The infrastructure of the Slovene poetry landscape
The literary historian Aleksander Bjelčevič summarised the entire development of poetry as follows: in general, Slovene poetry has been written in five versification systems: the folk sacral and secular poem set to music or the so-called melic verse; the Protestant syllabism of the 16th century and loose syllabism of the Catholic post-Protestant poetry or the Catholic reformation of the 17th century; tonic verse, which was formed as the Slovene reception of the ancient hexameter and pentameter in the 17th and 18th centuries; syllabotonic verse, which began in the first half of the 18th century and predominated the entire 19th century; and the free verse in the 20th century.
The beginnings of the written Slovene language and the earliest Slovene literature
The earliest examples of the written Slovene language have been preserved in the Freising manuscripts, church texts of careful composition and literary form, created between 972 and 1039. But the first record of a Slovene written poem was found in the Stična Manuscripts in which, among the liturgical forms from around 1440, are also written Slovene verses of an Easter song sung by the churchgoers.
But the Slovenes regard the publication of Catechismus and Abecedarium printed in 1550 and written by Protestant reformer Primož Trubar (1508–1586) as their first Slovene language books, and also as one of the most important cultural events in their history. Already in the Catechismus, several poems with catechetical content were printed. Between 1563 and 1595, five Protestant Hymnals were printed, authored by Primož Trubar, Sebastijan Krelj, Jurij Juričič, Jurij Dalmatin, and some others. The context of this linguistic and literary development was the new movement in the 16th century, the Reformation of the Catholic Church and the establishment of the Protestant Church, which deeply affected important Slovene men of letters. In addition to Trubar, Jurij Dalmatin (1547–1589), who translated the Bible into Slovene language, and Adam Bohorič (1520–1598), who wrote the Slovene Grammar, the first grammar in Slovene language, also published their work in 1584. Their work signifies the advent of original Slovene prose, poetry, philosophical thought, and writing on political matters as well as theological discussions.
Regarding older Slovene literature, we must include folk poetry, which until the 19th century mostly existed only as oral literature, but then began to be written down. The origins and motifs of folk poetry are different they date back to pre-Slavic mythology but also include motifs from the ancient or biblical worlds. Interestingly, there are fewer epic dimensions, fewer heroic songs, and more those that express a ballad character with a tragic sense of the world. Several editions of Catholic Hymnals were also written in the 17th and 18th centuries: both centuries were dominated by folk and religious poetry.
The conditions for the emergence of Slovene secular songs with artistic ambition were created in the second half of the 18th century with the crisis of feudalism and the introduction of new, bourgeois-rationalist Enlightenment and nationally-awakening ideas into the Slovene space. The circle around philologist Marko Pohlin (1735–1801) and poet Feliks Dev (1732–1786) created the first Slovene almanac of secular poetry entitled Pisanice. Published between 1779 and 1781, it represents the beginning of a completely new development of Slovene poetry.
Valentin Vodnik (1758–1819), a journalist, poet and representative of the Enlightenment literary programme, also published his first poems in Pisanice. He also collected his poems in two volumes: Poems for Sampling (1806) and Poems to the Defenders (1809). His poetry paved the way for secular poetry in Slovenia. The playwright Anton Tomaž Linhart (1756–1795) can certainly be placed next to him, as he also expressed the libertarian spirit of the French Enlightenment and the French Revolution. The formal simplicity of their work, which is close to popular rhymes in theme and expression, is not by chance: they were aware that they were writing for the first literary public of their nation. This new literary consciousness was made possible by the educational reforms of Austrian empress Maria Theresa (1717–1780) and the ensuing mass literacy of the region's populations.
The next important stage in Slovene literature came at the beginning of the 19th century, with the advent of Romanticism. The German Romantics influenced both the content and form of Slovene poetry. At the same time, the wider European Romantic movement and its accompanying nationalism inspired Slovene intellectuals to produce philological and literary works. For example, Jernej Kopitar (1780–1844) initiated early attempts to standardise and codify the Slovene language. Romanticism in Slovenia began in 1830, when the poetic almanac The Carnolian Bee (1830–33, 1848) began to be published. Setting itself the ambitious task of cultivating high literature, it gathered a wide circle of intellectuals, such as the poet Dr France Prešeren (1800–1849) and the linguist Matija Čop (1797–1835).
It may be said that Slovene written poetry only rose to its authorial, artistic and creative form for the first time with Prešeren's lyrics. He considerably mastered classical poetic forms, primarily ballads and sonnets in such works as The River Man, A Farewell to My Youth, Love Sonnets, The New Writing, A Wreath of Sonnets, The Baptism by the Savica, etc. He also spiritually rekindled the sub-Alpine province with the fighting spirit of the European Romantics and thus articulated the national consciousness. For Slovene literature, Prešeren's poetry has the same constitutive meaning as Goethe's has for German, Byron's and Shelley's for English, Pushkin's and Lermontov's for Russian and Mickiewicz's for Polish literature. With it, a solid foundation and a reliable criterion were created, which no longer allowed Slovene poetry to sink into regionally limited self-satisfaction in its further development.
During this time, the first female poet to write in Slovene appeared: Fanny Haussmann (1818–1853), who mostly wrote patriotic and love poems. More and more female poets later entered the Slovene literary sphere, including Luiza Pesjak (1828–1898), the first woman to write a novel in Slovene (Beata's Diary, 1887), who also wrote poetry and librettos.
Post-romanticism and Moderna
The late 19th century, the age of realism (1849–1899), otherwise known as the golden age of novels, provided the first Slovene example of this new literary form with The Tenth Brother by Josip Jurčič (1844–1881). It also found its expression in poetry, especially in the works of Fran Levstik (1831–1887), Simon Jenko (1835–1869), Simon Gregorčič (1844–1906), and Anton Aškerc (1856–1912). Because of the diversity of their expression, the poetry of these poets is often referred to as post-romanticism. In many respects, it paved the way to the first modernist literary forms and styles, such as impressionism, marked by Josip Murn Aleksandrov (1879–1901); symbolism, especially in the poetry of Oton Župančič (1878–1949); and expressionism, such as the poetry of Alojz Gradnik (1882–1962).
Some of these poets were later named the Moderna generation, which appeared at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. Dubbed "the damned poets movement", its origins were in European symbolism and decadence. Poet Josip Murn Aleksandrov was attached to the popular poetry tradition, which he reworked into sensitive modern poetic miniatures. During his short life, Dragotin Kette (1876–1899) wrote with more cheerfulness and energy than any Slovene poet before him. But the undisputed cultural and spiritual authorities of this period were Ivan Cankar (1876–1918) and Oton Župančič, whose explicitly modern approach to poetry, along with their powerful personalities, made them the standard for other poets.
At the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, female poets, for example, Pavlina Pajk (1854–1901), Ljudmila Poljanec (1874–1948), Vida Jeraj (1875–1932) and many others, also appeared in the Slovene poetic space. With their poetry, consistent with post-romantic sentiment, they worked at the intersections of national and feminist consciousness.
Slovene poetry found a place also in the European avant-garde of the 1920s with the work of Anton Podbevšek (1898–1981) and Srečko Kosovel (1904–1926), as well as contributing to the post-WWI ultra-modernist movement. Srečko Kosovel, a Slovene poetry icon, was seen as the "Slovene Rimbau" during the last four years of his life. His opus consisted of more than 1,000 poems left in manuscript form, together with a few hundred prose works, primarily lyrical prose and sketches, literary criticism, essays on cultural problems, notes, diaries and letters. After his death, he was discovered and rediscovered several times. The publication of his poetry book Integrals in 1964 proved to be one of the most exciting literary events of the 1960s, as a group of young Slovene poets discovered in Kosovel their contemporary, the founder of their poetics, and a missing part of Slovene literary history. Kosovel is an Impressionist when he writes about the Slovene Karst and the fate of Slovenes threatened by foreign rule and an Expressionist when he proclaims the destruction, antagonisms and cataclysm of Europe. His poetry changes from a silent lyric longing for the past into a loud, presumptuous, offensive work full of linguistic innovation and experimentation.
Between the wars and the period of World War II
After World War I, social and spiritual tensions were evident in the predominantly expressionist poetry of Lili Novy (1885–1958), Miran Jarc (1900–1942), Anton Vodnik (1901–1965) and Vida Taufer (1903–1966). Nevertheless, the contents of social realism were already introduced into poetry, for example, in that of Mile Klopčič (1905–1984) and Tone Seliškar (1900–1969). During World War II, Edvard Kocbek (1904–1981), Jože Udovič (1912–1986) and Ivan Minatti (1924–2012) developed highly-articulated lyrics also within the cultural expression of the Slovene national resistance and continued their writing into the post-war era. Karel Destovnik-Kajuh (1922–1944) and France Balantič (1921–1943) lost their lives on different sides, at the start of their promising careers. Partisan poetry – with the most renowned representatives Oton Župančič, Matej Bor (1913–1993), Tone Seliškar, Kajuh, France Kosmač (1922–1974) and Jože Javoršek (1920–1990) – is considered to be an extremely developed expression of the resistance and mobilisation poetry. After the war and with the victory of the communist idea, this line of poetry, in many ways, turned into socialist realism. It was only interrupted by the late 1940s with the introduction of new, post-war forms of modernism.
Proto-modernism of the post-war intimist generation
The period of new modernist intimism and subjectivism in Slovene poetry (1947–1958) had its roots even before the World War II, for example with the influential poetry book The Enchanted World by Božo Vodušek (1905–1978) from 1939, where reality is depicted disharmoniously. Vodušek broke with pre-war expressionism, switched to a New Reality and later became the most prominent representative of existentialism in poetry. This sentiment is continued by Ada Škerl (1924–2009) with the ground-breaking poetry book Shadow in the Heart, published in 1949, which marked an absolute break with socialist realism and mobilisation poetry. It led to a new pessimistic subjectivism and erotic intimism in Slovene poetry. In 1953, The Poems of Four was published which introduced Kajetan Kovič (1931–2014), Janez Menart (1929–2004), Tone Pavček (1928–2011) and Ciril Zlobec (1925–2018), who were to remain one of the most influential groups in Slovene poetry. The poetry of Ivan Minatti and Lojze Krakar (1926–1995) can also be included here. All are united by a departure from traditional poetic forms and the use of fewer cliché metaphors.
Between 1959 and 1966 marked another radical break in poetry creation and the introduction of the even darker, even more pessimistic worlds of hopelessness, horror, trauma, guilt, absurd, curse, negativity, alienation. Such are, for example, the poetry collections Burnt Grass (1958) by Dane Zajc (1929–2005), Lead Stars (1958) by Veno Taufer (1933), Mosaics (1959) by Gregor Strniša (1930–1987), and The Moon Horse (1958) or The Washed Up Loot (1961) by Saša Vegri (1934–2010).
Radical modernism or Neo-avant-garde
The next developmental phase of Slovene poetry, radical modernism or neo-avant-garde, began in 1966 with Tomaž Šalamun's (1941–2014) book of poetry Poker, which marks the poetry production to this day. Šalamun was a poet who aimed not to imitate reality but rather for a fluid and sophisticated wordplay, constantly and radically defied the traditions of the older generation. In general, the radical modernism period is marked by world events of that time, which also resonated in poetry: student demonstrations, the war in Vietnam, political developments in Eastern Europe, the hippie movement, the nonconformism of the beat generation, etc.
An influential group that also marked the poetry of the time was the OHO group (1966-1971), in which poets such as Iztok Geister Plamen (1945), Matjaž Hanžek (1949), Aleš Kermauner (1946–1966), Vojin Kovač Chubby (1949–1985) and Franci Zagoričnik (1933–1997) participated or were influenced by it. The poetry of this period was experimental, de-constructivist, Ludite, minimalist, concrete, visual, and was greatly inspired by the historical avant-garde. In content, it was most often provocative, ironic, socially critical. Radical modernism in poetry lasted until the mid-1970s.
In the mid-1970s, neo-avant-garde art retreated to a greater pluralisation of poetry currents, directions, contents and forms that continues to this day. There are different poetics in parallel; the relations between them less conflicting. New poetic voices enter the scene: Milan Dekleva (1946) with his first poetry book Mushi mushi (1971); Ivo Svetina (1948), who in the same year published his poetry debut Plovi na jagodi pupa magnolija do zlatih vladnih palač; Milan Jesih (1950) with his Uranium in the Urine, Master! (1972); Svetlana Makarovič (1939) with her Twilight (1964); Ifigenija Zagoričnik Simonović (1953) with her Gradual Relief (1972); Boris A. Novak (1953) with his first poetry book Still-Life-In-Verses (1977). We can also mention Iztok Osojnik (1951), Maruša Krese (1947–2013) and Jure Detela (1951–1992). This period, described by the umbrella term postmodernism, is marked by the renewal of historical styles, a dialogue with tradition, including folklore, new forms of realism, new aestheticism, aesthetic formalism, interventions of everyday discourses, intertextuality or citation, a strong flow of spiritual, philosophical poetry, the restoration of the subject.
Poets from older generations also entered this postmodernist stream, reshaping their poetics: for example, Veno Taufer's poetry collections Songbook of Used Words (1975) or Tercets for the Damaged Trumpet (1985) broke away from previous linguistic experiments, opting rather for an intimate and personal lyricism, often lined with folkloristic moments. He was followed by other poets such as Niko Grafenauer (1940), who published his first poetry collection Evening before the Fest as early as 1962, but from the 1970s onwards increasingly tried to solve his existential conflict through a formalistic and stylistic penetration into language.
The early 1980s continued this postmodern poetic pluralism, with its less avant-garde aggression and more tolerance for diversity in literary form and content. The generation born around 1960 leapt into postmodernist auto-poetics. Their poetry deepened individuality, subjectivity, self-referentiality, intertextuality, narrative forms, existentialism. It is a poetry of personal mythology, personal mytho-poetics. Its most-exposed representatives are Alojz Ihan (1962) and his 1986 collection The Silver Coin (Ebesede), winner of the 1987 Prešeren Fund Award; Aleš Debeljak (1961–2016) with his The Names of Death (1985, Mladinska knjiga) and The Dictionary of Silence (1987, Književna mladina Slovenije), winning him the Jenko Award (1989) and contributing to his Prešeren Fund Award (1990)); Maja Vidmar (1961) with her poetry debut Distances of the Body (1984, Pomurska Publishing House), which more explicitly exposes eroticism and sensuality as the meaning of being; and Brane Mozetič (1958), who introduced homoeroticism into his poetics.
The diversity of poetics continues well into the 1990s and into the new millennium, but here we must point out above all the stronger emergence of poetry by female authors. Poetry debuts The Hole (1994, Frontier) by Petra Kolmančič (1974), Marzipan (1997, Mladinska knjiga) by Taja Kramberger (1970), The Edge of Grace (1999, Mladinska knjiga) by Barbara Korun (1963), and Subscription (1994, Škuc) by Nataša Velikonja (1967) were published. The latter also represents the first declared lesbian poetry book in Slovenia. In parallel with women's poetry, coloured by feminism, gay and lesbian poetry has been developing since the 1990s. In addition to the already mentioned Mozetič and Velikonja, there are Ciril Bergles (1934–2013), Milan Šelj (1960), Gašper Malej (1975) and Kristina Hočevar (1977), and younger poets who have published poetry collections in the new millennium, for example Nina Dragičević (1984), Aljaž Koprivnikar (1987), Uroš Prah (1988) and Vesna Liponik (1993). All these developments also indicate that the Slovene literary space has also opened up to minority or marginalised poetry.
Otherwise, the poetics of the mainstream, created in the 1990s, are represented by Uroš Zupan (1963), starting with his Sutras (1991, LUD Šerpa) and River in 1993, Tone Škrjanec (1953), Primož Čučnik (1971) and Gregor Podlogar (1974). Their poetry is important for the introduction of beat poetry into the Slovene literary space, as well as for the deepening of the dehermatisation of the language and an even stronger return to the poetic narrative. In this generation of poets, we must also mention Cvetka Bevc (1960), Brane Senegačnik (1966), Peter Semolič (1967), Aleš Mustar (1968), Miklavž Komelj (1970), Lidija Dimkovska (1971), Aleš Šteger (1973), Alenka Jovanovski (1974), Jana Putrle Srdić (1975), Alja Adam (1976), Anja Golob (1976), Jure Jakob (1977), Veronika Dintinjana (1977), Lucija Stupica (1979), Ana Pepelnik (1979) and Dejan Koban (1979).
This generation, like the next one, born in the 1990s, cannot be classified into one specific literary current; a dominant poetic line or concept does not exist. Their work is more about the development of independent, individual poetic strategies, within which relational lyrical subject, existential issues, new social realities, such as new technologies and digitalisation with parallel social or subject changes, critical social analysis, such as a critique of consumerism, materialism or capitalism, etc. are often present. Representatives of the latest generation of poets who show such a combination of lyrical subjectivism and social criticism areJernej Županič (1982), the already mentioned Nina Dragičević, [[Tibor Hrs Pandur (1985), Denis Škofič (1985), Kaja Teržan (1986), Katja Perat (1988), Katja Gorečan (1989) and Muanis Sinanović (1989).
The contemporary Slovene poetry landscape
Today's Slovene poetry landscape is well developed, and not only in terms of the structure and diversification of poetry itself. According to data from the Statistical Office in 2017, approximately 245 poetry collections are published in Slovenia every year; most are financially supported by the Slovenian Book Agency; many publishers are also successful in acquiring funding from the various literary translation funding schemes of the European Commission. In 2015, for example, 298 titles of poetry books were published, of which three quarters were titles by Slovene authors. That is why and publish poetry without financial concerns, and this can be seen in the density and quality of the poetry production described above. There are several in Slovenia: the Jenko Award, the Veronika Award, the Knight of Poetry Award, the Cup of Immortality Award, the Fanny Haussmann Award, the Urška Award, to name a few. Poets often also receive the Župančič Award or the Prešeren Award, which is given for achievements in art in general. In addition to the Versepolis poetry platform, several enliven the festival scene, many of them international, including the Days of Poetry and Wine, the Pranger Festival, Ignor Festival, the Festival of Hope, a global virtual poetry initiative, the Poetry Tournament and the Poetry Slam Championship, etc. Every year on 21 March, World Poetry Day is also well celebrated, usually with marathon poetry readings by dozens of poets. Finally, let us mention that Slovene poets are united within the umbrella organisation, the Slovene Writers' Association, founded in 1872.
Nataša Velikonja, sociologist, poet, essayist, translator. She has published six books of poetry and five books of essays and scientific papers and translated dozens of books of radical social theory. She received the Župančič Award (2016) and the International literary award KONS (2018).
- Aleksander Bjelčevič, "Zgodovina slovenskega verza – skica" (Slavistična revija, 1-2/1997), Accessed 12 December 2020.
- Anja Grmovšek, "Izstopajoče pesniške zbirke sodobne slovenske poezije" (Master's thesis, Faculty of Arts, Ljubljana, 2019), Accessed 12 December 2020.
- Drago Šega, "Razvojna pot slovenske poezije od prvih začetkov do Prešerna" (journal Jezik in slovstvo, 4/1971, Accessed 12 December 2020.
- Literature Overview originally published on the Slovenia Cultural Profiles website, Accessed 12 December 2020 on Archive.org. Compiled by Nataša Velikonja