Rasim Sejdić: Their Boots Crushed the Gypsy Violin (From Romani)

There are two different Romani texts of this poem in print, and I give both for the sake of completeness. The first given here is in the poet's own dialect, with its heavy adstratum of Slavic loans, and uses the orthography one would expect. The other is in the metaphonological supradialectal orthography promoted by the IRU (the so-called "Warsaw Alphabet" created seemingly with the paradoxical aim of promoting Romani literacy by making the language harder for most speakers to spell, the delusion of the Mentally Coutiarded.) Unsurprisingly for a version in so ostentatiously standardized an orthography, every single Slavic loan is in this version replaced by a pre-European equivalent, along with other differences in morphology. I gave priority to the more dialectal version, which I not only thought was a better poem all round but also seemed to me much more in keeping with Sejdić's attitude toward orality in poetic language, as well as the reality of Romani literature and literacy as being a bottom-up rather than top-down phenomenon.

I give the second version here anyway, as a matter of interesting comparison. And of course, there's no sense acting as if dialectal adaptation per se were a traducement of the Sacred Original Text. Such an attitude, based on a particular relationship to texts and to the lettered word, is often misguided, but with Romani seems particularly unhelpful, given the nature of Romani poetry which, though obviously not totally oral anymore, does seem to retain something of an oral ethic when it comes to the appreciation and circulation of works of linguistic art, a retention enabled in part, it seems to me, by the internet. Such an ethic used to be more commonplace in Europe, and medieval lyric verse has ample instances of dialect adaptation when a poem or song crossed borders, or isoglosses. In contexts where the fixity of the written word carries less weight, there is more room for fluidity and some measure of textual mutability. Compare that with the lettré outrage that greets an attempt to adapt Shakespeare's language for modern English-speakers (click here to see my argument in favor of such adaptation, if you're curious.) Romani poems can be, and have been, adapted from one dialect to the other, or had dialectal parochialisms replaced with more widely intelligible equivalents to suit different audiences. A good example is Santino Spinelli's most famous poem Auschwitz, originally written in Abruzzese Romani. Spinelli's laconic poem (fifteen words long) has gained great currency, citational and even inscriptional, in versions adapted to make it less opaque to speakers of other dialects. Sometimes the adaptation simply changes two or three lexical items to more recognizable cognate forms (i.e. the metathesized forms kjá and rubvé are replaced by the more transparent jakha and rovibe) or the poem may be recast into a version of Romani with nominal case-inflection (which Abruzzese, exceptionally for a Romani dialect, lacks.)  

Their Boots Crushed The Gypsy Violin
By Rasim Sejdić
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Their boots crushed the Gypsy violin
all that remains is Gypsies' ash
the fire the smoke 
rise heavenward.

They carted away the Roma
children they ripped from mothers
wives from husbands
they carted away the Roma.

Jasenovac* — packed with Roma
tied to cement pillars they can't budge
their hands and feet in heavy shackles
down to their knees in mud and sludge.

There in Jasenovac* remain
their bones as witness
to indict the works of inhumanity

Dawn breaks anew, the sun 
warming the Roma as it has always done. 

*Jasenovac was an extermination camp. Run by the Croatian Ustaše with the material support of the Third Reich, and later dubbed "the Auschwitz of the Balkans" it was one of the largest and most sadistically administrated of all death camps. Inmates consisted of ethnic Serbs, Roma, Jews, Bosnian and Croat Muslims and anti-fascist dissidents. Approximately 45–52,000 Serbs, 15-20,000 Roma, 12-25,000 Jews, and 5-12,000 Muslims were murdered in Jasenovac. Roma taken to the camp did not undergo selection, but were kept in open air in subsection III-C, before being brought to the killing-grounds of Gradina and Ustice for liquidation interspersed with forced labor. There the Ustaše did not use anything so mercifully quick as bullets, or gas chambers. They enjoyed killing too much for that, and savored the sport, excitement and variety of using knives, mallets, pick-axes, saws and other implements to dismember, bludgeon, exsanguinate, and behead their victims. There were even regular contests to see who could kill the most prisoners in a given span of time or with a particular weapon. In 1942, for example, Lt. Petar Brzica won a gold watch for successfully killing 1360 prisoners in just a few hours using only a small curve-bladed knife. It may seem I am dwelling overmuch on the minutia of the horror and perversion of humanity that was Jasenovac. But there is a reason. I want any and every reader who has never before heard the name "Jasenovac" to have it seared into their brain when they come away from this page.

The Original:

Gazisarde Romengi Violina
Rasim Sejdić

Gazisarde romengi violina
ačile ognjište romane
e jag o dimo
ando oblako vazdinjalo.

Idžarde e Romen
čavoren restavisarde pe datar
e romnjen pe romendar
idžarde e Romen.

Jasenovco perdo Roma
pangle pala betonse stubujra
pale lantsujra pe prne pe va
ando balto dzi ke cang.

Ačile ando Jasenovco
lenge kokala
te pricin, o nemanušengim djelima
zora vedro osvanisarda
i Romen o kam pre tatarda.

The Other Original:

Uśtavde e Rromenqi Violina
Rasim Sejdić

Uśtavde e Rromenqi violina
aćhile e jaga rromane
i jag o thuv
and-o devel vazdinǒn.

Igǎrde e Rromen
ćhavorren ulavde pe daθar
e rromněn pe rromnenθar
igǎrde e Rromen.

Jasenovco pherdo Rroma
pandle pala betonosqe stùburǎ
verkliněnçar pe prne pe va'
and-e ćika ʒi k-e ćang

Aćhile and- Jasenovco
lenqe kokala
te mothon bimanuśikanimata
javin vèdro disàjli
ta e Rromen o kham tatǎrda

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