Aleš Šteger

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Aleš Šteger
Aleš Šteger. Courtesy of the artist.

Article

Thing´s View on the World

Aleš Šteger is not only one of the main Slovenian poets of his generation but also a central figure of Slovenian cultural life. A shrewd and charismatic organiser he co-founded the international poetry festival “Days of Poetry and Wine” in Slovenian Medana in 1996 and took charge of it in the following years. In 2007 he played a key role in organizing Slovenia´s guest appearance at the Leipzig book fair. He is a fine and reflective translator and mediator between cultures and is especially fond of German and Spanish poetry. As a reader at Študentska založba he is in charge of this publisher´s arts and philosophy program. Cosmopolitan and open-minded he enjoys exchanges with artists from other genres, like composers, instrumentalists and visual artists.
Aleš Šteger is at home in many languages and lands but especially in the land of poetry. There he finds rooms with wallpaper-doors, Möbius loops and demi-mondes, which he explores and reports on. His early debut with “Šahovnice ur” (“Chessboards of Hours”) in 1995 marked him as one of his generation´s leading poets and spread his reputation abroad. Since then he has published four prize-winning collections. His interest in symbolism and demi-mondes and his search for more knowledge about existence have been evident in his poems from the start. “Šahovnice ur”, “Kašmir”, “Protuberance” and “Knjiga reèi” are his four collections.

In “Kašmir” (“Kaschmir”, 1997), he charts the cosmos of shadowy transitions, dreams and sleep. “On shutting your eyes you see a poem. / Lacking the certainty of things which you secretly long for, / it recalls a freshly whitewashed room / whose doors and windows the summer forgot to shut. / But even this concrete image is misleading. / The poem has no ways in or out, / and its state is more or less fleeting. / The figures which hover and populate it - its metaphors / framed on the walls - / may, by a gust from the world at large, / be whirled apart and changed into something different ...” “Kašmir” is made up of “travelogues turned inward”. They trace the “topography of a landscape beyond time and space in trying to grasp the gravity and grace of speech” (Josip Osh).

“Protuberance” (“Protuberances”, 2002), the third collection of poems lends voice to the distortions of our world. Aleš Šteger is aware that the world is invariably “bloody and acquisitive” and that its “stumps are hardly curable”, but he ´records these features to let us know their names´, according to Dane Zajc, the great Slovenian poet, one of Aleš Šteger´s literary forebears in his preface to “Protuberance”: “ Protuberances. / Protuberances. / Become the word-length of lightwaves / travelling through memory and flesh / in order, by photographing wounds, / to heal the names of the world´s distortions. “Protuberance” makes readers aware of the cool sharp gaze of a surgeon plying his knife and recalls a quip of Gottfried Benn´s, here cited as the opening motto: “The world is no great uterus / since it is less than warm to us.” Of all Slovenian poets of the younger generation Aleš Šteger is the one most influenced by German poetry. He was early impressed by Gottfried Benn and Paul Celan and has translated works by Gottfried Benn, Ingeborg Bachmann, Peter Huchel and Walter Benjamin (“Einbahnstraße”/ “One Way Street”) into Slovenian. Without the poet and doctor Gottfried Benn and his family of rats, this collection of poems would not have been the same, but “Protuberance” is also a kind of travelogue. Having alluded to Yemen, Berlin and Paris it returns to the author´s village - to the world of childhood and relatives.

In "Knjiga reèi” (“Book of Things”, 2005) Aleš Šteger finally frees things from petrification and lets them speak for themselves. An egg queries a person sitting at a table, a shovel digs into the earth and learns more about it, two windscreen wipers are servants in black galoshes which again and again slide over sprayed chemicals, raindrops and smeared insects without being able to remove them, an umbrella in its narrow dinner jacket is pierced by arrows and full of sweet pain and is a sexy martyr. “Knjiga reèi” is a collection of poems with an ambitious concept. It views things not from the points of view of humans but of the things themselves, reflecting on themselves and on life. This amazing shift of perspective is already implied in the book´s title “Knjiga reèi”,, since ´reèi´ is not only the genitive plural of ´things´ but also a verb meaning to say or to speak. In Slovenian the title implies that things speak for themselves and can fill a whole book with poems of their own accord.

“Knjiga reèi” tries to be literally objective in doing without a human narrator and in viewing the world from the point of view of objects. Impressions are then revealed through images. Lightly, humorously, ironically, seriously and with a sense for the latently threatening Aleš Šteger shows things as having qualities we hardly would have imagined. Shrunken raisons are not only as wrinkled but also as humble as a busload of pensioners on pilgrimage. The hay-harp, the guardian of Slovenia, takes care that ´no one escapes the game´. The equilibrium of mints, growing in fields, along footpaths and in graveyards, feed on the bones of the dead ´on the guts of neighbours, on the shin-bones of strangers´. The descriptions are meant to be not as realistic and impartial as possible, as in the case of Francis Ponge, but to come from the heart of things themselves. The shifts of points of view, from the outer to the inner, occur in “Knjiga reèi” nearly unnoticeably, as at the wave of a wand or conductor´s baton. Before having noticed a shift a reader is caught in the unfamiliar folds of demi-mondes, in the co-existence of alternative possibilities, or in the world behind the looking-glass. This shift not only leads to astonishing finds but is also unsettling.

Besides these four collections of poems, Aleš Šteger has also published two essayistic travelogues. In 1999 appeared “Vèasih je Januar sredi poletja” (“January is sometimes in Mid-Summer”) about his travels through Peru in the footsteps of César Vallejo, and in 2007 “Berlin”, a book whose form fluctuates between prose, essays and poetry like Walter Benjamin´s “Berliner Kindheit um neunzehnhunder”´ (“Berlin Childhood about 1900”). In it Šteger looks back on a year´s residence in Berlin as a guest of DAAD (2005/2006) in accordance with its program for artists.
Author: Katharina Narbutovic

Bio

Aleš Šteger was born in Ptuj in Slovenia in 1973 then studied comparative literature and German literature in Ljubljana. In 1996 he co-founded the international poetry festival Days of Poetry and Wine in Medana and has since worked as a reader for a publishing firm. Besides translating German and Spanish literature, he has written the prize-winning books "Šahovnice ur" (Chessboard of Hours), 1995; "Kašmir" (Kashmir), 1997; "Vèasih je Januar sredi poletja" (January is sometimes in Mid-Summer), 1999; "Protuberance" (Protuberances), 2002; "Knjiga reèi" (Book of Things), 2005; "Berlin" (Berlin), 2007.


Works

Berlin (Berlin)

Published Written,
2007

Knjiga reèi (Book of Things)

Published Written,
2005

Protuberance (Protuberances)

Published Written,
2002

Vèasih je Januar sredi poletja (January is sometimes in Mid-Summer)

Published Written,
1999

Kašmir (Kashmir)

Published Written,
1997

Šahovnice ur (Chessboard of Hours)

Published Written,
1995

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Europe Now | Europe Next

(01 August 06 - 31 July 07)