‘You can only see and wonder:’ read two grunge poems by Slovenian writer Katja Perat

‘You can only see and wonder:’ read two grunge poems by Slovenian writer Katja Perat
A dog in Ljubljana. Image: Aneta Pawlik

18 June 2021
Text: Katja Perat
Translation: Nicoletta Asciuto

Born in 1988, Katja Perat is one of Slovenia’s preeminent young poets. Her debut, The Best Have Fallen, came out in 2011 to great acclaim from both critics and the public, who hailed her wit and freshly irreverent spirit. She later went on to publish another collection of poetry, Value-Added Tax (2014), and a novel, The Masochist (2018), which has since been translated into English. A doctoral student in comparative literature at the Washington University in St. Louis, Perat is also known for her social criticism in Slovenia’s national press. Below, read two poems signed by what the Slovenian author Mojca Pišek called “the biggest name of literary system disobedience”.

The Onion

An onion,


As it is.

With abstract science

On its outermost layer

And memories of Poreč

Somewhere to the centre.

I easily foresee how much of me will survive,

When I end the process,

And yet we both know when it is necessary,

Like the officers of YPA know,

What makes stronger does not kill.

Why I am a Bad Poet, Bad Philosopher, and Bad Human

When you walk along Tržaška late in the afternoon

And see how the blocks peel off,

And Ilirija smells of shampoo,

You still don’t know that you would need to reflect.

You would have to understand

Or explain well at least, because you don’t understand—

That your mum works in Mercator

In the fruit & veg department

And dad left you

And they did not send you away to be schooled,

And so you can only see and wonder,

How the world exists and how life exists in it,

And even this only in Serbo-Croatian,

That is why you know that you won’t lean across the table

And revise metaphysics,

But you will buy a crate of beer

And tomorrow the next one

And set up a punk band

And nobody will hold it against you

Even if you don’t go to the dentist for years

And then get false teeth at the age of thirty.

Ten years later you will publish with Mladinska Knjiga,

And explain to underage girls,

How poetry rescued you from alcoholism.

Like all Slovenian poets.

If you are some other person,

And walk through Vič at the same time

And the sun sets behind the cooperative at Dolgi most,

And pigeons fly around

The steeple of Vič church

And yesterday before bedtime you were reading the French symbolists,

In the morning over a bowl of oat flakes

And a collection of women poets from central Africa,

You will understand that the newsagent’s you walk past

Is never just a newsagent’s,

And that you can in passing

Squeeze a couple of sentences out of it,

On life at least, if not poetical—

The world is God’s open book,

The former council of Vič is the symbol,

You contemplate transience

When you go past it

You make it into a thing of your personal experience,

When you go past the cinema Vič

And you recall that on those two benches there at the front

Your brother would sometimes drink

Before he became a serious person

And made mum and dad happy.

You felt

Life goes past slowly

And you will have to

Say out loud



And get your teeth into the history of these places,

Before they cover you with a patch of dirt

On your final plot.

You could keep silent,

But that would no longer be you.

You would have to read Cankar’s complete works

And understand how important it is

That you don’t demand coffee from your mother,

When you know she cannot give it to you,

That you warmly squeeze her hand

And you salute her,

When she comes in muddy boots

Kerchief on her head

To wait for you outside school,

Because you know that all her life she has been running after a cart,

And because you know that you are already big enough now

And that it is time for you to carry her a metre or two.

If you go around Tržaška on Wednesday late afternoon

And consider that your left shoe pinches

And that you lack

Some sleep, money and love,

You know it won’t work.

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