Book Review: Moonchild’s Smile


Moonchild’s Smile by Marat M’saev Daan (translated by Tanja Mitric) is a collection of Serbian poetry. There is little information on the web, in English, about the author. His official biography simple states that he is Serbian and describes life, people, and events in unusual ways. He sees things as one would view a chess board with different strategies that better transfer his thoughts and feelings.

To set the stage for Moonchild’s Smile a word or two on free verse and poetry in general for the non-poetry reading public. Poetry is something you get or you don’t and not to worry it isn’t for everyone. It is alright to like some poems and dislike others even in the same collection. Poetry is comes in many fashions far exceeding the rhyming couplets or iambic meter drilled into your head in high school. Years ago I probably would have looked at at Moonchilds Smile and said Poetry? Really? Free verse has a reputation of being on the outside looking in on poetry. Robert Frost said free verse was like playing tennis without a net. However times change and poetry has grown to accept free verse, but many people outside the scholarly circles may be hesitant to recognize it. Poetry also is about more than pastoral scenes or Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome. It has evolved to speak of politics, life, and the problems of the urban environment. We don’t have to look much farther than Bob Dylan and Hip-Hop to see free verse in our everyday life.

My copy of Moonchild’s Smile has been translated from Serbian. Probably the only job harder than writing poetry is translating it. Not only are you translating the words, you are translating vision and emotion. Recently the new English translation of Camus’ The Stranger came under some controversy over the use of the imformal mamam instead of mother. That one word’s translation caused a huge change in meaning and understanding the main character’s mindset. Scholars have studied it for years and still seem to be at odds. In Moonchild’s Smile we have a single translation so no comparisons can be made. Regardless of the expertise of the translator, to convey the poet’s original thoughts in another language and remain true to the poet’s vision it a monumental task.

Marks in the sand, slowly vanishing with new waves. A walk on the
beach, as a reminder of the disappearing past and the future bound
to leave its marks yet.

Moonchild’s Smile overcomes the difficulties of translation and the doubts over free verse. This is poetry and this is good. Daan captures the essence of poetry and leaves little doubt of the legitimacy of free verse. Mitric’s translation leaves no doubt in her ability to relay the author’s vision in English. “Smiles in a Mirror” captures the little things in life. Daan captures the little things in life and with many things he also sees cycles. Cycles of life and death, cycles like the waves erasing marks on the beach, cycles of the devil and good. Some of his work also reflects the violence his country experienced in the 1990s and the effect it had on the children.

Moonchild’s Smile is a short collection of poems, but it is a detailed read. The lines are meant to be read slowly, absorbed, and visualized. There is a difficulty level with this poetry that will take a commitment from the reader. The author’s use of a chess board as an example of how he sees his thought process plays true to his writing. It is complex and much more cerebral than most contemporary poetry. Daan does live up to the expectations of a poet and the translation seems to convey the his feelings to another culture. Very well done.

Author Alliance Book Reviewer Joseph Spuckler gives this book 4 Stars!

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