Slovenian poet and cultural critic Aleš Debeljak came to Yale Tuesday for a panel discussion and reading of his work.
Sponsored by the MacMillan Center’s European Studies Council and the department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, the conversation ranged from Debeljak’s writing process to the political implications of writing poetry. History professor Marci Shore and Slavic languages and literatures professor Marijeta Bozovic moderated the discussion that followed the poetry reading. Shore noted that Debeljak, as a Slovenian raised in Yugoslavia, witnessed the fall of communism in Yugoslavia and that of Yugoslavian dictator Josip Broz Tito, as well as the violent atrocities that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Debeljak added that his own work is very much inspired by social context, and that the role of literature is to help people understand what is happening around them.
“Literature does have to scare us, does have to make us disconcerted and anxious,” Debeljak said. “It needs to call into question our everyday attitude toward life.”
Debeljak also addressed the role of poetry specifically.
The writer noted that he views poetry as a means both of understanding others and of providing a way for readers to understand him.
“In poetry ‘I’ becomes ‘you,’ I attempt to put myself in the shoes of others,” he said. “Every poem is dedicated to ‘you,’ the imaginary reader. And if there is a single person that recognizes himself or herself in my poems, then my task is accomplished.”
Qianyi Qin ’17, who attended the event, said she thought Debeljak’s presentation was personable and entertaining.
In addition to her interest in learning about the poet’s creative process, Qin noted that she found it was particularly valuable to have the opportunity to hear Debeljak read his works in their original language.
“I thought it was mesmerizing when he read one of the poems in his native language,” she said. “It was also inspiring — it made me think about how writing is propelled by this pursuit of the unknown.”