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Burning Tongues by Aleš Šteger, trans. Brian Henry

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Aleš Šteger was born in 1973 in Ptuj, Slovenia, where he grew up, then part of the former Yugoslavia ruled by Tito, which gained its independence when he was 18. He published his first collection at the age of 22, Chessboard of Hours in 1995, and was immediately recognised as a key voice in the new generation of post-Communist poets not only in Slovenia but throughout central Europe.

Notable for its moral engagement, Šteger’s poetry is acutely precise in its observation and concentration as well as multi-layered and technically versatile, ingenious and inventive, adventurous and playful yet serious in intention. Above all, his poems are incessantly curious in their investigations which the reader is invited to share – and he loves to ambush the reader with the unexpected.

His influences are mainly European, including the Serbian master poet Vasko Popa, as well as German and Spanish-language poets he has translated into Slovenian, such as Bachmann, Benn, Huchel, Neruda and Vallejo. He has added his own strand of writing to the distinctively European genre of prose poems in pieces which describe everyday objects in minute terms, only to explode in the imagination through what he perceives in them. He is also known for his prose books and experimental writing including his Written on Site pieces.

'Each one of his books is an extraordinary event.' – Durs Grünbein

‘Aleš Šteger is a poet of the mutable world, “emptied of solidity”, writing “between/ The time of the word/ And the time/ When/ A word/Is devoured”. Emerging in the aftermath of the wars that broke former Yugoslavia into many countries, Šteger has become one of the most significant European poets of the new century. In his hands it is as if poetry were giving up its last secrets, “when books don’t open to speak but to whisper”, and metaphors are “instantly dispersed by a galactic wind". His language slips through fissures of time and space, where, for example, “Hayden plays his saxophone in the Hotel Europa Regina” and all manner of ordinary things become objects of cosmic wonderment: bread and knives, shoes, seahorses, toothpicks, earrings and paperclips. We are fortunate to have these selections from five of his books and also new poems, translated beautifully by Brian Henry. More than a new Selected, this is a gift to the English language and a bridge between worlds.’ – Carolyn Forché

'And what if, just as you open one of those rare, thrilling books in which a terrific foreign poet is carried into English by a terrific poet-translator, the poets tell you, “You have five minutes / Until I turn out the lights.” Better get going, reader. In this long-awaited Selected Poems, Aleš Šteger imagines the poet (which is to say, you, everyone) as a figure of disappearance, slipping through cracks, stepping through two doors at once, turning into quotation, becoming a word, vanishing into a wood, finding a world in which objects – a walnut, an egg, shoes – are awake and looking back, drawing, maybe dragging the poet into a drama that we suddenly see has always been shared. Just so, in a Šteger poem, a piece of meat stuck between the teeth can be linked to revolution and “Whoever thinks hope misses it.” Although Šteger’s poems have that lightness about them that Italo Calvino so admired, they can be, you’ll soon see, devastating. Šteger’s work has earned a huge international audience so that while you’ve been reading this little paragraph, this book has gone into yet another edition.' – Forrest Gander

Bloodaxe Books

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