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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 63 | volume XI | November-December, 2008



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                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 63November-December, 2008
Essays

The Sleeplessness and Poetry of Witness

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p. 1
Aleš Debeljak

An image, a memory: I stand in the foyer of the splendid dilapidated palace Kazina in the center of Ljubljana that houses the offices of the bi-weekly student publication, Tribuna, of which I was editor in the early nineteen-eighties. The newspaper itself, at that time one of the few independent intellectual forums in Slovenia, had aroused with the combination of its youthful naivete and its authentically dissident attitude the wrath of the communist authorities. It was brought under the close control of government censors; the editoral staff were assigned “shadows,” secret agents meant to scare us off the task at hand.
    Standing beside me in the foyer was a bespectacled, black-bearded poet, nodding with understanding of and support for my commitment to both Tribuna's editorial politics and my own creative ambitions. Even today I can vividly remember the gentle soothing tone of his voice and the confident though never self-aggrandizing content of his words. He spoke as a man with experience and faith, as a man who had followed the “moral imperative within him as well as the starry sky above him.”
    I gratefully placed my trust in this poet because I knew him not only from his literary work and his translations but also from the many informal critical groups that made up civil society and from which the Slovenian “political spring” began to spontaneously emerge in the early eighties. His name was Boris A. Novak. Neither his political views nor his philosophical contributions were negligible in the formation of this progressive movement. His book of poems Stihožitja (Verselife, 1977), its untranslatable title metaphorically closing the distance between still-life and the magic of verse, was followed by a slew of poetry collections, eight for adults alone. All of his books enjoyed the enthusiasm of literary critics and the general reading public alike. In addition to these poetry collections, he wrote an enviably large number of children's books, puppet shows, radio plays and theatrical works. He lent his skills as a dramaturge in the staging of numerous plays in the most important theatrical houses in the country and, for several years, was employed as the dramaturge at the Slovenian National Theatre.
    In his poetry, Boris A. Novak, making use of classical equilibrium, formal discipline and aesthetically attractive linguistic methods, imaginatively explores the depths of his central obsession: the pursuit of the mysterious connection between the “sounds” and the “meanings” of words. In other


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