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The Blue Butterfly has two points of departure. The first is a Nazi massacre in former Yugoslavia. On 21 October 1941, seven thousand men and boys from Kragujevac, a town in central Serbia, were marched out to the nearby hills and gunned down. The poet Richard Berengarten visited the site of this atrocity, on 25 May 1985. As he was queuing to enter the memorial museum, a blue butterfly descended onto the forefinger of his writing hand. This extraordinary and powerful book takes off from these two episodes. The title poem is already famous in former Yugoslavia in the translation by Danilo Kiš and Ivan V. Lalić. In Serbia, Berengarten has recently been honoured with the international Morava Prize for Poetry. In the UK, an early unpublished draft of this sequence was awarded the Wingate-Jewish Quarterly Prize in 1992. The Blue Butterfly unflinchingly explores both revenge and forgiveness, expanding from the Balkan historical context to the present time. The complete book has been a long time in the making. Because it examines profound and important issues, because it does not flinch from asking large questions, because it shapes a crafted, vital, living poetry out of suffering and tragedy, and because it insists on hope and pleads for joy, this is a book which has moral implications on many levels. Both passionate and thoughtful, demanding and rewarding, it is European in context and universal in scope and relevance.
The Blue Butterfly has received the Great School Lesson Award in Serbia. An early version won the Wingate-Jewish Quarterly Award in the UK. It forms the first part of his Balkan Trilogy and is published together with the other two parts, In a Time of Drought and Under Balkan Light. This edition is also the third volume in the Salt series of his Selected Writings.
Richard Berengarten used to be known as Richard Burns. With the publication of this book, he now repossesses the family name of his father, the cellist and saxophonist Alexander Berengarten.
‘This is real poetry. The whole book is an extremely impressive achievement.’ —Frank Kermode
‘Epic poems are rare. This is one. Richard Berengarten is one of the major half-hidden poets of England. The book is a monument: vivid, grave, sorrowful, angry and powerfully constructed, a human act of commemoration.’ —George Szirtes
‘It is a book which burns with ‘quiet fire’.’ —Robert MacFarlane
‘The Blue Butterfly carves words of condemnation and disgust, inscribes question marks and exclamation marks, utters lamentations for victims and intones elegies among those who have survived.’ —Aleksandar Petrov
‘The Blue Butterfly is a magnificent book. The volume is suffused with hope and bravery; and examines ethnic cleansing and mass hatred in a way that is particularly relevant.’ —Poetry Review
‘The Blue Butterfly is a magnificent book. The volume is suffused with hope and bravery; and examines ethnic cleansing and mass hatred in a way that is particularly relevant’ —Poetry Review
‘The Blue Butterfly is a book against forgetting, against oblivion.’ —Slobodan Rakitic