A Daughter of the Childless One (an excerpt)

In my dream, it was always the four us, my parents, grandmother and I. We were moving from one country to another, leaving everything familiar behind. I was changing schools, uniforms, friends, languages. In the beginning of the dream, I was growing roots, towards its middle I learned that when the roots are cut – it hurts. So I stopped growing roots. I started behaving  like a stranger who’s only temporarily there, in my own dreaming. Towards the end of the dream, I had became a perpetual stranger, a recidivist foreigner, an all time nomad;  a wanderer, a traveler, someone who’s just around for a short while, and not even that long.

I met some people, in that dream, they asked: how long are you staying?  They knew we would part sooner or later, we knew it too. I knew all of it was temporary – the dream, my home, my friends, the languages that took me so long to learn, I knew that I would leave it all behind, soon.

I woke up in Florence one morning and looked at Ponte Vecchio through my bedroom’s window. I was in time to grab my morning espresso and rush across the bridge towards the Market of the Piglet and and the building where my language school was.

Florence is the city best situated for the heartbroken and for those fatally ill of general nostalgia. There is something in that city that predisposes you to sigh into the breeze above Arno. The city is so beautiful, so marvelous – that many faint, some suffer from ephemeral heart conditions and some are struck by the city’s charm to the point of developing temporal insanity. It’s called The Syndrome of Florence.

If you are profoundly sad or dreamy for a prolonged period of time, Florence is the place to be. Rome, with its bright colors, open squares and flashy fountains would only drain you, the sad you, the dreamy you. Naples would cry so hard, that you would end up comforting the good old romantic. Florence is the city for you, the noble lady would pick up your dark mood, but it would be beyond her poise to acknowledge it with anything more than a merely noticeable nod. A noble lady of that age – albeit you wouldn’t dare asking the lady about it – would certainly know what a heartache is, even if a general one. She would understand your mourning over the country you lost, the dream that you couldn’t wake up from and your language that went extinct. Maybe the city would hint on the stories it knew – of the mistress of a king who was the love of his life – albeit he never made her the Queen, of  secretive mystics and painters who drank heavily, of alchemists ever seeking the elixir, of shrewd merchants  and  entertaining con-artists, of street musicians and fishermen who knew many tales and of market sellers who knew it all… For suffering and wisdom are universal, the pain is equal, it does not discriminate, it goes after each and every one of us all the same, since ever and until our very end.

Rome’s exuberance would tire you if you are sad, or dreamy, Naples’ sun shines too bright when your thoughts are dark or foggy; the noble Florence with its cobbled alleys – for cobble isn’t the same everywhere – the posh sound ch which its dwellers pronounce as if whistling –  they say it’s done so to diverse from the rest (an alien, they say,  will out himself by merely pronouncing the ordinary k instead), the pizza crust with its particular Florentine taste, clubs underground of which tourists are unaware and drag queens in Via Nazionale, friendly drag queens who will tell you Florentine secrets at the local hairdresser’s – that’s what you need when you are waking up from a nightmare, or still feel ephemerally dreamy.

In my class all were foreigners, like I was, and even the teacher was from somewhere else – she felt equally alien as we did, albeit Florence is the best city to be an alien, given that you have to be one. The talk of the city is that some were born in Florence, of parents who were also born in the city – but those people you will never meet; they must have their own hidden ways for transportation, their own schools and their own hairdressers, because your path will never cross any of theirs. All the people you will meet will be aliens, like yourself. Some would have come for a month, some – for two; many would stay just couple of weeks, or even less – and only few will stay for as long as nine months.

To get to my country, you need to wake up from dreaming, leave Florence behind, head south – all the way down, to the ancient city of Bari, you need to embark on the ship and cross the Adriatic Sea. The journey lasts one night, in the morning you shall awake in the Black Mountains. The climate is very different here, albeit it is Mediterranean too. As soon as you step down from the ship in the port of the city of Bar, what you will feel is that the time passes slower.

In Florence, the time runs, together with its hurrying tourists, in Naples – the time gets drunk on the abundant sunlight, and it sings the songs of the sea and romantic love; in the Black Mountains the time has nowhere special to go, and it slows down to the point where it feels as if it almost stopped. The magnificent olive trees, spellbound long ago, don’t go anywhere – they are always there, and it seems that even the people who live in houses made of stone, under the olive trees – never hurry, and maybe even never move.

Nobody is an alien here, all were born here, of parents who were born here as well. The rocks of the Black Mountains haven’t heard neither of mistresses to the kings, nor of street musicians and broken hearts. The rocks have other stories to tell, of battles and knights, dreams of victories and nightmares of betrayals, those stories I was told when I arrived from Florence, having realized that I wasn’t dreaming.


My novel “The Daughter of the Childless One” was published by Nova Knjiga, 2017

Prominent Montenegrin actress, Prima of our National theater CNP – Varja Djukic [http://cnp.me/varja-dukic/] is driving force behind numerous art events and one of the main figures of the contemporary Montenegrin culture.

Among else, she is the founder and manager of legendary Podgorica’s bookstore – “Karver” [http://www.karver.org/] , where is also held the famed international literary festival “Where i am calling from” [since 2009, https://www.facebook.com/odaklezovem/].

One of the Varja’s genius ideas to promote our culture and our contemporary literature is website – library Poetics of the country – My Montenegro [ https://www.poetikazemlje.me/].

Karver bookstore in this way offers free of charge over 500 books by Montenegrin authors, both classics and contemporary, as well as over 100 audio interpretations, video interviews etc.

Among else, you can listen to audio version of the excerpt from my novel – there’s the possibility to enjoy richness of Varja Djukic voice, her interpretative skills as well as the beauty of our language: http://www.poetikazemlje.me/index.php/lena-ruth-stefanovic


Wordtrip 2020

Over forty poets and performers took part, and over 2 000 viewers over the 8 days celebrated the European culture.

This year’s videos are still available here:


Digital “roadtrip” around Europe resulted in daily 30-minute video featuring short performances from artists from as many countries on the continent as possible.

Videos were premiered on Facebook, then uploaded to the Wordtrip YouTube channel.

Here’s the link to part 6. In part 4., i’ll welcome you to Montenegro.




So happy to be published at Željko Belinić famed art blog
Čovjek-časopis! (The poems are in Montenegrin.) I’ll post translation to English soon!



sedmog dana mjeseca Lava
pet hiljada sedamsto sedme
po starom računanju vremena
u smiraj pretoplog dana
u Podgorici,
prije nego što na kraju moje ulice
počne da zalazi umorno sunce
tu, đe se nebo spušta na zemlju
zapaliću svijeće
od gline sam načinjena
u prah ću se vratiti
ali ja znam da je
Bog, naš Bog,
stvorio ovaj svijet
moj svijet
samo za mene



Starine bi rekle da i nije neko
A mene bi kao trebali da uzmu
Sve i da sam pod manom
Navodno sam od takvog roda
Znaš te priče
Nadgornjavanje, nadplemenjavanje,
Olimpijske igre među bratstvenicima
Ti ne očekuješ puno, kažeš
Sve ka’ kod majke
Minus gunđanje
(skuvano, oprano, ispeglano…)
plus seks
ne smijem da se ugojim, to valjda znam
moji su mi valjda obezbijedili
stalan posao, po jedan stan u gradu i na moru i dobra kola
koja ćeš…

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It was the best of times…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“Chronos” and “Altar of Emptiness” are two poems which are among the best known poems from my body of work. It seems that concepts of Le temps perdu and ( stemming from it?) minimalism resonate with audience across the globe. These two poems were first included in the anthology published by Ratkovic’s poetry evenings [RVP, 2018] and i presented them live at the festival. The same year, i had the honor to present them once again (among other poems) at Rahovec international poetry festival; finally both were included in American selection of poetry by Balkan poets, among work by the shining stars from the region such as Tanja Bakić, Nikola Madžirov, Fahredin Shehu and others [Poetry from the Bslksns, Inner Child Press, 2018].

Live the culture

#živimokulturu is an amazing project created by Ministry of culture of Montenegro in cooperation with numerous free lance artists. Two hundred artists proposed numerous creative ways to live our culture under most constrained of the circumstances, during the global pandemics.

There is that famous saying by Orson Welles: “in Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Follow the hashtag #živimokulturu on social networks and you will see what Montenegrin artists created during “the worst of times…



In The City Of Amsterdam


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Mici the cat, my favorite Amsterdammer:

Traveling to a city second or third time in a row to me is like… well, like having a quickie with one’s loving long-term partner. First time there is that overwhelming excitement, expectations of all sorts to be met, then, the fear to miss something from the sightseeing and then feel like a complete idiot if asked:”What, you haven’t seen XY?!”

Prior to my first visit to Amsterdam, i had conducted a research on the city worthy of a phd thesis. During the stay, for two weeks, early in the morning i’ leave my best friend’s downtown apartment  equipped with all sorts of guides and maps and carrying the inevitable camera i’d commence my daily chore… that is, sightseeing. I’d visit  three museums per day, i’d walk for miles and i’d make endless notes in my diary while taking zillion of pictures, so not to forget anything.

I guess i did enjoy that stay – on rare occasions, when i’d allow myself to relax for a moment, those moments very few though.

I don’t regret it, knowing my perfectionist and obsessive little self, i know that i’d feel utterly miserable was it any other way (more so that it’s then that i wrote that poem in prose which i still think to be my best work: A dream about canals in Amsterdam, in which the water was murky )…

But, boy, did i enjoy the stay last week when all i did was merely strolling the city streets no rush, no must-sees!

I was hanging around the Waterlooplein, Amsterdam’s historical Jewish quarter – most  conveniently, my best friend actually lives there – and i was whistling to the tune of Joe Dassin’s Les Champs Élysées (can’t sing, i don’t speak Dutch, so  whistling was is the best i could do, but here is the original “Oh, Waterlooplein” for you:

Most interestingly, the I Ching reading i did beforehand resulted in Hexagram Work on what has been spoiled; here is how my favorite contemporary I Ching scholar, Hilary Barrett, interprets it: “Corruption opens the possibility of starting at the source: going back to the origins of how things are and coming from there, recreating your way of interacting with the world. From here you can ‘cross the great river’ into new and unknown territory. This means taking a risk: it would be altogether easier not to cross, to keep walking round the same familiar loop on this bank and keep out of the deep waters. But in a time of corruption, people sometimes seem impelled to cross, driven by feelings as strong as revulsion to bring about change. [H. Barrett, Hexagram 18: Corruption].”

Anne Frank words come to mind:

how wonderful

“.. the smell of canals and cigarette smoke, all the people sitting outside the cafés drinking beer, saying their r’s and g’s in a way I’d never learn. I missed the future. Obviously I knew even before this recurrance that I’d never grow old with Augustus Waters. But thinking about Lidewij and her boyfriend, I felt robbed. I would probably never again see the ocean from thirty thousand feet above, so far up you can’t make out the waves or any boats, so that the ocean is a great and endless monolith. I could imagine it. I could remember it. But I couldn’t see it again, and it occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again. That is probably true even if you live to be ninety.”   John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Moscow Through An Artist’s Eyes


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My closest friend from Montenegro, Bibi, visited me here and i was treated to an extraordinary experience – i got to see Moscow like i never did before, through the eyes of an artist. I’ve been living here for four years, i’ve seen countless images of the city and i read all i could find on it – from historical memoirs  and tourist’s guides to classics and contemporary SF where the plot is set in Moscow, but experiencing it  with Biljana opened my eyes to a new perspective, to a view which grasps the unusual, the hidden, that which normally escapes our attention… Here they are, for you to enjoy, some of the photograph’s Biljana took while in Moscow:

IMG_3218 IMG_3222 IMG_3226 IMG_3236 IMG_3237 IMG_3253 IMG_3259 IMG_3277 IMG_3284 IMG_3285 IMG_3289 IMG_3290 IMG_3298 IMG_3299 IMG_3309 IMG_3337


p.s. Since September 10th, i am officially Dr Ruth, it was on that day that i defended my thesis.

Dusha, Toska, Sud’ba: Russian Culture in its Key Words


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Yesterday in the evening i was gazing at the setting sun from the porch of my friends’ suburban home. The sun sets very late in Moscow. Over here, Shabbat candles, which mark the beginning of the Day of Rest, are lit some two hours later than in the NYC. As i am inhaling the scent of black earthchernozem, sprinkled by the ephemeral spring rain, i am starting to feel something, which Russians call toska.

As Vladimir Nabokov puts it, “Toska – noun /ˈtō-skə/ is Russian word roughly translated as sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness. No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”
I couldn’t explain in any other language what i feel and, more so, why i am feeling it. In my own culture, such inexplicable lonesome inner wandering is neither understood nor welcomed – and rightly so, Balkan sensuality, our history and the mountains around inspire an all another range of emotions.

I don’t know what i’d call that feeling in English either – and probably no need to label it at all because i don’t feel it out of Russia. Here, my friend Lily glances at me and, without hesitation, diagnoses my state with a verse by Mikhail Lermontov :

It’s boring and sad, and there’s no one around

In times of my spirit’s travail.

It’s not that she or i will do something  about it. Toska is acceptable here, it comes and goes on its own liking and it’s not that you can do much about about it anyway. Toska is not a debilitating sadness or a severe depression – you can be hit by it and go about your everyday business. It’s only that you won’t smile all that much. Smiling isn’t a norm here anyway, so that’s OK too. Other external expressions of toska are prolonged, deep breaths and a specific hand waving gesture which conveys an almost audible “don’t ask…”

Polish Australian linguist Ana Wierzbicka considers toska, along with sud’ba and dusha, to be the key concept of Russian culture.

Sud’ba would be fate in its most passive understanding and dusha  is Russian word for soul, to which way more is ascribed in this culture, than in any other. Wierbicka notices that “dusha” is used in numerous, if not all, sayings and expressions where in English we’d say ” mind”. Russian soul also gets blamed for a myriad of things for which in other languages we blame our vanity, silliness or even lust.

Wierbicka is popular in Russia – to the extent to which a linguist can be popular, you can feel from her work that she is fascinated with this culture and that she, like me and pretty much all the foreigners here, does love it, albeit most of the times it is beyond our understanding. At the predefence of my own Phd thesis, the famed professor Alla Yuryevna Konstantinovna asked me: Do you agree with Wierbicka that the language itself and its key concepts make Russians passive? I don’t. I am not even sure Wierbicka sees it as passivity, she speaks more of a Russian fatalistic attitude towards life itself. That’s how she sees it and maybe, just maybe, it could be explained by some tenants of Christian Orthodoxy (versus the presumed Protestant proactive attitude towards pretty much everything.)

To me all of it could be explained geographically – or, better to say, located, if not explained. The farther you go to the East, towards Asia, the more you’ll feel it – this acceptance of the things as they are and you’ll observe certain (more or less) patient awaiting of the circumstances to change, more and more, as you progress to the East and Far East. Maybe it has to do with the language, maybe with the weather – or we could blame it all on dusha, the black earth and that special scent that birch trees emit in the spring…

20140509_103328 20140509_103442 20140509_124856 20140509_124955 20140509_132000 20140509_132020With Lily, Ilya, Sasha and Ksyuha on Victory Day, May 9th, round and about Moscow city (Arbatskaya street, Mikhail Sholohov monument and the wall on Arbat street dedicated to the memory of Viktor Tsoi.) Graffiti on the wall translates as: He/she who is not forgotten, he is immortal.

For Arlen, Dianne, Amras, John, Jessica and a ‘silly petite woman’


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I’ve been ‘missing in action’ and, besides to Bonnie Cehovet, with whom we are friends even before WP and (thus) keep in touch via other media & social networks, i think i owe you all a long explanation and an excuse…

I didn’t give up on WP, i was trying to post here and there so you’d know i am alive and kicking, as the saying goes, but last couple of months were indeed the craziest period of my life.

I am well, thanks Goodness, but with work, it’s been… Ugh! I’ll try to reconstruct in chronological order what’s been going on (luckily, all are good news, but in full seriousness i hardly had the time to sleep, not to mention other stuff.)

So, firstly, my doctoral thesis is finished, i’ve spent four months in Moscow and by the end of this week i am going there again for the pre-defense. The ‘finish’ nearly killed me i must say, i am used to hard work, but this was too much even for me.

My short story ‘The New Testament’ is included into Dalkey Archive Press’ Best European Fiction series, featured in The New York TimesThe Guardian and so on.

You can imagine what excitement surrounded the selection in my native Montenegro, we are a tiny, quite homogeneous nation and when one of us makes an achievement it is celebrated on a national level; long story made short – i spent a month or so giving interviews and answering congratulations letters.

Then, my new collection of poems The Color of Change (link to a review in Montenegrin), illustrated by one of the most renowned contemporary Montenegrin artists, Biljana Kekovic was published and launched.

I was a guest of numerous tv shows, among  most popular and region- wide watched being Atlas TV primetime show ‘Signs by the roadside’ hosted by internationally acclaimed novelist and a friend of mine, Ksenija Popovic:

(You can watch the show on youtube, in our language.)

Unrelated to writing engagements, i had the honor to interpret during visits of foreign officials to my country:

 on official visit: president of Bulgaria H.E. Mr Rosen Plevneliev in Montenegro, with our head of state H.E. Mr Filip Vujanovic

on official visit: president of Bulgaria H.E. Mr Rosen Plevneliev in Montenegro, with our head of state H.E. Mr Filip Vujanovic

Last but not the least, with prominent Montenegrin poetess and my dear friend Tanja Bakic, on behalf of Dragana Tripkovic (scroll down for her bio in English) and Jelena Nelevic-Martinovic in Zagreb, Croatia we launched the very first anthology of Montenegrin poetry written by women: Koret on the asphalth (chief editor – Danilo Ivezic, authors: Tanja Bakic, Lena Ruth Stefanovic, Dragana Tripkovic, Jelena Nelevic Martinovicč published by National Association of Montenegrins of Croatia and Skaner Studio, Zagreb 2013.)

Croatian literary critic Darija ZIlic speaking at the launch of Koret on the Asphalt (left to right: Darija ZIlic, Tanja Bakic, L.R. Stefanovic, Danilo Ivezic - the editor of the anthology

Croatian literary critic Darija ZIlic speaking at the launch of Koret on the Asphalt (left to right: Darija Zilic, Tanja Bakic, L.R. Stefanovic, Danilo Ivezic – one of the leaders of Montnegrin Diaspora and the editor of the anthology.)

Our amazing host – Božidar Petrač, president of the Croatian Writers’ Association:


Montenegrin Diaspora - Council of the Montenegrin National Minority in the City of Zagreb and National Association of Montenegrins of Croatia

Montenegrin Diaspora – Council of the Montenegrin National Minority in the City of Zagreb and National Association of Montenegrins of Croatia

For your enjoyment, i’d like to end this ‘post up’ with magical verses of Jelena Nelevic Martinovic, which i believe reflects the spirit of numerous Montenegrin female voices, united as one:

“ I am neither the size of my hips,

nor the measurements of my breast,

I am not the color of my eyes

neither am i the perfect ratio

between inches and pounds…

The difference is that I is the one who penetrates,

While off me all the things bounce of.”


Some of my dearest WP friends, in no particular order:



John, the magician from the Bartolini kitchens


a wise, great and marvelous woman with a camera


and, of course:

Bonnie Cehovet