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Ten Slovenian Poets of the Nineties.

Ales Berger, ed. Peter Kolsek, intro. Ljubljana, Slovenia. Slovene Writers' Association. 2002. 103 pages. ISBN 861-91010-0-6

PETER KOLSEK'S BRIEF INTRODUCTION to Ten Slovenian Poets of the Nineties gives the historical context in which these seven men and three women writers--born between 1963 and 1973--grew up and began to write, and in short biographical sketches he links each to literary and philosophical styles like "intimism" (turning away from public, especially political concerns, as writers had done earlier) and "pansemantic" poetry, the definition or even description of which is not given.

The vagaries of translation will be more obvious to those who read Slovenian as well as English, but it is clear that some poets and styles come across more forcefully to the anglophone ear. For example, Uros Zupan is apparently the most widely translated of these ten, probably because he is open, autobiographical, and long-lined (sometimes long-winded), and his yawp is, if not quite barbaric, loud and immediately clear.

Or consider lines from Barbara Korun's "Stag" and Brane Senegacnik's "Aphrodite." Korun begins her poem, "I wake up to a warm stag's tongue between my legs," and then gets explicit. In Senegacnik's poem, "The scarlet leaves of sex quiver / in the tear's solitary glow," which is pleasant but hardly compelling. Even when Senegacnik reaches for stronger images, the unruffled tone of his verse smoothes them over. Lucija Stupica's poems are even more general; none of the images are particular enough to be striking, while Primoz Cucnik's lines are both general and leisurely, as in "In the distance the shimmering of whitened peaks, / and everything I then pictured in the vast yearning / of imagination now stands before me." When he writes "Poetry has turned me into a monster," the pace and tone belie the claim. Poets of this type need a strong melodic sense, and in Slovenian they may have it--but not in these translations.

Reaching for the extreme or concrete does not always work, however. Taja Kramberger's catalog of objects, including stockings and "the Apotheosis of Thomas Aquinas," is the kind of thing one skips, and when one finishes Cucnik's "America," in which he gives a long list of what he has received from and gives back in disdain to America, one can say that to really reject America one has to know it a lot better, as with Allen Ginsberg and e. e. cummings and poets who talk about specific causes and effects and give the reader more than lists.

Zupan and Ales Steger are most effectively represented in this collection. The older Zupan gets--I'm guessing, since none of the poems are dated--the more ironically he is able to treat his poetic image and the more believable he becomes. Steger is briefer and more biting about Europe than Cucnik is about America, and in poems like "For You," the speaker presents the reader with a condom, instructions to blow it up and put a face on it, and to listen to the nothing that may or may not be the poet or God; in either--or neither--case, the reader will be unsettled permanently. As in some of his other poems, poetry may or may not be magical, but it is obviously a confidence trick. And Steger, Zupan, and Korun clearly have the confidence to let it all hang out--though not as far as Peter Semolic who begins his "Ode" with "You are omnipotent, phallus!"

Robert Murray Davis

University of Oklahoma
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Author:Davis, Robert Murray
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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