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Review: Ljubljana, by Meta Kušar

from the article Hearing Voices

The timeline for Meta Kusar's Ljubljana, written 1999-2002, published 2004, and the translation worked on since 2002, indicates close collaboration even pre-publication of the original. The translators' preface makes a crucial difference to the reading of the book, where process, means of collaboration, an intimacy of shared work, breathes 'from life' into the translations themselves. Francis R.Jones, an old hand at this business, adds an introduction which, while helpful in its way, is bland in comparison. Not his fault, he's not really in on the act.

The poems themselves (facing page originals and translations), mostly two to a page, have an abrupt urgency, as if she is saying, 'Now I'll tell you this. Now I want to say what happened when. Listen, here's a thought.' Mostly in the present tense, she mixes observation with concept. Here is the whole of number 22 (none have titles, it's a whole thing),

It is warm today. The robin's not singing.
On the oak it listens to the chaffinch.
Its beak is crumbling the fate of histiry.
I cannot make out all of the script.
Nor the images yet to come.
In the house of god it is cold.
Only when there's a trace of violet
on the white scarves of respect
does the robin fly.

There is reflection on poetry itself, (number 66), How do I know that words will carve out my story / with precision? And number 45 opens in translation with a curiosity, Landscape has tremendous meaning! where in the Slovenian there is no exclamation mark. It's a powerfully immediate book, they got together, author and translators and I can all but hear the conversation: 'That's not it,' 'This then', 'No', 'This?' Got it!