Aleksandar Bošković and Jennifer Zoble’s translation of Dragan Aleksić’s “ButtsLoaDs” appears in the November 2016 feature of Words without Borders: Interwar Avant-Garde Poetry. Ian McLellan Davis designed the visual layout of their translation.
“The periodical [Dada] Tank, published in 1922,” writes Hans Richter in his Dada: Art and Anti-Art, “had a powerful effect despite the shortness of its life. This periodical, more rebellious and more ‘anti’ than Ma, carried the unmistakable stamp of Dada and, as far as I have been able to tell, its manifestos and poems were true provocations in Dada style.” Designed and edited by Yugoslav Dadaist Dragan Aleksić, the short-lived journal Dada-Tank (1922) featured an excerpt from Richard Huelsenbeck’s Dada Almanach; poems by Tristan Tzara, Kurt Schwitters, Aleksić; and works by the members of Yugo-Dadaists Mihailo S. Petrov and Vido Lastov.
The journal’s front cover declared open war with a mere three words: DADA, which was sufficient in itself to mean rebellion; TANK, which was capitalized, enormous, massive, and rounded, as if ready to attack on all fronts; and KOSOVO, reminiscent of the most famous battle of Serbian history against the Turks in the Middle Ages. This was not a mere reference to activate the collective memory so much as an attempt to decanonize the so-called Vidovdan cult, since Aleksić supplemented it by adding the word NOVO (New) and the date 1922, thus reminding the reader/viewer of the specific nature of Dadaist confrontation within the newly established Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, whose first Vidovdan constitution was approved in 1921 by Constitutional assembly on June 28 (the date when the Kosovo battle took place), despite the opposition’s boycott of the vote. Throughout Aleksić’s journal, Serbian, German, Spanish, and French words shamelessly rub up against those in English and Latin, whereas words that are the result of pure invention (pinclpackala, abrja or palavorde), or the names of contributors, are not of primary importance. Instead, it is their presence together on the page that makes multilingualism the main characteristic of all the poems included in the journal.
The typography of Dada-Tank magazine is important, but it might be less so were it not for page four, where the visual poem “ButtsLoaDs” appeared. As suggested by its title, the poem is an advertising fantasy, ruled by a veritable verbal delirium that simultaneously creates a defense of free expression and nonsense. It is mostly a typographic performance of the Dadaist style. Moreover, it is signed by its author, Dragan Aleksić, who, as we know, was a poet, not a visual artist. However, composing a graphic out of different words, types, and lines has the touch of a visual artist whose identity confirms the signature at the right bottom of the page.
Aleksić adopts a new spatial cutting system, the separation of four vertical columns of unequal width. It is essentially the principle of linear reading of the text that is being challenged here. In Aleksić’s typographic game, four directions are juxtaposed back to back in the same space, which of course renders total confusion.
The visual poem is laid out in four vertical columns, with the exception of “ButtsLoaDs,” the year “1388” (the year prior to 1389, the date of the battle of Kosovo and the fall of the Serbian medieval empire), and the phrase “FACELESS STAMP Trust funds for RUGS (Thread management not included),” all three of which are written horizontally. It is Aleksić’s most radical and Dadaist text. It contains everything one would expect of Dada: the elements of the optophonetic poetry process, the surprise, the nonsense, the mixture of mother tongue and foreign languages, and the use of numbers and letters of different types that, along with the line bars and a simple but dynamic layout, contribute to the poem’s suggestive visual effect. The title in Serbian, “ObilatNost(i),” reads as the word obilatost(i) (“abundance(s)”) with the addition of an unnecessary letter (“N”). The plural form of the word is suggested by the thick black vertical bar at the end, which may read either as a sign separating the two columns, or as a letter (“I”), or both. Instead of the word “abundance” we chose the informal “buttload,” because of its use in connection with money and its corporeal connotations that resonate with other words in the poem, such as “viscera” and “stock markets.” Adding an “s” to the end of the word was motivated by the plural ending “I” in Serbian, while the additional “s” in its middle is not merely to mirror the surplus letter “N” in the original but also to underline—both visually and audibly—the meaning of “abundance(s)” through consonance.
The poem’s visual recreation of the chaotic world of the stock market may be perceived as a dialogue with Kurt Schwitters’s Merz project. An illustrative example is the verse “amadeo stamp,” which is an allusion to Amadeo P. Gianinni, an American banker of Italian heritage who founded Bank of America.
In the column dedicated to the poet of Orphic Cubism, Blaise Cendrars, are mentioned the Pacific Ocean, the archipelago Zanzibar, the constellation Orion, Tau Mery, polyps—all those themes dear to Cendrars (he titled one of his poems “Orion”). We can consider Aleksić’s text as a kind of tribute to this great poet of modernity. Further, taking the cue from Meghan Forbes’s suggestion of the specific visual value of the letter “i” (which in Serbian, standing by itself, means “and”), we decided to include the “&” instead, believing the ampersand would produce the similar visual effect of a human figure.
Aleksić’s visual poem is notable for its originality. Turning the direction of letters suddenly, by writing from top to bottom and from bottom to top, from left to right and from right to left (we are not sure if, for example, the first sentence is written as the “ButtsLoaDs of stock markets viscera” or as “Stock markets of viscera ButtsLoaDs,” because the arrow indicates the direction from right to left), Aleksić both challenges our (Western) conventions of reading and provokes the reader/viewer’s active engagement with the text.
No one is able to say if this is a work of poetry or prose, or a table made with words and letters, signs and numbers. We consider it a hybrid work, a Dadaist visual poem.