Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Karver Bookstore, Podgorica, Montenegro

Thanks to Ivana Mrvaljevic for taking and sending these photos. Ivana is the other half of this project, and is responsible for introducing us to the muse of the bookstore as well.

The Karver Bookstore, Podgorica

Cultural events in the courtyard outside


Varja Đukić
Owner of the bookstore, left

Let the Introductions begin!

Doug Johnson is the author of the poetry books Bardon's Crossing, Fourteen Lines and Three Strikes: Sonnets, and Sloopy's Corner Market. He is also the Owner and Editor of Cave Moon Press in Yakima, Washington. His talents are a huge and welcome addition to this project.

"...The pilgrim sees the white linen with the ikon on it, and starts so violently that his legs give a little skip. This unexpected sight has an overpowering effect upon him. He huddles together and stands as though rooted to the spot, with wide-open mouth and staring eyes. For three minutes he is silent as through he could not believe his eyes..."

-- Chekov from 'The Dead Body'

Brett is the pilgrim and his amazement has brought Chekov and Carver full circle for writers that want to focus intently on 'place' in their writing. He is starting something great for Yakima's poetry community.

Doug Johnson
Cave Moon Press

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Haiku after reading "They're Not Your Husband"

These contradictions
we carry until our deaths.
Carver shows us how.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Getting Reacquainted

Facing the last few weeks of the summer teaching break, I managed to create enough time to head into the Cascade Mountains for two days of hiking and camping in the backcountry wilderness. I'd taken Carver's Where I'm Calling From as part 1 of a resolution to re-read all of his work. Getting reacquainted, you might say.

Several miles in, by a lake with a name I'll never reveal, I lean back against a sunny rock and start in on the book. Of course, you know the first story. After I once again marvel at how well Carver captures what it's like to be 13 years old and growing up in Yakima, I continue for a few stories more before stopping to assemble the fishing rod I had packed, and making the first (albeit very late in the season) cast of the year.

Fifteen minutes into the effort, I had hooked and landed the largest fish I have ever caught, a beautiful, 16 inch native cutthroat trout. Took me ten minutes to land him. And the Carver coincidences continue to multiply.

I've had a wonderful response so far to the idea of this project, along with the repeated question about what a "cultural exchange" might be. I guess I left that description intentionally vague. This may have been my idea, but I don't want it to be my project alone. Nor do I want to limit the creative process by saying I want only poetry, or only prose, only art or music. Being a part of this means you come in as equal partners, with as much voice here as anyone else. At some point, we'll meet, all of us on each side of the Atlantic, to talk more about what can go into our exhibits, and how we want to deliver them.

I'm eating the fish tonight...

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Carver, Montenegro - The Idea

Welcome, and please bear with me, as this idea will take some explaining. I first met Ivana Mrvaljevic in 1999 when she was an exchange student at my high school. The last month of her stay in the US was in my home with my wife and I, as at the time, the United States was at war with Serbia and Montenegro, and it was not yet safe for her to return.

After she did make it home, we kept in touch over the years, and when the opportunity came for my wife and I to be in Croatia this summer, Montenegro was just too close for us not to visit. It had been 8 years since we had seen Ivana when her and her dad picked us up in Budva, Montenegro and drove us to their home in the capital, Podgorica. Now 26, she has her Master's Degree in Italian Literature. That's her on the left, with my wife Carolyn.

Staying with her, seeing her, and meeting her family were all wonderful experiences for us. And the morning after we had arrived, something else wonderful took place that has, since that day, enchanted me, and turned into this rather grand idea. Ivana was showing us the sights of Podgorica, and she took us for coffee at, in her words, "the best bookstore in the country". Turns out this bookstore, nestled comfortably under an overpass next to a river, is the Karver Bookstore.

I half-jokingly asked Ivana if it was Raymond Carver. She looked at me as if I was an idiot. "Of course, he's a great writer." Inside the store we went, and sure enough, there was an entire shelf of Carver's works, translated into Serbo-Croatian.

I remember thinking how incredible it was, what writing can do, how far it can reach, and what borders and languages it can transcend, long after we are gone. I remember thinking what a beautiful irony it was that Ivana had stayed with us in our little duplex on Washington Boulevard, a scant half mile from where Carver's "Nobody Said Anything" took place, and here she was, walking us into the Karver bookstore, and there on the shelf is his book, Where I'm Calling From, prominently displayed. The first story in that book is, you guessed it, "Nobody Said Anything".

There's more. Turns out this is not an ordinary bookstore, but rather a cultural Mecca of sorts for Podgorica's artistic community, managed by Montenegro's best known living theatrical actress, Varja Djukic, and in the first year it was open, over a hundred different cultural events - readings, concerts, films, exhibits - were put on by Varja and the bookstore. Not only did these events take place, but the artists themselves regularly met in the courtyard outside just to drink coffee, talk about art, share stories, and plan upcoming events.

I was reminded of Jim Bodeen's Poetry Pole outside his home, the Blue Begonia Press in the backyard, and how they have been our own cultural and creative hub in the Carver Country of Yakima.

You've been very patient, so here's my idea. After I had returned home, I couldn't get over that idea of writing's power to transcend, and about the series of coincidences, if they can be called that, that took place for us in between Yakima and Podgorica.

Next year, 2008, will be the seventieth anniversary of Raymond Carver's birth, and the 20th anniversary of his death. Through his writing, Carver began a cultural exchange with the people of Montenegro without ever knowing it. I would like to be a little more deliberate in our efforts to celebrate that, by spending the next year collecting an exhibit of creativity - art, photography, music, theater, and of course, poetry - that we could take to Podgorica to unveil at the Karver Bookstore.

I wrote Ivana about my idea, and she instantly loved it. She spoke to Varja at the bookstore and as you read this, she is gathering the artists of Montenegro to create their own exhibit, which they would in turn, bring to us to unveil, here in Carver Country, Yakima.

It's an ambitious project, to be sure, and we have no money to ensure it happens, but the beauty of the series of events that have led us to this chance, from Carver first writing "Nobody Said Anything" to the opening of the bookstore, Ivana's staying with us, to our visit eight years later, all inspire me to give this a try. And who can deny the magical timing that 2008 would be for such an event to take place?

So that's it. If you're interested in being on board with this project, in creating and contributing your own Carver-inspired works, or in any way helping us with the hard work and logistics of making this happen, call Brett Dillahunt at 509-833-0711, or email him at