- Slovenia -
Katja Perat (1988) is a graduate of Philosophy and Comparative Literature and postgraduate student at the Ljubljana Faculty of Arts. Her book of poetry The Best Have Fallen (Najboljši so padli, 2011) received a best debut award and was picked as book of the year by the Slovenian Literary Critics’ Association. 2014 saw the publication of her second book of poetry, Value-Added Tax (Davek na dodano vrednost), nominated for the Veronika Award for best book of poetry of the year as well as for the Jenko Award given out by the Slovene Writers’ Association. The book reviews she writes for the AirBeletrina literature portal and the biweekly Pogledi have established her as a recognisable voice of the younger generation of poets. Her poetry offers a critical treatment of the Slovenian literary establishment and other social phenomena as well as the fate of poetry and art in general. Poems from her first book have been included in the 75 Poems from Dekleva to Perat (75 pesmi od Dekleve do Peratove) anthology.
Even prior to the publication of her first book, Katja Perat was hailed as an independent, recognisable voice on the map of Slovenian literature. Her debut, The Best Have Fallen, was published in 2011 and received exceptionally well, by poetry professionals and general public alike (as evidenced by the book being sold out). In 2014, she published her second book, Value-Added Tax, and early feedback makes it clear that one doesn’t need a crystal ball to predict for it a fate similar to that of Perat’s debut. As many have put to paper, Katja Perat has become the “voice of a generation,” though she reportedly dislikes the term.
The Best Have Fallen received a number of awards, with reviewers anticipating it to become the debut of the decade. Which is “quite something for a self-professed nation of poets,” according to literary critic Goran Dekleva. In its justification of the award for best debut, the jury had stated: “It is not exceptional to find poetry that speaks with a loud voice; it is, however, that it also has something to say.” And it’s all true. Katja Perat’s poetry is articulate and discerning without trying to express final truths, although it doesn’t try to preclude other poetry from doing so: “Please don’t give up, / just don’t count on me.” Perat is less forgiving of the literary establishment, using her poems to trounce the untouchable personalities of the cultural landscape – melancholy intellectuals, well-dressed freelancers, intellectuals on the cusp of a nervous breakdown, poets of shallow passions and poets who sleep with literary characters – and does so with few reservations. Katja Perat takes a critical eye to the world of literature, exposing it mercilessly from within, for she is, as she realises, a poet, literary critic and philosopher and thus herself a part of it. In the words of literary critic Urban Vovk: “The poetry of Katja Perat stems from the realisation that life itself is a habit harder to break than the habit of thought. And it’s not afraid to admit it.”
Despite her poetry being full of references to philosophy, theory, political thought and history, it’s not pretentious or bound to a cause, and least of all such that it could be called elitist. It’s true one of the poems sees the author unabashedly sympathetic to Engels – but not in a way one would expect: “I can say with certainty / That the only man who could have loved me without forcing himself was / Friedrich Engels.”
Even a cursory look at Perat’s poetry shows that she doesn’t draw from the poetic tradition of sorrowful lyricism that is proverbially so dear to Slovenian authors. To illustrate the point with her own words: “Perhaps you don’t know what I am talking about / But you’d understand if you went to literary evenings.” Perat’s freedom from literary convention and her relaxed attitude to writing is evidenced by a wit that’s refreshing but far from naïve. Katja Perat knows that a less than serious approach to poetry does not necessarily lead to buffoonery or to the destruction of its value system, but rather re-establishes poetry as eminently valuable. All the more so when the comedy rises above the level of intellectual gymnastics and becomes the sort of subtle humour that does make one laugh, but at the same time speaks of serious things that would, upon further thought, perhaps rather make one sigh, if not outright cry. And that’s what makes Perat’s poetry so exceptional. Although speaking to us in an accessible, almost colloquial voice and although very reflective, it doesn’t pretend to be impersonal or distanced from emotion: “In this poem, somebody is happy / and everything else / seems thoroughly redundant.”
The poetry of Katja Perat is loud, full of irony and self-deprecation, and one would be mistaken to ascribe it any kind of haughty cynicism. When asked about this in an interview, Perat said that in spite of everything she is always fighting on the side of meaning, for a world where one could truly feel at home, even though such efforts are usually doomed to fail: “A cynical response would be to sink deep into the couch and rant passively about reality. I prefer to imagine myself cheerfully pissing against the wind.”
Trying to close by looking at Perat’s poetry in the general context of contemporary writing, we’re faced with a difficult task. Katja Perat resists classification as she’s just now creating the only category that she could be classified in. Her poetry, as well as her general social stance (she also writes an outstanding blog of social critique for the most popular Slovenian newspaper), is authentic. Or as said in the afterword to Perat’s first poetry book by Mojca Pišek: “Katja Perat definitely does not belong among her very polite generation that speaks well, writes well, talks well and, above all, behaves well. We are not saying, of course, that we have not seen this in poetry before and elsewhere, but at the moment, Katja Perat is the biggest name of literary system disobedience […].”
And I’m making art / In delam umetnost
It is said that people quietly
endeavor to die, because everything organic
strives to become inorganic,
and all movement strives towards
no longer being movement.
Things fall apart because they wish
to be left alone.
Sad people surrender,
as medieval towns surrender.
After drawn out sieges. Arduously.
Under their own terms.
They can’t handle the burden. Guilt and gloom
are justly shared
by everybody present.
To decline doesn’t help,
To be heartless is useful,
even if psychoanalysts claim,
that to renounce desire is to die beforehand.
I find it hard to face mirrors. They force me to
confront and mercilessly hate my face.
This separates me from beautiful people,
who can afford malice and fury, without
losing anything; loved and insured in advance.
There are truthful people, who can manage clarity,
without constantly reminding themselves,
that no untrue thing has ever been beautiful.
They don’t avoid their sadness and when confronting
their failures, they say with a certain calm:
I am aware that I have been abandoned. You are
outside my reach. There is no sense in
insistence. Nobody loves when it is
But these people have learned things
I am not able to. We are separated
by a weakness, disguised as a sense of honor,
which converts everything, by touching, into theory.
And when it gets truly unbearable, I can only,
in an exaggerated squeamish manner, wait for
rain that would align the weather with my mood.
There is a certain grace in bailing yourself out
with art. Grace, in which you speak,
liberated from a single-point of view’s constraint,
that prevents speech and points out the ineptitude,
that you never really avoid,
unfit to survive the exposure
required by being human.
Grace and affection demand strain
and it’s true – for me, nothing is ever easy.
It is irrelevant,
said someone that I know.
Your poems are irrelevant.
Art needs other things.
Art doesn’t need anything.
I would like to match.© translated by Jasmin B. Frelih
Engels / Engels
I can say with certainty,
that the only man who could love me without forcing himself,
is Friedrich Engels.
There is a silent treaty among subordinates;
that at all times of the day,
and without a shutterbug, who would cram that moment into eternity,
they can place their heads into each other’s lap,
and summon comfort.
I go to the bathroom,
to fix my hair and smudged mascara.
I bump into a flock escaped from history text-books.
They drift in a long line along the narrow hallway.
They jostle past each other,
as if there was revelation at the end, or at least some blueberry pie.
I feel uncomfortable,
when Robespierre grabs my collar and pushes me up against the wall,
so my feet dangle ten centimeters above the ground.
So much blood spilled for freedom of speech, and now we’re all silent.
Nobody feels a sense of calling.
We’re making out with other losers in corners.
Nobody wants to lay out a plan for a better tomorrow.
There is no überman
that would suddenly appear and save the day.
I feel sorry for Robespierre.
His essay against capital punishment was good.
I move along his face with the edge of my palm.
He is not beautiful and he was wrong many times.
Yet I am full of compassion, when he stands before me so upset.
We are equal before law,
but he needs explaining,
that equality, as all on Earth,
has its limit, one that is thin and hardly visible.
He can’t take me with him.
I go back to Friedrich –
there is nothing great about him.
I seek refuge in his kind subordination,
as orthodox Jews seek refuge in the shadow of His wings.© translated by Jasmin B. Frelih
Deconstruct me / Dekonstruiraj me
(with my libertine relation to reality)
Am a kind of perfection.
Golden dreams of the avant-garde,
Victory of a useless complication,
A girl turned into a washing machine,
The cut up body,
Strewn across the desert –
This is what we fought for,
This is the kingdom,
That prevailed over fascism,
I am your victory.
I don’t need attention,
I don’t demand love,
We’re fair and square with the universe,
It owes me no favor.
I am the made-up perfection,
I am the infinity of made-up perfections,
That demand infinite upkeep,
I am, what I am
I am, what I know
I am, what I’ve fought for,
I am, what I turn away from,
I am, what I’m facing toward
I am, what has been ascribed to me,
I am, what slides past unnoticed.
This is the only intimate plea that I can make,
Take me out of literature,
And ready me for love.© translated by Jasmin B. Frelih
Gentleness / Nežnost
With the world made loose by doubt
Always comes with the same image:
Someone is taking care –
Not necessarily of me,
But surely of something
That all delicate things share;
Slight shifts on certain faces,
Twilight, crossing the mountain)
Impossible to humiliate into a footnote –
That someone with his gentleness
Keeps watch over reality.© translated by Jasmin B. Frelih
Tightening of the landscape / Ožanje pokrajine
It is becoming ever more urgent to stockpile summers.
Details are getting sharper every day,
And they’re growing in numbers,
And they’re getting armed,
While the memory is starting to collect words such as
And even if you don’t want to,
It grows you up.
To take the long route
Means to carefully observe
What makes up things, words and concepts,
And distinguish between insignificant distinctions,
Two different silences,
One of which goes with things
Leaving no mark
And the other goes with all those others
Or between what it means
To dissolve in ruin or dissolve in love,
Or how you are completely unable to
Negotiate a better deal with death.
To go straight
Means to stockpile summers,
When some of them overdo it
With mariachis on busses,
And with saxophonists on the roofs of houses in the morning,
Some of them take care of you
As good housewives
Take care of stray cats
And some of them deliberately
Keep you far away from home.
Again and again say something distinct about the landscape
Even though, or precisely because
It’s getting tighter.© translated by Jasmin B. Frelih
Miners / Rudarji
Blessed are the miners.
They don’t need to write poems.© translated in the group translation workshop in the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies, University of Nottingham
The Foundations of Disappointment / Temelji razočaranja
I gave up far too early,
Look at them, monuments around random cities of the former Soviet
It still seems as though they have a full wind in their clothes and
Like young American nihilists,
Look at them, how they are still fighting with the remnants of
Look, what an advantage we’re at.
Open all the windows, when we are on the highway,
Let’s have an hour and a half of pure triumph,
Look how it is, when the young European post-existentialists are
on the way to the sea,
Open the windows,
Together, we all gave up far too early,
So that this wouldn’t give us, at least, the deceptive sense that we are at
Some kind of advantage.© translated by Katie Harrison, Christopher O’Rourke, Jonathan Rowson
Failed Identities / Ponesrečene identitete
People sit at home
And stare at computers.
They dress up nicely,
They stand in front of the mirror,
They leave the car at home,
Because they want to get drunk,
They call their friends,
They put the effort in
And sometimes they cry,
In order to feel more entitled to their own poems.
Then they host literary evenings
To which nobody comes,
And sometimes somebody does come
But doesn’t believe them.
These are sad intellectuals.
Don’t mind them,
When they quietly moan, whilst you return from work in silence,
And they needlessly think about death.
Years of self-deception behind them,
Which some scientists
Who don’t understand anything
Call coming to language –
Creating a noise between two words,
So that the hole which separates them
Doesn’t become too evident.
Devoting themselves to words,
Learned to evade the thing
Which stands blurred somewhere in the background
And reminds of the unpopularity and weakness
Of the sad intellectuals.
Perhaps you don’t know what I’m talking about
But you’d understand if you went to literary evenings.© translated in the group translation workshop in the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies, University of Nottingham