RB: Why did your parents name you Sibila?
SP: It was my mom’s idea. But, let me first tell you that both of my parents were internationally known painters. (One of my father’s works from the 60s, when he got the first prize in painting at the 1st Biennale of Paris should still be somewhere in the Museum of Contemporary Art in São Paulo – probably in the cellar, because he refused to be famous, and decided to leave Paris and go back “behind the iron curtain” of Tito’s Yugoslavia, to live in Croatia as a free-lance painter with another crazy free-lancer, my mom, and to have a peaceful family life together). For further information on my father Ordan Petlevski, please go to http://www.blesok.com.mk
My mom was searching for a gentle-sounding name with a mythical connotation that, however, would not oppress the child with the particular fate of a particular mythical or historical person who carried that name for the “first” time in the history of human spirit. Like, for example, Sophia should be a clever young woman, Diana should be – by all means – a good looking one, Selena could – God forbid – become a moonwalker, etc. There were many Sibyls: Libyan, Samian, Cumean, Erithraean, Persian, Tiburtine, Delphic, Phrygian, European, Agrippine, Hellespontic – why not Croatian, or Macedonian, or Cosmopolitan? – that’s what my mom thought, because she was Croatian and my father was of Macedonian origin.
There was more to it. My mom, when she was pregnant, had a curious dream. She dreamt of a woman she knew only from photos. That woman was my father’s mom who died mysteriously when my father was just ten years old. She was trying to have a female child in vain, and she tried seven times. All her children were boys and they died in early infancy. The only one who survived was my father.
In that dream the woman was dressed in a Greek toga and was carrying a vessel containing her own ashes. She offered the ashes first to her son and he said no, then she offered them to my other granny, and she did not accept them either. When she offered the ashes to my mom she not only accepted the vessel but also drank the ashes from it.
The strong prophetic symbolism of that dream made my mom choose the name Sibila for me.
RB: How do you feel with this expressive name, which is quite unusual?
SP: I feel great as one of the sibyls. Yes, it is more than just a name – it has a tint of collective fate in it, as in the Latin hymn: “Dies irae, dies illa / Solvet saeclum in favilla / Teste David cum Sibylla.” But this “strong” name has never deprived me of my own ways in life. I feel free to make my own mistakes. There’s more fun to it: by mere chance, my husband’s name is David!
RB: What does poetry mean to you?
SP: Poetry is the last sphere of freedom in the world based on mediocre values and globally predictable messages. Poetry does not sell, yet it continues to exist: that fact gives me some hope. I write in different genres, but for me poetry encompasses all of my interests: it is theatre when I perform it, it is prose when I live it.
RB: Could you speak a little about Croatian poetry nowadays?
SP: Honestly, it does not interest me.
RB: Who are your favorite poets and why?
SP: I believe in the trans-temporal unity of poetic spirit, and from time to time I discover the new bliss in some old lines of poetry. I also enjoy rediscovering poets that I already know “very well” and I am often fascinated with some new voices. For example, in the early 90s, I compiled an anthology of recent American poetry (and one of the poets I introduced was Charles Bernstein, who is – another coincidence – one of the editors of SIBILA), but I consider poets like Blake and Yeats as my chosen kindred spirits.
Sibyl’s image inside Our Lady of the Rocks Church, in Montenegro