Essay on Slovenian poetry


Slovenian Feature


Photo by Boštjan Purcel


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Stanka Hrastelj

Stanka Hrastelj

Scent of Paper

Rain smells of paper
so does Versace's Black Jeans, here hides the reason
I am reading and writing today, writing
and reading and learning how to live,
though nothing is comparable to
the changes March brings
or with Aleš's belief that he is a great lover
and the boys are starting to believe that he really is.

I enter Paper like I would enter Rome,
barefooted across the Rubicon, Fellini ordered,
I slip down the pages like I would slip down the rainbow,
I believe there is also pepper hidden
in perfume, but men do not smell of
pepper nor paper,
rather all of them use old doll Old Spice
and consider every lighting of candles as the sign of being obsessed
with the feelings of romance.
There's no use in mentioning how they know nothing about a woman,
there lived only a few who knew something about a woman
Andrej Rubljov, Peter Abelard and John the Baptist.
After all, who really knows anything about anyone?

The other day I lit all the candles I had found,
wore a skirt and tied the scarf
with fringes and small shells around my hips
and danced the belly dance.
The main point here is not romanticism my husband to be confessed
and read aloud what someone has written in the magazine
The womb does not crave a baby, it desires the phallus.
Who really knows anything about anyone?
Words do not show who we really are completely, and the same goes
for our actions,
maybe the fact that you cannot borrow Seferis
from our library, tells us a lot
or tells us nothing at all.
Instead a librarian pushed Richard Burns into my hands
and his eyes clung to my face This could redeem you as well,
then after your salvation pull us with you
They wish to compose the book of books from world's literature,
wanting to exchange “Pentateuch” for Grička vještica,
“Joshua” for American Psycho,
“Judges” for The Name of the Rose
and we would come to “Apocalypse.”
The time for reading The Bible and Koran has passed by
Judaism and Manicheism have grown old,
Christ's teachings have lost their flexibility.
It's not much to ask said Richard Burns,
It's not much to ask, only the common miracle.

I am reading and writing today, writing
and reading and learning how to live,
I am touching the books like they were cutting knives,
and they gracefully return with the same strength,
never mind there are no great events in them,
no Ophelia dressed in white, just thin
human fragility, under whose power the ground collapses.
Poetry, so that God does not need to create it all,
Reality, so that Devil has a clear conscience.

Time You Sit About Leisurely

The time you sit about leisurely
somewhere in a coffeehouse or on the grass
is measured out cautiously;
it is a lot like silence you pour in a cup
when you should speak
about simplicities of everyday
because there is nothing common about this world of ours

and sometimes it pours over the edge.
There are still things that surprise me:
like your interest in baroque,
a bowl of plums in your fridge,
or how you, for just a moment, keep your hand on the door handle
before you open and let me in.

Judith's Monologue in the Evening Darkness

Thunder accompanies you to the scent of raw
not yet purified wool, you continue on your own,
lines on your hands do not point out the direction
and you sing, you try to sing in a language,
which has been born too soon,
but yet again it is already eroding,
you communicate with the movements,
with trembling of your buttocks, learned from the men.
Assyria is on the North.
You need only one thread to return.

Is this what people call measuring time?

Being the chosen nation always feels like the knife in my back,
it comes when I respond without any sparks,
its aromatic oils
in large quantities kill.
Afterward, the moment comes when the thread vanishes
and the light disappears.
The voyage offers you a juicy orange
in its stretched arm
and in the other hand wide saltpans of fear.
Just a little bit, just this lifetime.
Book opened,
voices started wearing out, fading,
the same as the left and the right side.
There was a behest which did not lead anywhere.
There was that much.

Trick— men are unaware of:
circling with the womb — not with the hips.
There was language, premature,
it sank into a page of Book
and slipped on the slope of the text
into loneliness and fear.

It is too late to back away.
You have to learn a huge number of codes
to be able to seduce—
the direction and the length of looks you give,
tones of voices, smells of armpits, the weight of movements.
The game that goes to your heart.

Holding Holofernes' head tires me,
and because we are talking about it:
there was no fulfillment.
Bluff, but the person is not always worth it,
and is always underestimated.

Translated by Alenka Sunčič Zanut

Poetry of My Country

I was kneading the thought at home to carry it with me
to other countries
to pronounce it in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans
but in every climate it bounces at a different angle
and sounds somehow unusual
as though it were a thought of someone else
with darker skin than mine
and wider shoulders
the thought I needed a rather long time for

it was about something poetic
highly esteemed, truly wise
the images were creeping in all the time
I did not know what to do with them:
the sight of the pianist arriving in New York
not thinking badly about Americans
flying above the ocean entirely open, crossing borders, stepping from the plane
taking in the American air intraveinously
caressing black and white keys
meanwhile sighing and smiling
caressing the piano
his face having deep wrinkles from smiling

the thought, wanting to be highly esteemed and truly wise
became confused, broken, beaten
actually I know this man, I know the smell of his skin
I carried the thought to the balcony and shook it off myself

I started anew, ab ovo
dug out fresh clay
and was kneading the thought to carry it with me
somewhere to the Balkans and Eastern Europe
I needed a rather long time
it was about highly esteemed things, about poetry
a new image appeared:
the photographer taking a seat in a car
and with € 300 in his pocket rushing toward the West
to be free at last
waiting by the traffic-lights notices a duck
and eight little ones
wanting to cross the road
he jumps out of the car, flapping hands, stopping the traffic
calling 911, society for animal protection, local council, fire brigade
no-one feels competent
he stops the traffic
catches yellow fluffs and carries them to the water
not until that does he leave

very noble
but actually I know this man
he has black eyes
black eyes and the look that enchants
the thought distracted, got out of tune, got lost
I went to the balcony and scraped it off me

the thought like an unfinished statue
walked through the brain's serpentine windings
I needed a long time for it
I wanted to shape it finally
to carry it towards the East
it is important what you say about the poetry of your country

it is important to say something about the poets of your country
something highly esteemed and wise
to make known what we are talking about when we are talking about Slovene poetry
the thought was struggling like a half run over cat
a new image confounds it again:
the night

(I spent the night with a poet
with all of the books he has written
I had the candles lit
the light was mellow and soft like his poems
I drank golden muscat
and let the verses pierce me through
there were less and less words, more and more silence
minus seven outside
after reading I went to the balcony and watched the stars until the morning)

I had to put this in brackets
and write it down in the past tense because it is about personal matters
sometimes I think about his tender hands
writing verses
the thought, wanting to be about poetry
would not let me end it
I carry it with me abroad
but in every climate it bounces at a different angle
and sounds like the thought of someone else
that calls me
and lures me

Frightful Consequences of Doing This

whenever I have an appointment with a poet
the state punishes me
I get a ticket for illegal parking
or something even more stupid

I do not know what I do wrong
           we sit down at a wide table 2 meters apart from each other
           we talk about reading Kavafy
           about frightful consequences of doing this
           about southerners' cuisine
           about women's masturbation, about the sea
           we drink schweppes and beer
           exchange opinions about literature workshops
           get up and leave

my parking is impeccable
I stop precisely parallel with a curb
2.5 to 4 inches away
I do this with male elegance
but I prefer it when nobody watches me

my car is full of abrasions and punches
not my fault
some men, you know, are really bad drivers

Gravity and Grace

no-one cares about
what you think of the teacher of physics
from the grammar school
when you swing
with your husband
hand in hand
across the park
your husband
a metaphysic
does not
come after you
to the bathroom
you anoint your legs with a gel
it turns into a foam
smells like raspberries
a new razor
is mercifully sharp
blood nowhere
how smooth your legs are
no one cares about it

Ne Me Quitte Pas

from the south-east direction
the green-glowing winding lightens
voices will follow
streets will get louder
slowly it is still peaceful

he is keeping
vigilance maintaining sleeplessness
whirling round in bed restlessness
the night filled to the edge
you turn your back on him

with your back turned you rise
a sleep a bed a room
you leave
the man you do not share your sleep with
you make sounds
opening doors closing
an espresso machine grinding a cup clattering
a newspaper rustling turned pages

a radio atonally concludes the morning
Jacques Brel

I want to caress you — the back
kiss you — the back
talk to you — the back
do not turn
your back on me

Jacques Brel does not sound good
why does she
leave him

Translated by Ana Rostohar

* * *


“Scent of Paper”:

Andrej Rubljov: Andrei Rublev, an ascetic monk and the greatest fifteenth century Russian iconographer, who believed that looking at women would sully his intention to paint the Mother of Christ. Like Abelard and St. John the Baptist, his fate is linked to his relationship with a woman.

Grička vještica: This novel by Marija Juric-Zagorka explores the legendary origins of the Croatian capital, Zagreb, and the history of Croatia.

“It's not much to ask, only the common miracle”: from “Only the Common Miracle,” a poem by the contemporary British poet, Richard Burns, from Black Light, a collection dedicated to the Greek poet, Giorgos Seferis. The epigraph to each poem is a quotation from one of Seferis' poems.