Manual From the Belly of the Whale: Poems of the Male Soul

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I could tell you that I parted with my mother at the country of skin.

A Sadness At The Disparity

In the dream, my lips were bruised, her body was whole again, and we danced naked in the street. After a century, humpbacks migrate again to Queens. They left due to sewage and white froth. Watch their false-god statues. Looking for the New York City that could rival home. But this trip, he wants to see more. So, we travel to Little Philippines, Queens, 69th off the 7 train, off the 7 the whole of Queens opens wide for us. We buy OK magazines by the handful for gossip Tagalog with English subtitles, glossy photos, Pacquiao, his chiseled grin, everywhere.

And we eat. Deep fried ruffle fat, poolee noodles with shrimp, milkfish. Your Abba fake orders pork blood stew but I am sure I would eat anything here because this is how much I trust the two who brought your father up in the world. This is how to say snack in Tagalog: Merienda, Merienda is snack. This is how to say ice-cream in Tagalog: halo-halo, halo-halo is ice-cream. This is how to leave your country. You will only see the islands melting away. This is how to say snack in tagalog. Back home, we sit, get caught up.

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We stood at the waterside and saw how angels who until now had been sleeping beneath the snow were washed away along with empty bottles and shreds of timber. The poet is quite familiar with literary schools. But he forgets them as soon as he enters the writing scene, as if for the first time.

He moves about in a world that is at once natural and artificial. By approaching his work deliberately and consciously, he is one with the masters of the Renaissance, an Artifex, a craftsman of the visual arts. Every single one of them, an expedition into the unknown. He is in search of a poetic meta-language, capable of refreshing the act of naming things. Its result are fantastical realities. In his work, he often pursues a general idea.

From the Belly of the Whale: Poems of the Male Soul

This holds true for his poetry as much as it does for his prose, his travel literature, and narrative essays. They are — and this quickly becomes apparent — arranged along the lines of an imagined order. He gives a voice to natural phenomena — such as the stone, the ant, or the potato — as much as he offers up things made by human beings to the realm of language.

This is not the work of a stickler for order, not the work of a pedantic cataloger of things. Instead, we will discover an artist, a pioneer operating in the physical space of meanings, who has been shaken by modern aesthetics as much as the theory of relativity has revolutionized our understanding of matter. No object without the historical meaning that dwells within it. This is a poem that one ought to savor slowly, as it is intended to be. If gobbled up hastily, its words might burst like a sausage casing. Six million salamis, the kosher kind, gassed to death during World War II And one million spicy sausages from the Balkans done in fifty years later.

At the same time, fear prevails. The number of fat mortadella is on the rise. Somebody ought to immediately take measures against gonorrhea in black pudding. And, wow, what exceptional treatment for hot dogs in miniskirts. And those Hungarian stilettos. With quilting seams and Wonderbra. Mixed meat made of lies, fear, hesitation, lust. But from where this love, this fearful concept? Is your stomach rumbling? Bulimic masses, trapped in the bowels of language. Hurt it. Grab it. Let the words burst between your teeth.

This is grotesque in a terrifying way and intensely concrete, at the same time. You begin to feel a bit queasy when you consider that nutrition and genocide, sexism as well as eating disorders are put in juxtaposition here. Is poetry allowed to do that? Should such mental leaps, such mixed motifs be allowed? Is it about eating and being eaten, about the war of anthropomorphic sausages, about a nation of sausage-eaters and their food chain? Is it about slaughtering human beings and animals? Does it drag all our cultural ideals down a gory trail of blood, while it transforms all of us, us bodily creatures, into egotistical devourers?

Are we just an intermediary stage in a metabolism that forces an entire society down some universal bowel movement? Concrete thought puts away with those false attributions of introspection and external affairs. Human dignity has its limits — in gorging oneself senseless. Thus, the sausage has become a scandal to the spirit — as it besmirches everything that is beautiful, noble, and true. But who is speaking in this poem? Hopefully not the author himself? The canny as well as the uncanny nature of things.

In the Belly of Words: A piece by Durs Grünbein on Aleš Steger

Behind our backs, they lead their own lives, conspire, and in the end testify against us. In this poetry of things, we bear witness to a double somersault. Not only the view upon objects, their clearly defined materiality, but also their names are put into limbo. He is testing a flick-flack, a back handspring, during which familiar conditions start dancing and opposites come to know the miracle of their suspension — inside and outside, here and there, I you he she it … are suddenly, instantly swapped and shuffled among themselves by this acrobat of words.

Outside he unbuttons the tuxedo that got pretty tight. Everything here is in constant flux and on the go, everything is in a circular flow, a link in a chain of being. Accordingly, there is a lot of talk about incorporation, about digestion, and about the metabolism. Is it really necessary to note that he gets closer to hidden reality than any literary convention, which out of sheer social hygiene prefers to stay at the surface?

He is interested in the stages of development. What potential is vested in those minuscular elements that language might deem insignificant? The hook then becomes an indicator for differences within one language. It marks the plethora of potential options. Thus, he says about the egg on the breakfast table.

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Slash, slash, bursting peelings — chaos or order? Enormous questions for a tiny egg early in the day. And you — do you really desire an answer? Perhaps poets are those who pose unanswerable questions. His area of expertise is beyond all immanent rhetoric, that is, the aporia. The question mark regulates the flow of traffic on the intersection of existential problems.

He also knows that they often loftily remain up in the air. The poem is a long-distance call that comes in suddenly and unannounced. It connects us with a voice beyond our own troubles. To what degree did you have and do you still have the impression that something random or something necessary was inherent in that encounter? The DNA of his poetry and prose exhibits conspicuous mutations. There are those deeply engrained moments. If a college course in Comparative Literature is one of those moments, is another matter. It shows the route of a philosophical voyage. One of the most noticeable mutations has been provoked by the radiation emanating from the Surrealist movement.

It is marked by sabotaging the logic of traditional imagery, introducing exotic motifs, performing synesthetic gymnastics, using paradoxical narrative, or embracing uncommon syntax. Readers will also notice an abundance of Spanish-speaking poets influencing this author. He is well versed in the Spanish language. South America is the continent he has crisscrossed most intensely during his excursions. He has traveled in Latin America for over ten years. But references to this realm are everywhere in his work. There are numerous examples.

A poet gets lost in a crowd that is barfing on Coney Island. Vomiting safeguards them from the dead, as they rise from the swamps and threaten the city. The living barf out the names of the dead. The poet writing here is one who knows of the many alleyways connecting the imagination. In doing so, a personal inventory of images has accumulated — and whenever the plethora of images and associates seems to be overwhelming, seems to be indigestible — he resorts to the sudden ellipsis, to a surprising revolting twist, in order to shake off what lays heavy body his body.

In the middle of a travel journal, a poem bursts in; in the middle of a poem, a prosaic voice emerges. It seems to me that Jonah in the belly of the whale is the patron saint of this subversive Slovene. The biblical character haunts many of his poems. One may encounter him in the most impossible places — in the awkward silence at a urinal, while men a firing squad? Right there, of all places, one will meet Jonah. What does here mean, and what is that over there? What does the human voice sound like over there, on the other Side of the urinal?

The character from the Old Testament does not let him go. Transformed into a cerebral image, a notion. The guy who has been gobbled up is stuck in the stomach, which he is saying at the same time. In such moments, the poet is in his element. In the inner most dominion of self, from which the outside world with its shifting panoramas, politics, problems may perhaps be stated in a nutshell.