January 2009

Erin McKnight

poetry

Banalities by Brane Mozetič, translated by Elizabeta Žargi and Timothy Liu

If the microcosm that celebrated Slovenian poet Brane Mozetič constructs in Banalities is to be considered a metaphorical café, the woman moving between tables of people who “go on about the newest, cars, chicks, [and] clothes” is an intentionally disruptive presence. This beggar holding her child, however, should not be judged as representative of the poet himself. Although Mozetič forces his way through every tight line of prose -- startling, distressing, and aggrieving the reader -- the writer’s motives are readily accessible in the tenth work of his collection:

A boy walks up to me and
shows me his arms covered in wounds, scars.
We’ve known each other for years. He sits down. And he just
looks at me. I offer him a cigarette. He smokes calmly
without saying a word. Then he whispers
slyly: you’ll like this. He pulls a razor from
his pocket and cuts into the swollen flesh
of his arm.

Epitomizing this self-harming boy, Mozetič induces bloodiness “in a moment.” Indeed, throughout fifty unnamed, yet worryingly precise poems that span the themes of loneliness, desperation, lost innocence, conflict, and risky sexual encounters, these moments multiply: appearing as ruddy inkblots on each page, the analysis of this bloody pattern silences the useless chatter and delineates the smile on the face of the injured boy as he leaves the café.

From the first poem, it is evident that the collection will confront futility and ambiguity with a sharp blade; wielded by a poet in search of a corporeal reaction and response. The unpleasantness that Mozetič has felt and renders immediately in “1” may serve as his first cut, but certainly proves not to be his deepest:

My stepfather’s hand
shot after me, a man’s hand,
my head blown off. Each time
he came near, I’d get out of the way
even if the hand was far.

The responsibility of Mozetič’s father, stepfather, and grandfather in producing a boy indifferent towards soldiers and policemen that protect and keep the peace, yet also make and then kill children, is a crucial component in the works of a writer who confronts often-younger men or boys and the powerful paternal symbols they evince. With every encounter, no matter how banal, this cruel masculine embodiment is evident:

Grandfather was the first one who realized that I’m not worthy
of life. My bawling got on his nerves so much
that he locked me in the pig-sty. Perhaps the pigs
would have crushed me, an infant, had I not been
saved.

After early redemption, several times over, the speaker in “41” grows aware of how his current fate of wandering through an antipathetic world of men came about:

Then they murdered me, slowly, year
after year, so I got used to it, and waited
apathetically for them to succeed just once.

The result of this detachment, this interim, is chronicled in the pages of Banalities; for even when loneliness is assuaged by emotional connectedness, pleasure is tempered by pain. The poet’s concern over the talk and writing that his mind emptied somewhere commonplace becomes secondary to the swollen flesh he displays without hesitation to his reader:

This nonsense
suddenly hits me as I stand up in front
Of my own life, turn around and jump
out. I walk around the town, the shops,
I talk the whole time.

It is the compilation of phrases and thoughts, sentences and ideals -- shared from beyond the physical confines of body, politics, war, religion, and love -- that makes Brane Mozetič’s Banalities such a worthwhile conversation. For the casual reader or the adept, the blood-stained pages of this collection may initially mask the artistry in the wounds that rest on scar-smoothed skin, yet unmerciful revelation is at hand. The “emptiness of those conversations” that we waste our time attempting to fill with hopefulness and healing, therefore, would be better served willingly succumbing to the pain Mozetič inflicts “at the turn of a page.”

Banalities by Brane Mozetič, translated by Elizabeta Žargi and Timothy Liu
A Midsummer Night's Press
ISBN: 0979420830
64 Pages