Katja Perat

Slovenia

Katja Perat (1988) is a graduate of Philosophy and Comparative Literature and postgraduate student at the Ljubljana Faculty of Arts. Her book of poetry The Best Have Fallen (Najboljši so padli, 2011) received a best debut award and was picked as book of the year by the Slovenian Literary Critics’ Association. 2014 saw the publication of her second book of poetry, Value-Added Tax (Davek na dodano vrednost), nominated for the Veronika Award for best book of poetry of the year as well as for the Jenko Award given out by the Slovene Writers’ Association. The book reviews she writes for the AirBeletrina literature portal and the biweekly Pogledi have established her as a recognisable voice of the younger generation of poets. Her poetry offers a critical treatment of the Slovenian literary establishment and other social phenomena as well as the fate of poetry and art in general. Poems from her first book have been included in the 75 Poems from Dekleva to Perat (75 pesmi od Dekleve do Peratove) anthology.


Even prior to the publication of her first book, Katja Perat was hailed as an independent, recognisable voice on the map of Slovenian literature. Her debut, The Best Have Fallen, was published in 2011 and received exceptionally well, by poetry professionals and general public alike (as evidenced by the book being sold out). In 2014, she published her second book, Value-Added Tax, and early feedback makes it clear that one doesn’t need a crystal ball to predict for it a fate similar to that of Perat’s debut. As many have put to paper, Katja Perat has become the “voice of a generation,” though she reportedly dislikes the term.

 

The Best Have Fallen received a number of awards, with reviewers anticipating it to become the debut of the decade. Which is “quite something for a self-professed nation of poets,” according to literary critic Goran Dekleva. In its justification of the award for best debut, the jury had stated: “It is not exceptional to find poetry that speaks with a loud voice; it is, however, that it also has something to say.” And it’s all true. Katja Perat’s poetry is articulate and discerning without trying to express final truths, although it doesn’t try to preclude other poetry from doing so: “Please don’t give up, / just don’t count on me.” Perat is less forgiving of the literary establishment, using her poems to trounce the untouchable personalities of the cultural landscape – melancholy intellectuals, well-dressed freelancers, intellectuals on the cusp of a nervous breakdown, poets of shallow passions and poets who sleep with literary characters – and does so with few reservations. Katja Perat takes a critical eye to the world of literature, exposing it mercilessly from within, for she is, as she realises, a poet, literary critic and philosopher and thus herself a part of it. In the words of literary critic Urban Vovk: “The poetry of Katja Perat stems from the realisation that life itself is a habit harder to break than the habit of thought. And it’s not afraid to admit it.”

 

Despite her poetry being full of references to philosophy, theory, political thought and history, it’s not pretentious or bound to a cause, and least of all such that it could be called elitist. It’s true one of the poems sees the author unabashedly sympathetic to Engels – but not in a way one would expect: “I can say with certainty / That the only man who could have loved me without forcing himself was / Friedrich Engels.”

 

Even a cursory look at Perat’s poetry shows that she doesn’t draw from the poetic tradition of sorrowful lyricism that is proverbially so dear to Slovenian authors. To illustrate the point with her own words: “Perhaps you don’t know what I am talking about / But you’d understand if you went to literary evenings.” Perat’s freedom from literary convention and her relaxed attitude to writing is evidenced by a wit that’s refreshing but far from naïve. Katja Perat knows that a less than serious approach to poetry does not necessarily lead to buffoonery or to the destruction of its value system, but rather re-establishes poetry as eminently valuable. All the more so when the comedy rises above the level of intellectual gymnastics and becomes the sort of subtle humour that does make one laugh, but at the same time speaks of serious things that would, upon further thought, perhaps rather make one sigh, if not outright cry. And that’s what makes Perat’s poetry so exceptional. Although speaking to us in an accessible, almost colloquial voice and although very reflective, it doesn’t pretend to be impersonal or distanced from emotion: “In this poem, somebody is happy / and everything else / seems thoroughly redundant.”

 

The poetry of Katja Perat is loud, full of irony and self-deprecation, and one would be mistaken to ascribe it any kind of haughty cynicism. When asked about this in an interview, Perat said that in spite of everything she is always fighting on the side of meaning, for a world where one could truly feel at home, even though such efforts are usually doomed to fail: “A cynical response would be to sink deep into the couch and rant passively about reality. I prefer to imagine myself cheerfully pissing against the wind.”

 

Trying to close by looking at Perat’s poetry in the general context of contemporary writing, we’re faced with a difficult task. Katja Perat resists classification as she’s just now creating the only category that she could be classified in. Her poetry, as well as her general social stance (she also writes an outstanding blog of social critique for the most popular Slovenian newspaper), is authentic. Or as said in the afterword to Perat’s first poetry book by Mojca Pišek: “Katja Perat definitely does not belong among her very polite generation that speaks well, writes well, talks well and, above all, behaves well. We are not saying, of course, that we have not seen this in poetry before and elsewhere, but at the moment, Katja Perat is the biggest name of literary system disobedience […].”