/ 21 August 2019

Week of the Festival: Days of Poetry and Wine, Ptuj, Slovenia

To All the Poems I've Loved Before

The Intimacy of Poetry No Other Art Creates

Even as a grown up, I still get frequently asked about my favorites: What`s my favorite movie? My favorite song? And favorite colour? How about ice cream? Someone even asked me, not long ago, what`s my favorite language. 

Waking up is a jump, a skydive from the dream. 

Free of the smothering whirl the traveller

sinks toward morning`s green zone.

Things start to flare.

And, of all people, they go and ask me. I always despised picking favorites, making lists of things I like or dislike. I answer that my favorite anything is what I`m doing, seeing, listening, reading today, this very moment. I could compile a long list of songs, poems, stories and art works that touched me at one point in my life, but it would be a list of art that no longer moves me, or at least doesn`t move me the same way it once did. It would quite possibly be a list of art I no longer perceive as art. We naively think favorite poems are forever. They`re not. Poems we like are a state of mind, they seldom stand a test of time, we grow out of them. They reflect the human changing nature, an evolution, sometimes true progress. A list of favorite poems through time would itself be a sort of a poem.

Oh, how can, how can you ask me again?

It only brings me sorrow. 

The same thing I would want today, 

I would want again tomorrow.

Whether we like it or not, our favorite anything tells everything about us. And nothing about itself. That`s why I loathe being asked about my favorites: I know exactly what I`m being asked for. I`m being asked to reveal a shortcut to myself. I refuse to, because I don`t take shortcuts myself. That`s why, if we`re going to play this silly game, we should probably choose our favorite poems extremely mindfully. I feel, today more than ever, that every poem I’ve ever loved strips me and leaves me naked. Films and novels don`t do that, not even songs, not even when their lyrics are poetry. Maybe that`s why I can`t review poetry books anymore. Maybe I only read serious books now because I want to laugh, and I know my heart`s not cruel enough to laugh at poetry. Poetry still makes me blush and I would never admit it to anybody. I keep my high opinion of poetry hidden, my admiration for it supressed.

I hate to seem greedy – I have so much 

to be thankful for already. 

But I want to get up early one more morning, at least. 

And go to my place with some coffee and wait. 

Just wait, to see what`s going to happen.

Some poems are like proverbs: Smart, righteous, correct, street-smart. They say what we already know without being conscious of it, and they say it better. They uncover the mystery. They tip us off. Other poems are more like enigmas: They`re blurry, lingering, implying, mysterious. They make gentlehearted jokes at our expense. And I could never shake off the feeling that real poetry always speaks to a real person. A poet can only write a poem with someone`s beating heart on his mind. A poet writes poetry because he really sucks at small talk, let alone big talk. Most poets probably can`t write love letters. That is why a really good poem releases so much tension that, once you`ve read it, you nearly fear reading it twice.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. 

I miss them, but it wasn`t a disaster.

I like to believe that loving poetry is not the same as loving a good novel, a movie or a song. There is intimacy to poetry that no other art form creates. A poem is always a love letter: To another person, to ourselves, to life. It`s so visceral and potent because it lives the same way we do: Right inside the language, within the ability and inability to communicate. Other art forms transform the language and replace it with an invention, a substitute. Poetry transcends the language, purifies it, is it. No other art form is seeking to say exactly the right words. Storytelling is only as good as it avoids naming things directly. In poetry the language meets its final frontier, the wild, wild west of its precision. There`s nothing beyond that, only misunderstandings. 

The hollow elderberry stalk of Sunday. 

The after-dinner quiet. 

The reddish stems of the berries. 

Their flat, insipid taste

in elderberry sleep.

I had favorite poems written by poets we all know: Nobel Laureates, poets who should be or should have been awarded a Nobel Prize, poets who many think shouldn`t have been awarded a Nobel Prize, poets who will never be Nobel Laureates. Tomas Tranströmer, Bob Dylan, Raymond Carver, Elizabeth Bishop, Kajetan Kovič, Jure Jakob. I despise lists, but that`s only because my hypothetical lists are endless. I could never do justice to poetry. There is a right time for just about any poem. Allen Ginsberg always sounded crazy and irrelevant, but then one evening I smoked just enough for him to start making sense. Another day I felt like my heart was a stone, but then came across the words that made things start to flare. I have borrowed Else Lasker-Schüler`s, Cesare Pavese`s and Uroš Zupan`s words before, instead of using my own to write a clumsy love poem. I`m guilty of abusing poetry. Crimes against poetry – I`ve done them all.

I`m used to it

And silent. 

The thing is, I do in fact have a favorite poem. I first read it in the fall and felt a sudden stroke of clarity and gentleness. It has everything: a delay, mood, colouring, suggestion, it goes beyond all said and unsaid. I know it`s my favorite poem, because I will read it again tomorrow. I know it`s my favorite poem, because not an hour goes by that I don`t think about it. I’m not sure if it`s a human being or a poem. But I know it`s my favorite poem, because it opened the door to poetry again for me. Who can say that about their favorite poem? My favorite poem is a masterpiece. It just happens to be written by an unknown poet. It just happens to be written for me.

By Mojca Pišek (b. 1985), journalist, essayist, literary critic, photographer. Journalist in Arts & Culture section of the second largest Slovenian daily newspaper Dnevnik between 2007 and 2017, specializing in topics of cultural policies, art system and literature. Feature writer and columnist for main Slovenian daily Delo since 2019. Regular contributor for Literatura and Outsider magazines. Received a Stritar award for literary critic by Slovene Writers` Association in 2012 and watchdog award for best young journalist in 2014 by The Slovene Association of Journalists.