Before I begin, here:
Free PDF: Anthologies of Slovenian literature in translation
I wouldn’t have known about this if I hadn’t gone to yesterday’s Good As You meeting, where we met Suzana Tratnik and Brane Mozetič. We gathered that Tratnik and Mozetič were in the country to meet Mamta Sagar, who translates their work into Kannada (via the English translation, which must be amusing to all of them, and such hard work!). They came armed with nicely-packaged anthologies of contemporary Slovenian poetry and short stories, both published by the Center For Slovenian Literature. I had time for a read through the short stories, and immediately marked down Tratnik, Andrej Blatnik and Maja Novak for further stalking.
It was a great meeting, but Tratnik and Mozetič did not read out from their work, and so it was really good to hear that they, and two other Slovenian writers, would be doing a reading at 1.Shanthiroad on Friday (yesterday) at 6:30.
When I got there, we beelined (well, circled determinedly) until I found Suzana Tratnik and talked with her for a while. She introduced me to Veronika Dintinjana (poet) and pointed out Andrej Blatnik in another corner. I did some mental hoorays that Blatnik was there and wandered around some more. I did the “I am a writer” thing, which is a very heady thing to do, and we discussed writing across forms: Tratnik apparently wrote poetry a long time ago but says she can’t do it now. Dintinjana writes only poetry, very empathically.
Andrej Blatnik read first, five short shorts from a slim anthology of his stories in English translation. “Separation” was, at first hearing, about demarcations, tidiness, all leading to loneliness. “Sunday Dinners” was a powerful piece about family, about routines, and the disruptions caused by war. (Apparently it was begun before the Slovenian Short War, and finished much after.) “The Power of Words” is either about vegetarianism or about the power of human reasoning and rhetoric, I was a bit iffy about that. It had a very nice tiger. “Old Stories” was nostalgic, and optimistic. Something whose title I do not remember was an unhappy story, and it made me think of caring and uncaring as twin burdens we juggle all the time.
Veronika Dintinjana read some poems, which she told me later she translated in collaboration. She read them in the original Slovenian from a slim volume of her own, and then the translations from printed sheets. Her voice was even, with that faint fuzziness I gather from many European accents. Across “The Orange Tree”, “Cathedral Lines”, “St. Francis”, “A Visit to the Crematorium”, “Exercising Automatic Breathing”, I got a sense of an extended, pre-emptive farewell, quietly and matter-of-factly bowing to the demands and ravages of time, of inevitable absence.
Brane Mozetič read his poems in the original, while Josha translated. Joshua has a robust reading style, while Mozetič has an extraordinarily soft voice. I was as interested in the poetic content as in the reading contrast. Mozetič’s poems are untitled, and I think sometimes Joshua read poems out without Mozetič reading the originals, so it is hard to tell: I think we heard around 5 poems in all. With wry and understated humour Mozetič seemed to be speaking of fear, of isolation, of a wariness of being alert to a harsh world; the barrenness of urbanity and the yearning and denial of intimacy.
Suzana Tratnik at last, with Mamta Sagar and Suresh Jayaram (who runs 1.Shanthiroad) alternately translating. (I like SJ, but I am sorry to say he is a terrible reader. Next time, please, no matter how much we’d like to honour him, give the task to someone who does it right!) We got three shorts, “Kind of Rat”, which is about faith as opposed to denomination, funny and sad all at once; “Key to the Restroom”, which is about boundaries (spatial, social, personal, intimate. I found it simultaneously strong and bittersweet – surprisingly hopeful); “A Letter to a Vietnamese Friend” which was difficult for me to get a handle on, set as it is in a classroom where activities are dictated by a larger Communist, international, and perhaps humane agenda – I’d need to read it again to know what I felt.
The Center for Slovenian Literature aims to create quality translations of Slovenian works, to showcase Slovenian literature to an international audience, and I think the translations here were very good. Assuming their adherence to the originals, of course. They read well, and I for one want to read more.
Afterwards there was punch. I busied myself saying hi to all of them – Andrej Blatnik got pinned by another audience member who did not leave him alone for the rest of the evening, or so it seemed to me. I did tell him I’d read his “Electric Guitar” (not that I remembered the title) and loved it. I mentioned Maja Novak, and he told me she is now busy with translation rather than new writings of her own, which is very sad news for me. I spent a lot of time talking with Dintinjana, who is a surgeon, a poet, and organises an annual poetry festival for young writers. In some ways, it seems like no matter how different our nations are, no matter how differently the norms play out, they are at th core very similar. Half the time when she was speaking something Slovenian, something that hasn’t changed yet, I was thinking/saying, Yes! that happens here too! Shouldn’t this be a thing of the past by now? (Feminists REPRESENT!)
Joshua and a few other, Mozetič included, were discussing queer literature in India – the publication markets in India are exploding, and publishers are scrambling to offer target demographics whatever they’ll pay for. For Joshua this means that a great deal of UTTER RUBBISH is published, just because the authors can wave around their queer ticket. Mozetič reminded us that a lot of what is published/written will of necessity be crap, and I was cynical and suspicious, but Joshua is a more idealistic soul, and this was not a line of argument he could accept.
Mamta Sagar! It behoves me to speak of her too. Mamta Sagar writes in Kannada, and is a poet and possibly a dramatist. She’s the one who translated Mozetič and Tratnik into Kannada, and possibly she will do more in time. I find her interesting, though I have not read anything by her. I shall lead my dad to her poetry and browse through her translated works myself. She teaches at Bangalore University, and therefore has some academic articles lying around somewhere – I shall find them!
At this point, I must admit I walked out now because I was hungry, and I shall end this post just as abruptly.