February 2013

Rebecca Silber


Instead of Whom Does the Flower Bloom by Vlado Kreslin, translated by Urska Charney

Vlado Kreslin, a rock star (literally) in his native Slovenia, is hardly known in the United States. Guernica Editions has just released Kreslin's newly translated book of poetry, Instead of Whom Does the Flower Bloom, as part of their Essential Translations series. Noah Charney, a novelist and art historian who wrote the introduction to this collection, explains that the deserving hope is that this poet who "is even better known as one of the Balkan's most beloved folk rock musicians," a man who is a "national institution in Slovenia" and who has performed with REM and Bob Dylan, will soon have a wider audience. Kreslin plays the guitar and sings, writes and co-writes lyrics, and yes, writes poetry.

Kreslin's poems are not well known outside of the Balkans because there was no translation of his work into English until this collection was published and translated by Urska Charney. While I do not speak the native language that the poems are written in, it seems that Urska Charney worked well with and between the languages in translating Kreslin's poetry. Instead of Whom Does the Flower Bloom is a small book, containing just over forty eloquent, visual poems. The poems are driven by love, life, and politics -- but not in the "don't talk about politics" sense. Kreslin writes about politics in the hopes of bringing people and countries together, rather than driving them apart. His poems are pictorial snippets of stories about life in Slovenia, past and present. They are vividly written, sincerely written -- Kreslin always stays true to himself and to his homeland.

These poems have songlike qualities, which is to be expected, since Kreslin is a musician who has recorded more than a dozen albums. Some poems repeat stanzas, chorus-like, others simply sound like they could be put to music. One poem, "Tonight We Play for You," is a poem about music, about a concert. It begins "Dear Guests, / Tonight, as a thousand times, / And as never before, / We'll carry you away, / To a place where each memory is born, / To a place where time rushes no more, / Dear Guests, / Tonight we'll ignite the stage for you! ..." Kreslin, writing about a musical performance about to begin on stage, could instead be writing about a poem about to be read. Music and poetry are so similar, often overlapping, and for this poet, always overlapping.

Instead of Whom Does the Flower Bloom contains a number of poems about the passage of time. Kreslin writes a lot about the sky, and sunrises -- new days, love lost. Some of these themes emerge in the poem "Thousand Years On," "...A thousand years on I'll still be here, / The sun will be my heart, / And one of a thousand stars across the night sky / Will shelter me beneath its name. / I long to sing, to echo, / I long to outrun my own mortality / To strip the wings of time / The only righteous ruler..." Mortality is a common theme in Kreslin's poetry; it is faced head-on in the poem "Black Veil," "...But be damned, / The black veil still waits beyond the pane..." This dark poem is about death finding its way to the narrator, despite efforts to shut the windows, left with no choice but to face the inevitable.

Kreslin's longing for harmony among the Balkan countries is another theme that appears in his poetry and music; he uses his artistry to bring together people from different backgrounds. His desire for political harmony is expressed best in the poem "Abel and Cain," "...We were not meant to be / We were like Abel and Cain / Perhaps in the next world / Our wars will be elsewhere." There are many mentions of the Balkans, especially the Mura River, which runs through Kreslin's native Prekmurje, a desolate part in northeast Slovenia. Obviously these mentions remain after translation, and there is a comfort in that, that it is just the language that changed -- the setting remains the same, a tie back to Kreslin's homeland -- binding the poems in this collection together.

In 2009, Kreslin was invited to Yale University as an honored guest by a professor in the Slavic Studies Department. Charney, in his introduction, states that "with Kreslin's Yale visit, it became clear that while Kreslin's work is internationally renowned in both popular and academic circles, he remains little known outside the Balkans." After the reading I did on Kreslin's background, and after reading Instead of Whom Does the Flower Bloom, I sincerely hope that this English translation brings Kreslin a wider audience. Kreslin's talents are meant to be shared, his ties to the Balkans are meant to be introduced to other cultures, and this collection of his poems deserves to be universally read.

Instead of Whom Does the Flower Bloom by Vlado Kreslin, translated by Urska Charney
Guernica Editions
ISBN: 978-1550716368
80 pages