Everyone dreams of something. Winning the lottery. Starting their own business. Publishing a book. From little children to adults, dreams fly through our heads, but what doesn’t are the potential detours we take when on our way to realizing these dreams. Where we end up is not necessarily the place that we intended to be, but it is the place that we need to be at the time we get there.
American Scream: Palindrome Apocalypse by Dubravka Oraić Tolić explores the idea of dreams and what these dreams cost. It explores the idea of freedom and uses the historical story of Columbus discovering America on his way to India to ask the question of how to keep going when things do not go the way you intended.
The beautiful part about the poem “American Scream” is that anyone can relate to the story. Tolić just uses the idea of America, India, and Columbus to get at the wider picture of dreaming and, while I know hardly anything about Croatia, I found myself intensely drawn to the humanist aspect of the images. Dreams, not in the sense of those cryptic images that go through our minds when we sleep but in the wishes we have for ourselves and our future, lead us on paths that we cannot map. In the hundred texts of the poem, Tolić balances the historical telling of Columbus’ discovery of America and uses the same imagery to explore the issues surrounding art, mainstream history, politics, and many other humanist ideas.
The poem “Palindrome Apocalypse” explores these similar ideas of mainstream thinking and dreams on a much more personal level. Tolić uses her skill as a poet to explore the wars going on between east and west, on both the large and small scale. When I read the poem, I could feel the tensions between society and language within the words, echoing the tension of the war between Croatia and Serbia. While this is my first time seeing Croatian written out, I couldn’t help but read over the original text as I read the English translation; somehow it made me feel like I was getting closer to the true feelings of Tolić and her intention for the poem.
As far as poetry normally goes for me, and I’m going to be honest here, I still don’t fully comprehend everything that Tolić wanted for the poem. Even after reading the critical narratives included in the book, the most interesting of which being her fictional letter to the American Ambassador in Croatia, I found myself at a loss. I reread parts and looked up some of the citations in “American Scream,” but I still felt like I only understood the surface: the words, the lyrical movements within the narrative. I know that I will go back and reread both epic poems a few times, if only in a possibly vain attempt to understand everything that Tolić was trying to impart. But perhaps that is the point: to go back, to learn by seeing the same thing over and over. Maybe I won’t come to her conclusions, but I will come to one of my own, one that has more meaning for me than anyone else.