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”.
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.
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.