Friday, November 19, 2004

Ales Debeljak, Poet of the Day, Nov. 19

THE IMPERFECT PASSION OF A WORD

Where a flock of starlings should fly--only the emptiness
of air breaks open. Barrels of oil have been burning for a long time.
Hardly an image of paradise, it's true. But not yet hell. Old men
sing lamentations under the ruins of the brick arcades. It's enough

that one solitary child listens to them from a foreign land. The echo
of a ballad gives him strength. Heavy, dark birds glide through
sleep, and in their unbridled lust boys discover light. A razor blade
slices across a young face and tenderness now seems heroic. They say

a draft of a sonnet can't be squeezed out of memory's decay.
Well, perhaps. But that would be a bitter image. I can only say:
silence interest me less that the imperfect passion of a word,

from which a seed explodes into flower. Channeling the delirious
vows of a stranger, the century's bodies and souls, into the aqueduct
of language: I know in my blood that this is not in vain.

--Ales Debeljak, The City & The Child (White Pine Press), p. 25, tr. by Christopher Merrill and the author

Debeljak, born in 1961 in Slovenia (part of Yugoslavia at the time), is one of the leading Central European poets and thinkers of his generation. He has a degree in comparative lit and an M.A. in cultural studies from the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia and a Ph.D. in Social Thought from Syracuse University. He has published several books of poems and essays in his native Slovenia, and three of his poetry collections have been translated into English: Dictionary of Silence (Lumen Books), Anxious Moments (White Pine Press), The City & The Child (White Pine Press).

In the tradition of such European poets as Rilke and Celan, Debeljak's poetry is characterized by a luminous quietness that pushes against the surreal while still remaining grounded in the real, the "archipelago of stains on the wall." He captures perfectly the anxiety of our times as we navigate the shadowy world of the self, the troubled nation state, and the growing merging and globalization of the world's cultures. A poet we should all be listening to, and a poet who should one day be a candidate for the Nobel Prize.

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