The written word and the river Lim are the symbols of Bijelo Polje. Incorporated into its coat of arms, they are inextricably linked to the town and its inhabitants. They were friends from the very beginnings, as early as the 12th century when Miroslav, the Duke of Hum, ordered the writing of a church service book (Miroslav’s Gospel) – the oldest preserved manuscript in Cyrillic – for the Church of St Peter. From then until the present day the region of Bijelo Polje has produced many well-known writers who have been saved from oblivion through their written works, but also right here in the Park of Poets.
Risto Ratković (1903-1954), the author of the first modern novel in Montenegro, The Unseen God, grew up several streets along from here, in the very centre of Bijelo Polje. His house has been reconstructed and today the Ratkovic Evenings of Poetry, one of the most significant literary festivals in Montenegro is held in it. Risto Ratković was a shortstory writer, playwright, novelist, poet, translator, critic, travel writer and essayist. Best known for his poems about his prematurely lost love, he often used to say that poetry helped him not to lose his mind. It is said that this Hamlet from Sandžak, as Jovan Popović named him, never stopped being confused about life and the world.
Miodrag Bulatović (1930-1991), apart from Andrić, is the most published and most translated writer in our post-war literature. Born in Oklade near Bijelo Polje, when he left home in search of literary heights, his mother sent him away with the words: “Fine, children, just make sure you are not captured”, and Ivo Andrić heralded his arrival into the literary circles of Belgrade with the words: “Unless we open wide the doors of the Writer’s Association to Bulatović he will sooner or later come in through the window, and maybe even down the chimney!” He was a writer who described the dark and demonic forces within Man as well as the creator of antiheroes, people from the bottom of the heap, and contrasted with the literary poetics of his time. Maybe because of this his novels and short stories – The Red Rooster Flies Towards the Sky, Hero on a Donkey, and People with Four Fingers – were much more appreciated abroad where millions of copies of his books have been published and translated into more than 20 languages.
The literary work of Ćamil Sijarić (1913–1989) is considered to be synonymous with Sandžak, its historical and cultural heritage. Born not far from Bijelo Polje, in the village grotesque and tragic characters, of Šipovice, he very early became famous in his neighbourhood as the first literate child in Bihor. He gained fame as a storyteller with the novel The People of Bihor, but he wrote lyrical poems all through his life as well, secretly, because when he was only a pupil in the Large Medrese in Skoplje he was told that he could not become a poet. Through his short stories, novels, travel books and poetry he turned the literary spotlight on the, until then, almost unknown region of Sandžak, as well as on its people, language, history and legends, and the national and religious mixture. He was often called ‘the poet of Sandžak’, and he claimed: “The whole world lives in Sandžak, with all its faults and virtues”. Although there is no bust of him in the Park of Poets, Avdo Međedović, better-known as the Homer of Obrov, is one of the most significant folk poet-singers of this region. As often happens, he is a better known and more esteemed artist abroad than in his homeland and his works have been studied at many universities in the world. His epic, titled “The Wedding of Smailagić Meho’’ consisting of 12,311 lines, one of the longest in our oral poetry, was first written down by Milman Parry and Albert Lord, researchers from Harvard University. Born around 1870 in the village of Obrov near Bijelo Polje, this gusle player (a traditional onestringed instrument from the region) and folk-singer learnt his skill from his father. Although he did not learn to read or write he had over 50 songs in his opus. With exceptional talent and an extraordinary voice (baritone) he skilfully knew how to intrigue his listeners. It is said that only the buzzing of a fly could be heard while he played the gusle, and he often sang non-stop for several hours.