illegal action by a legal democratic government. The legal government is breaking its own law in the name of democracy.

With souls full of goat’s milk
rustic heroes
fill the jails

Author’s note: The Balkans are primarily rural. Even the people living in cities are the first urban generation.. many of today’s urban Balkans suffer a nostalgia for their villages, like a paradise they have left., goat’s milk is a metaphor for expressing rustic nostalgia, especially for Montenegrins but for others as well. One often hears the phrase “I miss the goat’s milk from my village.” Our statesmen fabricate a “Goats milk story”, and create a “Goat’s milk nationalism”. These people, even after completing their education, relate goat’s milk to the center of their world. Often they don’t understand problems of the modern world because they hate the modern world. One can imagine those accused of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia before the judges at the International Criminal Tribunal: “You bloody bastards, you never tasted goat’s milk from my village, you have no right to judge my war activities…” Tasting the goat’s milk from a mountain village signifies an initiation into Holy Nationalism in the Balkans. You do not need to actually try the milk, it’s enough to say: “Yes, I know what you mean…” because the rustic Balkan soul suffers from not being understood in the centers of power. The “culture of goat’s milk” is dying in the prisons of The Hague.

In the Balkans
at the calling out of “rustic”
swastikas sprout

Author’s note: The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was founded on the basis of fighting fascism during WW2. The democratic governments of national states in the Balkans were founded on the basis of a “goat’s milk” philosophy. Many collaborators of the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini are politically rehabilitated only because they are “ours”.

A big field of
cultural struggle: hens
are laying eggs again.

Author’s note: Culture is the field of cultural struggle. Perhaps the only field still open for rebellion. Bertold Brecht said: “A book is an armament, take it in your hands” and I think it still works.

click the book cover thumb on the left to enlarge please. from RUSTIC | Red Moon Press, 2010 | | Cover Painting: “Power No. 5” by Elizabeth Franzheim

DIMITAR ANAKIEV (b. 1960 in Belgrade), poet, writer and filmmaker, began to write and publish poetry at the age of 13, and began writing haiku in 1985. He is the “father” of many Balkan haiku projects such as Haiku Novine (Serbia) and Prijatelj and Apokalipsa haiku edition (Slovenia). He is a co-founder of World Haiku Association and co-editor of Knots: An Anthology of Southeastern European Haiku Poetry. Anakiev also edited the Slovenian haiku anthology Pond of Silence and an anthology of anti-war haiku Piece of Sky. His awards include the The Medal of Franz Kafka (Czech Republic), The Museum of Haiku Literature Award (Japan), Haiku Society of America annual Merit Book Award and prizes from Mainichi Daily News, Daily Yomiuri (both Tokyo) and Azami (Osaka). In 2009 he won the Shamrock Haiku Journal Readers’ Choice Award for best haiku. He has also won several film awards, including the National Slovenian Award for best documentary film.

Painting by Ivan Generalic


  1. steve fortney

    watched restropo last night. terrible stuff. and yet could not discern what was accomplished by all that shooting.

  2. Jude, hey

    … no resolution in sight.

  3. gretchen maring

    I love the haiku. How do I get the book? My first husband was killed in the undeclared Korean War…and now they are at it again, proving the wasting of life never ends.

    Young grasses…
    A mountain bleeds from a helmet
    Full of dreams.

    Sorrowing young mother
    Holds in her hands
    The helmet of broken dreams

  4. Monsieur Klaus

    to all who are maybe interested in buying the book ‘RUSTIC’ please just follow the link next to the book cover thumb. Thanks!

  5. delphine sanks

    Do appreciate all you bring to us. Thank you.


    I love paintings!

  7. Eric Chaet

    Stiff, stoic thistles,
    stars, moonlight,
    wind howling all night—
    can the house hold?

  8. Phil Hansotia

    This is strong stuff that I* don’t pretend to understand. I get the feeling that these hard-hitting haikus are a bit opaque and have little to do with the words used. They are like sharp-edged rocks put up in little piles that breathe anger and rebuke at losing something precious. I can’t go much further. I don’t know why I like them!
    Phil Hansotia.

  9. Barbara Vroman

    Volumes in this. The first picture looks like you, Norbert,
    and what is described about the nostagia for goat’s milk,
    how like you who has always yearned for thel lost artist’s cafe of those little villages, and the past of Door county.
    the remnants of which were already disappearing when you came. The wars, the death and dying of the young men and now women seems more and more strange and undfendable. The “why’s–always the “why’s” PBS feature on Buddha tonight, says he found his answers.

  10. Leonard Cirino

    Grotesque and beautifully done. I will be buying the book, Leonard

  11. Jackie

    Very strong haiku–I loved the paintings and like Barbara, I think you are in the first one.

  12. Jeffrey Winke

    Red Moon Press does wonderful books. This does seem like a terrific book to buy and enjoy.

  13. Merrill Ann Gonzales

    Dimitar, I am always so glad to come across your haiku and your deep and insightful comments. Your choice of paintings is a gift. Many thanks. Merrill

  14. Dimitar Anakiev

    Thanks Merril. thanks others — it is always touching reading responses to own poetry. I am glad it works. Dimitar

  15. Jack Galmitz

    I am currently writing a critical analysis of the book, but I don’t have the book yet (I’ve used what’s available on line). The publisher is sending me a copy, but it is breaking my rhythm. Dimitar likes what I’ve done so far very much.
    If someone owns the book I would appreciate it if they could give me a handful more of the poems, so I can continue while waiting for my own copy.

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