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Review: Ljubljana, by Meta Kušar

Meta Kusar's Ljubljana consists of seventy-seven numbered but untitled poems that form a diary which depends for its sense of continuity on observation of the same place, the poet's native city, although possibly over a very long period of time since one poem is dated 1948 - observation or composition? - and others are dated in the 1990s, also other locations make an appearance. As Francis R. Jones observes in his short but helpful introduction, Kusar's poems depend on both sight and insight and arise from the links between the two. (He also gives some useful information on the differing qualities that are to the fore in Slovenian and those dominant in English verse, illuminating the work of the translators.) Nonetheless, of the four volumes here considered, this was the one where this reader felt most often dissatisfied since the poems sometimes seem unable to substantiate that linkage. It rather too often takes the form of Today I saw a ... and then I thought ... - it is difficult to say whether this is a fault entirely in the original version and merely aggravated in translation but there is a certain flatness to these lyrics at times.

It is also the case that the city exists much more through the evocation of the author's feelings and experiences associated with it than through any evocative description. To be fair, there are moments of sharp insight here. This is Kusar at her best -

Legend did not say
that temperament could constrict the town's heart.
In Trieste, we are plundered too, but so differently.
In Vienna it's made calm by the old blue.
A poet's art is not ambivalent.

Arc has a policy of publishing in parallel text, which, while expensive, is priceless to the reader.