Blesok no. 55, July-August, 2007
Poetry That Values Revolt
Aleš Mustar: C(o)urt Interpretations,
Literatura, Ljubljana 2005; Blesok, Skopje, 2007
The first collection of poems by Aleš Mustar, who previously published his work in several Slovene as well as international magazines, opens up a number of issues related to the so-called engagement in poetry and the poet’s dethronement from the laws of aesthetics. As a court interpreter, Mustar is able to perceive the present and the laws of the capitalistic world more thoroughly; as a translator, he can grasp both the internal and the external part of the language; and as a poet, he attempts to put the fundamental existential experience to paper. The verse from the poem Go West, “Real-life stories”, says it best. It can be interpreted as the author’s principal credo: he writes down stories as they happen in real life. Indeed, the material for his poetry is life itself, yet it is often lifted from the ground by the poetic process and set adrift to imaginary landscapes like a balloon on a string. In this respect, Mustar’s emergence in Slovene literary-poetic milieu is a breath of fresh air. Above all it is a multilayered starting-point that accounts for his ethical-moral-legal standing which is in part reflected in this collection. However, to expect Mustar’s collection to be a simple legal code containing articles and paragraphs, prohibitions and commands for the poets and the nation, would be in vain. Even sparser in Mustar’s poetry are traces of self-pity or an emphasis on tragic human existence. This is due to the poet’s wide angle which encompasses all the levels of human existence. Deep inside and despite his broad experience and maturity, the poet still clings to the outtake of an outcast who is the only one capable of recognizing the face of truth in the muffled game of cultural patterns and habits.
Mustar’s poetic subject, the poet himself, faces everyday problems with bravery and energy. In his poetry, Mustar does nothing to conceal his errors of judgement and would not be caught idealising anything without a cogent reason. As a writer he is placed into the capital of Slovenia which provides an external frame for most of his poems. The actuality in which Mustar depicts fragments of his life fades away when faced with the supreme issues of successfully saving the world (in the introductory poem Depression: “Shall I turn into Super, Action or Spiderman, are you willing to become my Xena, so that together we will save the world?”), and that of responsibility towards reality and other people. Mustar thus simultaneously banters and criticises his own life, and even more so the surrounding Slovene society, its rules, laws of communication and its essence. Mustar’s dissatisfaction with the world’s problems is expressed in the poem There’s No More Smoking in New York. The poem is set in the form of a mirror which scintillates with the images of the mistakes made by the poet and by others, sometimes even of errors of the entire society. Contrary to many Slovene poets, Mustar does not build his poems on the aesthetics of the language, lyricism or pathos, nor does he glorify his role of a messenger or appoint to the poet the role of a shaman. In Mustar’s view, the poet’s position is not a superior one, that of “a godsend to the earth”, rather he faces the destinies of time with his ordinary bloodshed eyes of a mortal. With considerable vehemence, Mustar takes the opposite approach which surpasses the message of a provocation, seemingly invariable in form. In his poems, the poet is thus more often a dehumanised than a glorified figure (as in the poem At the Red Snake: “There are no manners at the Red Snake, you can eat with your fingers. The poet sentenced to silence is brought innards.”). In the Poem on Survival, the artist is someone who gives empty promises to people and does not manages very ideally in his environment. Since in the modern world of Mustar’s poetry hope and trust in distinguished and eminent values are undermined, the poetic language adequately turns rustic, while the contents acquire the consumer nature. Yet once Mustar denounces “the poetic ego” in a flourish, he is bound to bring it back in a different, more “revolutionary” manner (in Crime and Punishment, for instance, the poet calls on imaginary protagonists of the Dostoyevsky’s novel to join him for a glass of vodka). On occasions Mustar gives an impression that an ironic smirk is one of the best means in a struggle against the indecent and sometimes even senseless world which moves away from the subject with a megalomaniac speed, instils in him the sense of emptiness, and encourages “Don Quixotic state of mind”, woven through and through with scepticism of a modern intellectual.
Speaking of form, the poet approaches poetry in prose, using the language similar to that used in street conversation. As to the contents, the schism between the poet, his role in the society and the reality is strongly evident in Mustar’s poetry, while the author’s internal, psychological struggle, indicated by the descriptions of his physical and psychological condition, is set to become its permanent subject matter. In the poem Diagnosis, the poet introduces us to his physical condition and his health. Similarly, the theme of the poem Airborne is the poet’s body, examined by a physician. This poem may be a paradigmatic example of the (infinite) extent to which Mustar would go to intensify an event from his real life. On the other hand, the psychological struggle brings forth schizophrenic ideas with no solid foundations which the author fully acknowledges and uses them as a filter (from the poem Literary Nocturne: “Drink up the Biokill and kill the night moths, give me a knife so I can rip up my belly and twist Jonah’s neck,”…). The author sets himself a task to realise and “heal” his own errors through poetry. In some poems, “the Sartresque crushing atmosphere of anxiety” ends with a romantic cliché exclamation (Environmental Poem). In Nostalgia, the poet after initial observation gets lost in the images of protagonists and poets from different periods in world literature, which is another open display of his sympathy for literature. The author is fully aware of literary legacy which can have a positive effect or can be merely a troublesome nuisance (poem Legacy). Mustar rarely succumbs to mysterious erotic outbursts in his poems, on the contrary, he portrays this emotion with an existential sensitivity of a man trying to approach a woman, more often than not with a heavy dose of cynicism. In the foreground of four poems entitled Romantic Poem I-IV, which deal with the dual, are all the painful hardships and obstacles of a couple. Randol Poem, possibly one of the most sensitive in the collection, stands out due to the fact that the depicted event is not met with irony but rather intensified. Some of the poems which were written during the holidays (Shrovetide Poem, Eastern Poem 2004, Assumption Poem, September 1st, November 1st), point to the contrast between the idyllic atmosphere, emptied symbolism of the holiday and harsh reality.
Upon reading a book such as this, we can state that this kind of poetry in its essence values revolt. In the case at hand, the personal and social rebellion has a solid base and does not float weightlessly in midair. Irony remains one of the key elements of the collection C(o)urt Interpretations; Mustar uses it with no hesitation and by intensifying it achieves its opposite and eventually its annihilation. Irony, which often turns into self-irony, at times overcomes melancholic impulses; their edges are smoothed by an urge to smile. In a sense, the tone of some of Mustar’s poems can be compared to that of the comics in a daily paper: both involve the urgency to update an event, criticism, irony and humour. Yet neither the former nor the latter comes equipped with an objective recipe to guarantee its quality; it can only be a result of a right combination and an adequate dose of all the constituents, which is something only the best can achieve. This and the collection’s immediateness as to its contents are the reasons why C(o)urt Interpretations raises dust on the shelves of modern Slovene poetry.
Translated from Slovenian by: Manja Maksimovič
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