Stanka Hrastelj

- Slovenia -

In 2001, Stanka Hrastelj (1975) was named Best Young Poet at the Urška festival of young Slovenian literature. In 2005, Goga published her poetry book Nizki toni (Low Notes), garnering her the Slovenian Book Fair Award for Best Debut. At the 2007 Slovenian Book Days in Maribor, Hrastelj competed in a poetry tournament and won the title of Poet Knight. In 2009, Študentska založba published her second book of poetry, Gospod, nekaj imamo za vas (We’ve Got Something for You, Mister), which put her on the shortlist for the annual Jenko Prize awarded by the Slovene Writers’ Association. Her debut novel Igranje (Play) won the Blue Bird Award for Best Unpublished Work of Literature. Hrastelj also translates poetry from Croatian and Serbian, writes afterwords, hosts literary readings and is an enthusiastic designer of unique clayware.

Stanka Hrastelj joined the notable names of Slovenian poetry even before the publication of her first book, as 2001 saw her receive the Urška award, granted at the National Young Literature Convention to promising authors without a published book. Hrastelj’s first book of poetry was published in 2005 by Goga and received the Slovenian Book Fair Award for Best Debut of the Year. Handing out the award, the jury described Low Notes as a lyrical book that “showcases the drama of intimate relationships while searching for and affirming love. The poetry is delivered with a great feel for closeness, sensuality and the erotic, while at the same time looking towards the sublime, the mysterious and the ineffable. Low Notes are foreplay for both song and love.”


Love, which is the thread that ties together Low Notes, is interweaved with mythical references and is both sophisticated and primordial: My story was written a hundred years ago / By people with hands soft from spinning wheels / And yearning. Hrastelj focuses heavily on rhythm, and her poetry speaks in a refreshing, confident voice, convincingly combining soft lyricism with powerful metaphor: We have come close to each other like a rat, / Nothing was holy to us, we touched / Where we had been touched by others and it didn’t last long either but God! we were beautiful. And although Hrastelj’s first book of poetry turns the spotlight on the drama of intimate relationships, “Stanka Hrastelj’s conception of love seems to be about more than a relationship with a loved one; it is also about a relationship with poetry itself,” writes Ivan Gregorčič in the afterword.


At a poetry tournament event organised at the 2007 Slovenian Book Days in Maribor, Hrastelj won the title of Poet Knight for Best Unpublished Poem. A line from her winning poem “Pride” then became the title of her second poetry book We’ve Got Something for You, Mister, published in 2009 by Študentska založba. The book was shortlisted for the Jenko Prize awarded by the Slovene Writers’ Association to the book of poetry judged to be the best in the previous two years.


We’ve Got Something for You, Mister represents a significant shift in Hrastelj’s poetics. The poems are marked by starker motifs and deal, among other things, with subjects such as illness, both physical and mental, as well as with suicide. In one interview, Hrastelj had the following to say about the differences between her two books of poetry: “I wrote about love because I think it’s important to write about things most important to you in the time of writing. That which is yours – you have to speak of it, not remain silent.” Read in context of the poem that it’s taken from, the title line of Hrastelj’s second book anticipates a similar sincerity: The doctors show great respect / To my father. They say We’ve got / Something for You, Mister, a Diagnosis, / Or rather, we’ve got two to offer you today: / Schizophrenia of the paranoid type / And chronic hepatitis B, mister.”


In her second book, Hrastelj deals with subjects that remain taboo in today’s society and are seldom, if at all, given literary treatment, at least in Slovenia. Hrastelj believes fostering interest in such subjects could help effect important positive changes in our social understanding of stigmatised subjects such as abortion, suicide, dementia and old age, etc. Regarding the starting points of her book, Hrastelj said the following in an interview for Pogledi: “I wrote about my father, his schizophrenia, I put in a number of private episodes from our family life, with the illness always looming over it, I wrote about real suicides of my relatives. It was not an easy decision to publish words such as I’m pretending you’re dead while my father was alive. But I had to write about it, there was no way around it.”


In addition to dealing with the mentioned subjects, poems of We’ve Got Something for You, Mister use the motif of the family and satirical descriptions of provincial life as a starting point for social critique, which, however, makes its points subtly and discreetly and doesn’t proselytize, and is thus extremely effective. Still, the book is not empty of motifs associated with love, although they do fulfil a different function. As stated in the afterword by Branislav Oblučar, love poems, this time around, also tell us “that romance has become too expensive and that it’s become impossible to simply accept the scars of love, as they have long since lost their poetic value.”


We’ve Got Something for You, Mister is certainly, as concluded by the afterword’s author, “a courageous book that insists upon subject we prefer to be silent about – and, speaking of them, reminds us that poetry is always more akin to a tightrope balancing act than to sitting on a comfortable couch.”


In 2012, following her two books of poetry, Stanka Hrastelj wrote the novel Play, which was granted the prestigious Blue Bird prize, awarded annually by the Mladinska knjiga publishing house to previously unpublished works. The novel again saw the author tackling a difficult subject. Through the internal monologue of the main character, we witness the development of schizophrenia from its rather subtle initial stages where it manifests as depression to full-blown paranoia and auditory and visual hallucinations.


In her hometown of Krško, Hrastelj has established Liber, a society for culture and the arts. She is the author of a number of afterwords and sometimes hosts literary discussions. She translates Croatian and Serbian poetry. She is also a clayware designer, owning a pottery studio where she creates unique items and hosts design classes.