Peter Semolič

Peter Semolič se je rodil v Ljubljani leta 1967. Študiral je splošno jezikoslovje in socilogoji kulture na Filozofski fakulteti v Ljubljani. Je avtor štirinajstih pesniških zbirk: Tamariša (1991), Bizantisnke rože (1994), Hiša iz besed (1996), Krogi na vodi (2000), Vprašanja o poti (2001), Meja (2002), Barjanski ognji (2004), Prostor zate (2006), Vožnja okrog spnca (2008), Rimska cesta (2009), Pesmi in pisma (2009), Noč sredi dneva (2012), Druga obala (2015) in Obiski / Visite (2015). Za svoje delo je prejel več nagrad, med njimi Jenkovo nagrado (1997), Nagrado Prešernovega sklada (2001) in Čaša nesmrtnosti (2016). Leta 1998 je prejel tudi nagrado Kristal Vilenice. Peter Semolič piše tudi dramatiko, prozo za otroke, esejistiko in prevajaiz angleščine, francoščine, srbščine in hrvaščine. Je soustanovitelj in sourednik prve slovenske spletne revije za poezijo Poiesis (http://www.poiesis.si/)

Peter Semolič, born in Ljubljana in 1967, studied General Linguistics and Cultural Studies at the University of Ljubljana. He is the author of fourteen books of poetry: Tamarisk (1991), The Roses of Byzantium (1994), House Made of Words (1996), Circles Upon the Water (2000), Questions About the Path (2001), Border (2002) The Bog Fires (2004), A place for You (2006), The Journey Around the Sun (2008), The Milky Way (2009), Poems and Letters (2009), Night in the Middle of the Day (2012), The Other Shore (2015) and Obiski / Visite (Visits – bilingual Slovenian-Italian book) (2015). He has received many prizes for his work, including, Jenko’s Poetry Prize (1997), Prešeren Prize (the National Award for Literature and Arts), 2001 and Čaša nesmrtnosti (2016). In 1998 he also won the Vilenica Crystal Award. Peter Semolič also writes radio plays, children’s literature, essays and translates from English, French, Serbian and Croatian. He is co-founder and co-editor of the first Slovenian online poetry magazine Poiesis (http://www.poiesis.si/).

Peter Semolič

THE REVOLUTIONARY NATURE OF POETRY
(lecture for Voices of Urgency – FIAC, Paris, 2014)

We are probably all familiar with the idea that poetry is revolutionary. As a young poet I liked this idea very much, even though I didn’t understand it. I grew up in the former Yugoslavia, where poetry and poets played a very significant role in society, so for me it was quite natural that poetry and poets were important members of a society and the revolutionary force of poetry was for me simply a given. That’s why I was quite surprised when I realized that in Western Europe and in U.S.A. poetry was not so important. It’s not difficult to find a sociological and a historical explanation as to why poetry has different social status in different cultures. But sociology and history don’t explain the alleged revolutionary nature of poetry. So I started to look for an answer to why so many poets – like, for example, Octavio Paz – treated poetry as revolutionary.

Not so long ago I wrote a poem “Shotokan”. I’ll read this poem shortly, but first I’d like to explain a couple of things related to the poem. Shotokan is a style of karate, developed from different martial arts in Japan in 19th century. According to the legend, the martial arts were brought into Japan in 14th century by 36 Chinese families. Shotokan consists of katas – kata is a form or pattern of moves. Poem is dedicated to my girlfriend Katja, who was a one-time champion in Shotokan in Slovenia and for her, the most beautiful kata is kata Enpi. Enpi means a swallow – a bird.

Navje

Pa pojdiva, vstopiva v sveti prostor, med zlate
mrliče, medtem ko se zgodnje spomladansko
sonce že iskri na svetlo zelenih lističih dreves,
pronica v sivino starih nagrobnikov … Resničnejši
v svojih knjigah, celo šolskih učbenikih, kot tukaj
in vendar tako oni, prosti slovničnih pravil,
šepetajoči v jeziku zgodnjih trav, cvrčanju sveč,
šuštenju sape, ki veje vzdolž poti, po kateri
greva, tako oni sami kot niso bili nikoli prej.
Ustaviva se pri arkadni veži, kjer nad enim izmed
grobov razpira angel svoja ožgana krila. Ali pa ga
je nekdo posprejal s črno barvo? Ne moliva
za njihove pobegle duše ne slaviva njihove
zaslužnosti za narod. Molčiva. Poslušava, kako
se v bližnjem grmu oglaša kos, kako mu izza
zidu, ki deli svet mrtvih in svet živih odgovarja
drugi. Oblak zakrije sonce … ali pa je že večer …


The Navje Cemetery*

So let’s step inside, step into the sacred space, among the golden
corpses, as the early spring
sun already sparkles on the light green leaves
and leaks into the greyness of the old tombstones… More real
in their books, even in school textbooks, than here,
they are still so much themselves, free of grammatical rules,
whispering in the language of early grass, the sizzling of candles,
the hum of the breeze that blows along the path we
walk on; they are themselves more than ever before.
We stop by the arch vestibule, where an angel spreads
his scorched wings above one of the tombs. Or has
somebody sprayed them black? We don’t pray
for their escaped souls, we don’t honour their
merits for the nation. We keep silent. We listen to the blackbird singing
in the nearby bush, and another one responding from behind
the wall that divides the world of the dead from the world of the living.
A cloud blocks the sun… or perhaps it’s suddenly evening…

*Navje is a memorial park in Ljubljana, with tombstones of personalities who played a significant part in Slovenian history.

Translated by Barbara Jurša

Ledeni dež

Blagor bogovom za njihovo nesmrtnost?
Slišal sem Ahilova konja jokati za Patroklom,
videl okrvavljen kamen, s katerim je Kajn
pobil Abela, svojega očeta in svojega brata –
ležala sta, spremenjena v kamen, spokojna
kot velikanska prodnika na rečnem bregu.
Leden dež nad Ljubljano in že imam obraz
prepikan do krvi in v očeh solze od vetra.
Jezik brez tropov, črnobela risba na papirju,
ki se razteza še onkraj obzorja, neskončno
ponavljanje v zrcalih, postavljenih drug proti
drugemu – nikoli ne bodo umrli, to je res,
toda če kaj ne umre, ali je sploh kdaj živelo?
Jutranja kava je prijetno topla in dekle, ki se
sprehodi mimo – pa sem si rekel, da ne bom
več pisal o tem! – je resnično lepa: rdeča bunda
na ozadju iz snega, ki se vse bolj topi, izginja.

An Icy Rain

Blessed are gods for their immortality?
I heard Achilles’ horses cry over Patroclus,
I saw the bloody rock with which Cain
killed Abel, my father and my brother –
they lied, turned into a stone, serene
as two gigantic pebbles on a riverbank.
An icy rain above Ljubljana and my face is already
pricked to the point of bleeding, tears from the wind in my eyes.
A language without tropes, a black-and-white drawing on paper
spanning even beyond the horizon, an infinite
repetition in mirrors placed opposite each
other – they will never die, that’s for sure,
but if something doesn’t die, has it ever lived at all?
The morning coffee is pleasantly warm and the girl who
walks by – and I’ve told myself not to write
about this anymore! – is truly beautiful: a red parka
on the background of snow melting more and more, disappearing.

Translated by Barbara Jurša

Barve

Tvoje oči so modre, modra je tvoja barva.
Na večer rumeni cvetovi forzicije in polna
luna nad bližnjimi nama bloki – storila si
korak in jaz, čeprav še rjav, hodim ob tebi,
nenadoma nič več opotekaje, tvoj korak
je dolg dvaintrideset let in diši kot oranža.
Nisem pričakoval, niti v sanjah – to noč sva
si delila v njih bel kruh in si potem priklicala,
nič več v sanjah, na obraz velike rdeče
cvetove. Katera barva ti je najljubša?
Kateri pevec? Katera pevka? Poletna žalost
je za nama in črni glas Lane del Rey ni več znak,
ampak samo še pesem kot vsaka druga.
Svetlo zelena trava, temno zelena v mesečini,
ti, ki še ne verjameš vase, jaz, ki sem verjel vate
od hipa, ko si prišla z rožmarinom in meto,
verjamem v naju. Barva tvojih oči se spreminja
s svetlobo, ponoči sijejo z lastno – zvezdi,
ki ju ne zastira več noben oblak temne snovi.

Colours

Your eyes are blue, blue is your colour.
Near the evening, the yellow forsythia flowers and a full
moon above the apartment blocks close by – you have made a
step and I, though still brown, walk by your side,
suddenly no longer staggering, your step
is thirty-two years long and smells like an orange.
I haven’t expected it, not even in a dream – tonight we
shared in it white bread and then called forth,
no longer in a dream, big red
blossoms to our faces. Which colour is your favourite one?
Which male singer? Which female one? Summertime sadness
is behind us and the black voice of Lana del Rey is no longer a sign,
but just another song like any other.
Light green grass, dark green in the moonlight,
you, who don’t believe in yourself yet, I, who have believed in you
from the moment you came with rosemary and mint,
believe in us. The colour of your eyes changes
with light, at night they shine with their own – two stars,
no longer shrouded by any cloud of dark matter.

Translated by Barbara Jurša

Shotokan

Za Katjo

Za zdaj si še vsa tu. Z mamo, očetom, sestro,
poročeno na kmete, najboljšo prijateljico.
Gledaš publiko, sodnike, trenerja, »ki ti določa
mero«, del popolnosti, ki ti pripada. Prikloniš
se, zavzameš osnovni položaj. Izvedla boš
kato Enpi. Zahtevna je, morda prezahtevna
za tvoja leta. Vsekakor ti je najlepša in kar ti
je lepo, ti je tudi dobro in se ti prilega kot po
meri skrojeno krilo. Verjameš v skladnost
lepote in vrednosti. Preideš v prvi položaj.
Imaš trinajst let in ujela te je negotovost
pubertete, prva vprašanja o smislu obstoja,
prve skrbi o tvojem videzu: »Sem res lepa
ali me je samo zafrkaval?« Vendar ne tu, ne
zdaj – lastovka v letu, rojena leta 1683 nekje
na Japonskem, morda celo v eni izmed 36-tih
kitajskih družin. Dihaš. Čutiš, kako te dihanje
osredinja nase: publika izginja vrsto po vrsto
in se ob prvem kriku razblini kot duh
umorjenega iz Rašomona. Položaji sledijo
z morilsko natančnostjo: udarec, ob katerem
izgine tvoj oče, obramba, ob kateri izpuhtita
mama in sestra. Prišla si zmagat, toda ob
skoku in obratu v zraku izgine tudi želja
po zmagi. Vse izgine. Si samo še ti, z vsem
svojim bistvom prisotna v svojih gibih,
vdihih, izdihih, občasnih krikih, samo še ti
tukaj in zdaj, v tej točki. Ni te več. Ušla si nam
onkraj pojmljivega – resnična lastovka, ki
je izginila za črto obzorja, ne vemo, ali se boš
še kdaj vrnila v svoje staro gnezdo. V svoja
spraševanja, tavajoče iskanje resnice o
sebi. In potem glasen pok, trenutek, ko
se spet rodimo v tvojem pogledu, v školjki
tvojega ušesa. Zardela kot po ljubljenju
stojiš pred nami – močno in krhko dekle
hkrati, lastovka, ki se je vrnila in nam pusti,
da se za hip dotaknemo njenega perja,
rosnega od nepredstavljivih daljav.

Shotokan

For Katja

For now you are still all here. With your mother, father, sister
married and living on a farm, your best friend.
You watch the audience, judges, your trainer “who gauges
your measure”, partial perfection, that is your due. You bow,
take up the basic position. You will enact
the kata Enpi. It’s demanding, perhaps too much
for your age. Certainly you find it most beautiful and what
you find beautiful you also find good and it suits you
like a tailored skirt. You believe in the harmony
of beauty and substance. You assume first position.
You’re thirteen, caught in puberty’s insecuries,
and first questions about the meaning of life,
misgivings about your looks: »Am I really beautiful
or was he just pulling my leg?« But not here, not
now – a swallow in flight, born in 1683 somewhere
in Japan, perhaps even in one of the 36 Chinese
families. You breathe. You feel how the breath
centres you: how the audience disappears line by line
and with the first scream vanishes like the spirit
of the murdered samurai from Rashomon. Positions follow
with deadly precision: the blow at which your father
disappears, the defence at which your mother
and sister vanish. You came to win, but with
the jump and the turn in mid-air the desire to win
disappears too. Everything disappears. There’s only you
with all your essence in every move, intake of breath,
exhalation, occasional shriek, only you here and now
in this very spot. You’re gone. Slipped away from us
beyond the comprehensible – a true swallow
faded into the horizon, we don’t know, will you
ever return to your old nest. Old ruminations, feeling
the way to your own truthfulness. And then crash,
again we’re born inside your gaze, in the shell
of your ear. Flushed as after lovemaking
you are standing before us – a strong, fragile girl
a swallow returned, and who for a moment
has allowed us to touch her feathers
covered in dew from unimaginable distances.

Translated by Ana Jelnikar and Barbara Siegel Carlson

Branje Octavia Paza

Nocoj plujem po vseh svojih rekah, nošen s tokom
govorice, plujem, ko govorim, govorim, ko plujem…

… reke, lesketave kot otroški smeh, staccato brzic, hitri
zdrsi prek kaskad, zanosno padanje prek slapov, delci
vode in v vsakem sonce in končno pena, mehurji zraka, ki me
oblivajo kot velikanski jakuzi…

… reka, veliki rjavi bog, me nosi kot speče bruno skozi
visoko poletje, brenčanje žuželk, plujem, ko govorim,
govorim, ko plujem, vidim: sinje nebo, oblaki in ribe plavajo
čezenj, raki se skrivajo v krošnjah dreves, v zeleni eksploziji
joie de vivre, jata mladic prhne iz njih kot preplašene prepelice…

… vidim: pravilni Narcisov obraz, težke kvadre florentinskih
zgradb, loke mostov, prek katerih tečejo verzi o minevanju
(Apollinaire) in verzi pesnitve, ki jo berem…

… vidim sebe v menjavi letnih časov in svojo ljubezen,
žalostno kot vrba, ki se sklanja nadme, ki sem reka, ki plujem
skozi zimo, skozi mesto de la Tour Unique du Grand Gibet et
de la Roue…

… reka sem, odsotno sprejmem nesrečnega ljubimca,
vélikega pesnika in nisem žalosten, ko se obarvam s krvjo, in
nisem vesel, ko se topijo ledeniki, ko se dvigam v nebo, ne
prizadeneta me niti jez niti nasip…

… reka, temno božanstvo onkraj prepletajočega se
barjanskega zelenja, brezčutno blatno božanstvo, moja usta te
imenujejo Amazonka, ti rečejo Nil, Misisipi, moje oči
postavljajo ob tebi skrivnostna mesta (Eldorado), jaz
te delam za Okinavo…

… mladeniča, lepa kot Hijacint, drgetajoča v rosnem jutru,
zreta vate, izgubljena v sebi, zreta vate, lepa kot Hijacint,
a ti se niti ne ozreš nanju…

Nocoj plujem po vseh svojih rekah, zvezde, zvezde
globoko pod mano, nocoj plujem po sebi, plujem, ko govorim,
govorim, ko plujem, plujem po sebi, razmnoženem v neštete
tokove, potok sem, ob katerem brusim nož, divja deklica se
umije v meni po hitrem ljubljenju na produ, moja ljubezen
sega vame in mi reče Kolpa in mi reče Rokava in mi reče
“hladiš, odstiraš pot” in mi reče, ti si led, led, led…

… govorim in govorjen sem, plujem in plut sem, resničen
sem in privid sem, voda sem, ki me obliva, plavalec sem, ki
ostro reže enakomerni tok, počasni hod reke proti morju,
morje sem, ki je reka vseh rek, nebo sem, ki je morje morja…

Ljubljana, poletje 1998:
Na vrtu predmestne krčme berem Octavia Paza, sivi čaplji se
kot dobra zmaja spreletavata v prosojnem večeru…

… enakomerni brum Ljubljanice ob zapornicah, svetlobno
telo reke, veliko sonce ugaša v njej…

… poberem za otroško pest velik kamen izpod nog in ga
vržem prek ograje v vodo…

… ne beri me kot zgodbo, beri me kot koncentrične kroge
na vodi…

Fužine, 16. avgust 1998

Reading Octavio Paz

Tonight I am sailing down all my rivers, borne by the stream
of words, I sail as I speak, I speak as I sail . . .

. . . rivers, glittering like a child’s laughter, the staccato of rapids, the fast
chutes over cascades, rapturous drops down waterfalls, beads
of water, the sun in each one, and finally the foam, bubbles of air
engulfing me like a great jacuzzi . . .

. . . the river, big brown god, carries me like a slumberous bough through
the height of summer, the buzzing of insects, I sail as I speak,
I speak as I sail, I can see: the blue sky, clouds and fish swimming
across, crabs hiding in treetops, in the green explosion of
joie de vivre, a flock of fry takes wing like startled quails . . .

. . . I can see: Narcissus’ perfect countenance, heavy blocks of Florentine
masonry, arcs of bridges crossed by poetry of transience (Apollinaire)
and by the lines of an epic, I am reading . . .

. . . I can see myself in the turning of the seasons, and my love,
sad as a willow, bowing over me, a river, sailing
through winter, through the city de la Tour Unique du grand Gibet et
de la Roue . . .

. . . I am a river, absentmindedly receiving an unhappy lover,
a great poet, and I am not sad when I am stained with blood, and
I am not happy when ice sheets thin away, when I soar into the sky, neither
the dam nor the dyke can touch me . . .

. . . the river, the dark deity from beyond the swampy,
tangled greenery, callous mired deity, my mouth
has a name for you – the Amazon, it calls you the Nile, the Mississippi, my eyes
erect secret cities at your side (Eldorado), I
turn you into Okinawa . . .

. . . two youths, as beautiful as Hyacinthus, atremble in the dewy morning,
gazing at you, lost in themselves, gazing at you, as beautiful as Hyacinthus,
and you, you don’t even spare them a glance . . .

Tonight I am sailing down all my rivers, stars, stars
in the depths below me, tonight I am sailing through myself, I sail as I speak,
I speak as I sail, I sail through myself multiplied into countless
currents, I am a stream against which I sharpen a knife, a wild girl,
hastily making love upon the gravel, cleanses herself in me, my love
reaches into me and tells me River Kolpa and tells me River Rokava and tells me
you cool and unveil the path and tells me, you are ice, ice, ice . . .

. . . I speak and am spoken, I sail and am sailed, I am real
and I am an illusion, I am water flooding over me, I am a swimmer
cutting sharply across the constant currents, the river’s slow amble towards the sea,
I am the sea, which is the river of all rivers, I am the sky, which is the sea of all seas…

Ljubljana, summer 1998:
In the garden of a neighbourhood pub I am reading Octavio Paz, two grey herons flitting to and fro like fine kites beneath a translucent evening sky . . .

. . . the constant roaring of the Ljubljanica by the railings, the river’s
body of light, and in it the big setting sun . . .

. . . from beneath my feet I pick up a stone the size of a child’s fist and
fling it over the fence into the water . . .

. . . don’t read me like a story, read me like concentric rings
on the water . . .

Fužine, 16. avgust 1998

Translated by Ana Jelnikar & Kelly Lenox Allan

PETER SEMOLIČ

What’s going on in this poem? There is a girl who performs kata Enpi. She is so focused and concentrated within herself that she is not aware of her surroundings. At the same time she penetrates the history of Shotokan and the history of Japanese martial arts right through to their beginning and at this point she becomes one with kata Enpi; she becomes a swallow and then … she disappears. When she returns she is somehow different and unknown to us.
Now, if we replace the young girl with a poet, and Shotokan with poetry and kata Enpi with a poem – we get a poem about poetry or about the experience in writing or reading poetry. Effectively, this means that while writing or reading a poem we disappear for a moment. But where do we disappear to; where do we go? Paul Veyne wrote in his book “Roman Erotic Elegy: Love, Poetry and the West” – I’m translating this from Slovene – that the sources of poetry don’t lie in society. And he is right. They lie somewhere else. Maybe someone would say that the sources of poetry lie in the language and by language I mean natural human language. I don’t agree with this. They lie in a place, in a “land” where the girl from the poem went to after she had disappeared, in the place where we go to when we write or read a poem or at least we have the possibility – because of the poem – to go there. Still, where does this land lie and what does this place, this land, look like?

Two month ago I was invited to a very nice literature festival in Malta and there I met the French poet Marc Delouze. I’d like to read one of his poems for you: “Desert of evaporated words” in which he describes the “birthplace” of poetry in a manner of a great poet.

MARC DELOUZE

DESERT OU LES MOTS S’EVAPORENT

Il est assis
Il n’a pas de nom
Certes, il existe, ou plutôt
il est sur le point d’exister
Il est assis sur le bord antérieur de l’existence.
Il est aux confins de la dune et des hommes
l’œil confronté au vide devant soi
à sa propre convexité
Dans le silence de son être ouvert comme jamais ne le fut l’horizon, l’espace est un regard qu’il apprend à regarder

Le désert le nommera
Le désert est une parole qui l’imprime à l’intérieur de sa peau, comme les livres nous écrivent sur la page de la Grande Mémoire, sur l’asphalte géologique du chemin qui nous dépasse

Il ne bouge pas
Le temps remue et s’avance vers lui
C’est l’existence qui, de l’infini le plus lointain, s’approche de lui
Au passage elle arrache au sommet des dunes des lambeaux de sable comme des peaux mortes à la surface du soleil
comme l’amour
et la douleur
arrachent des copeaux de syllabes éphémères aux corps stratifiés

Il se tait

Ecrire, il ne pourrait

Sur le point d’exister, il lui faut sauvegarder son dedans disponible

Assis, laissons-le là
Nous
nous sommes ici

It is true that poems are made of words and not of ideas, as Stephane Mallarme said, but the sources of poetry – according to the poem of Marc Delouze and my own experience and the experience of many other poets – lie even beyond words, beyond language. The sources of poetry lie in the desert, in the waste land where time does not exist, they lie in the land of no existence, in the land of death. This may seem somewhat mystical, but actually it is not. Nadezda Mandelstam writes in her Memoirs how Osip Mandelstam wrote his poetry. She knew exactly when he would start on a new poem , even before he himself knew it. Two or three days before writing the poem, he started to shake his head as if he had something in his ear. And he really had something in his ear – the rhythm. Poetry came to him in the form of a rhythm. A great Slovenian poet of 20th century Dane Zajc once told me: “I don’t write poems, I only describe what I see.” Poetry came to him in the form of images.

Poetry is not a language — it uses language, but it is not a language. Poem is not a matter of culture, it becomes a matter of culture, but its origins are outside of culture, outside of society. Poetry is intimately connected with something very primordial in us. Poem is a barbarian, an outlaw. And when the poem manifests itself in a culture it becomes a possibility, an entrance to this long lost “land” of our deepest desire – to overcome time. So I finally got the answer why poetry is revolutionary or why it holds the possibility to change our lives. Not because it would play this or that role in this or that society or culture, but because it is a form of eroticism. Georges Bataille wrote in his introduction to Eroticism: “Poetry leads to the same place as all forms of eroticism — to the blending and fusion of separate objects. It leads us to eternity, it leads us to death, and through death to continuity. Poetry is eternity; the sun matched with the sea.« And of course, here he was quoting Arthur Rimbaud.

At the end I’d like to read a poem “Reading Octavio Paz”, which is quite an apt choice because I found the answer I was looking for in Octavio Paz’s essays “The bow and the Lyre”.

PETER SEMOLIČ

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