Few experiences are probably as painful as the end of a long relationship. The sadness and sense of hurt is felt in every fiber of the body. But as concrete as the pain may be, it also paralyzes thinking and the ability to discern. “Suffering is one long moment,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “it knows no seasons.” If you try to grasp it in language, you suddenly seem thrown back to the most general concepts.
The Slovenian poet Anja Zag Golob works on this paradox in her new book of poems. A loved one has gone. Those who remain have only their disappointment, their anger – and their language. A language with which she tries to adapt to the monotony of the “single long moment”: “that there will be no more / that it doesn’t burn me / that sprouts sprout but / doesn’t grow not sprout”.
The pain and talking about it brings with it a very specific notion of the body and physicality. A “hard, dull, dark (…) substance” can be felt in the stomach, a roar can be heard from the street and you can see “the colors gliding into gray”. But at the same time, abstract terms for these experiences come to mind, such as “tremendous exertion” or “unknown difficulty”.
The physical destruction also leaves gaps in the language and verse
The emphasis on the body connects Anja Golob’s poems about pain and emptiness with the verses of her previous volume “Instructions for Breathing” (2018). It is no coincidence that the final cycle of that volume is also included in the new book. They are hard-joined verses to the human senses. But not with the vanishing point of euphoric moments of observation or fulfilling sounds and smells. The verses are more like carnage, as if the speaker wanted to destroy one by one the organs of perception where the pain begins. “Put out my eye” it says or “cut off my ear”. And the tongue, the organ of speech? “don’t bite it, rip it out with your fingers”. So it is only logical if the destruction reaches into the language and gaps in the verses become visible: “I’m worried that I say____before I think____that”.
But the thinking that everything is “the same” gradually becomes a problem. In some of his poems, Golob loses himself in empty language metaphors: “there open speech flaps / of silence there blows the wind / noise of talk there reigns / dirt of words”. Or she says at the end of the poem, as in a summary, what she has previously unfolded in detail in the verses. At such points, the “effort of the concept” that is mentioned once seems rather tedious.
The verses in which Golob plays with the terms and finds his own formulations for abstract ideas are remembered much more intensively. “Time”, for example, is not simply an empty thought here, but is transformed into a multi-layered and synaesthetic movement: “slow compression of the flakes of time around the spindle / the silence that turns darker than it pulsates”. Elsewhere, Golob transfers mourning into metaphorical fields, it may be a horde of monkeys, an island rising out of the water, or a body that appears like a mountain with its overhangs and cracks.
Golob is strongest where she sinks the metamorphoses of perception and feeling into language and works with word transformations. So “oha” becomes “ear”, “sail” becomes “seal” or “hare” becomes “hook”. It is a pity that the edition is monolingual and these passages cannot be compared with the Slovenian text. But Liza Linde’s translations make a convincing impression. She captures Golob’s harsh line breaks and rough rhythm as well as the clusters of sounds or the use of repetitions and variations. The multiplication of the semantic references, which is due to the lack of punctuation, is also noticeable in the German versions.
While Golob’s poems in the last volume sometimes resembled a “CLAIM” on politics and social imbalances, they now come across as “rubber twist with a bestie’s body”. A body whose vitality consists not least in the fact that it has feelings, dreams and memories. This enables euphoria and the hope of lasting happiness, but at the same time (and often intertwined) crushing pain and sadness. Anja Zag Golob inscribes this dialectic of physicality at the end of her volume of verses that play with negations: “don’t jump / don’t butterfly / bearability / tension in / cocoon don’t cry / bitterness / melancholy turtle”. Butterfly or turtle – in these poems there is always both.