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The Small Crimes of War and Living
It often seems our opinion on war changes, but as the video game franchise Fallout often mentions, “War. War never changes.” Perhaps thanks to both my American education and being born in the mid-nineties, I feared my ignorance of the Croatian War would cause me to miss essential cues in Small Crimes by Andrea Jurjević. But like any successful poetry collection, it does not rely on the reader’s knowledge of world politics to communicate universal truths about life amidst war.
Jurjević’s first collection won the 2015 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry for many rightful reasons. One in particular is giving war-torn adolescence a stage to redefine what the word “fortunate” entails. The prelude poem “For Yugoslavia’s More Fortunate Ones” is a piece of the bizarre reality that teenage rebellion during the Croatian War was surviving long enough to “[kill] time, and your livers” beneath unstable infrastructure. So begins the poetry that captures what C.G. Hanzlicek, the 2015 judge of the Philip Levine Prize, beautifully says,“[the speaker, regardless of the] midst of bombings, sniper shootings, and firing squads…. manages to live an almost normal adolescence.”
The collection continues to deliver the understated “small crimes” that add up over the sojourn from the desecrated Yugoslavia to America. From “lit-up skies,” bombings, sexual harassment, executions of “suspected Fascists,” dates with assault rifles, and lovers tucked away amidst the chaos, the collection is sprinkled with bits of Croatian and vivid, uncut memories. It is not a presentation of historical poetry, rather poetry that uses history to highlight the speaker’s adolescent reality. After all, names of battles do not matter when your own are much more captivating and urgent.
Small Crimes is currently available from Anhinga Press for $20. Watch performances of select poems in the links below: