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Review: Ljubljana, by Meta Kušar

from Of Love and Language

Born in Ljubljana, Meta Kusar grew up in Tito's Yugoslavia. Despite the translators' claim that her home city is prominent in this book, it is really a series of brief lyrics. Blakean epigrams, surrealistic leaps, vivid perceptions and acute explorations of the mind's encounter with the world are brilliantly maintained, in the balancing act that emerges as Kusar's true subject. She opens with Shame and misfortune but her concern is less political or personal, more with a way of seeing that is boldly and immediately linked with her own art. It is no different in a poem she declares, calling on love, later named First law of creation, to defeat the dualism of perception, of Self divided from Other.

Her translators, Watts and Jelnikar, suggest Emerson's importance to Kusar and she echoes his description of himself as a transparent eyeball: I am nothing; I see all. Such moments imply balance, but Kusar's extended form allows her to explore both extremes of egocentricity and self-abnegation. For her, poetry must not be purity, liable to seduce us into stagnation, political or religious servility:

Different poems grow
if I watch the garden every day.
Very different.
I measure voices against their echo, governments too.
I don't count sheep, I'm not looking for a shepherd.
Only someone holding to words
and direction can avoid the risk of tyranny.

Kusar gestures unfashionably towards artists whose responses range from vigilant passivity ('You watch and you suffer'), to the surrealist queen of fickle wishes, to a hyper-sensitivity such that poets are good as long as they crack / like fresh asparagus. The final poem's nobleman [...] describing his estates seems an ironic self-portrait intended to destabilize earlier, more comfortable images of the poet as her mother, and other women before her in the kitchen, making bread. Kusar's vision has a bracing, dynamic, anarchic individualism, and I hope the translators are already at work on more of her fascinating work.