July 31, 2011

Srečko Kosovel

Srečko Kosovel [b. Gorizia and Gradisca/Slovenia]

One of the major Solvene poets of the 20th century, Srečko Kosovel was born on March 18, 1904 in the country of Gorizia and Gradisca, part the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His mother, a descendant of a wealthy Slovene family from Trieste, was 40 at the time of his birth. His father was a local teacher and choir leader.

The youngest of five children, Kosovel spent his childhood with his brother and three sisters in the village of Tomaj near Trieste until 1924.

The poet began writing at an early age, one of his poems being published in a children's magazine when he was 11. But when World War I erupted around him during his teenage years, his life was changed as the specter of corpses and wounded soldiers of the battlefield 15 kilometers from his home grew larger.

Finishing elementary school in 1915, Kosovel moved with one of his sister's to Ljubljana to continue his studies, remaining there until his death. In 1919 he met Branko Jeglič, a poet who became his close friend and who produced the student newspaper Kres (Bonfire), in which Kosovel also became involved. When Jeglič died soon after, the young writer published an obituary in a Slovenian newspaper in Trieste.

During this period Kosovel also began writing poetry more seriously, concentrating mostly on poems that expressed his longing for his family and reflected the landscapes of the Kras region, where he was born. In 1920, Kosovel shared an apartment with the writer and editor Ludvik Mrzel, contributing pieces to Mrzel's newspaper.

In 1922 Kosovel began studies at the University of Ljubljana, majoring in Romance and Slavic philology. There he began the literary magazine Lepa Vida (The Fair Vida, a motif in Slovene poetry).

With the end of the war, Trieste and the plains of Slovenia were annexed by Italy, the locals threatened with terrorist acts by the Fascist regime, and magazines and newspapers such as Lepa Vida became outspoken forces for the Slovenian oppression. Kosovel would also grow close to the magazine's co-editor Alfonz Gspan, who would later edit the young poet's first collection of poetry. The poet Ivo Rahor helped to introduce Kosovel to avant-garde poetry, and introduced him to the writer Bogomir Magajna.

In 1923, Kosovel established the Ivan Cankar Club, dedicated to the radical Slovenia author, a group which organized debates on literature, social, and political issues, and published Novi Kres (New Bonfire). But deep disputes began to rip the organization apart, with Kosovel moving further to the artistically revolutionary edge, while his opponent, Anton Ocvirk, expressing a conservative position. Yet despite their differences, Ocvirk would later become the editor of Kosovel's "Collected Works."

Another figure important to Kosovel was Ivo Grahor, who edited the progressive journal Vidovdan, introducing Kosovel to modern European literature and to the numerous Soviet and German avant-gardists of the day.

In the summer of 1925, Kosovel joined with constructivist artist Avgust Černigoj in creating a new magazine, named by Kosovel, KONS. At the same time Kosovel began writing his own constructivist works, which he termed as konsi (singular of kons). He also prepared his first collection of poems, to be titled Zlati čoln (Golden Boat), but his friends and the publishing houses rejected the work. Consequently Kosovel turned exclusively to constructivist poetry, intending a collection to be entitled Konsi, a book that did appear for the public until 1967.

Also in 1925 Kosovel became the editor of the magazine Mladina (Youth) for which he had ambitious plans, hoping to transform it into a nationwide left-wing publication of modernist and avant-garde writing from the Slovene lands and Yugoslavia. Meanwhile he continued his activities in the Ivan Cankar Club, performing across the region. In the winter of 1926 he performed in the small industrial town of Zagorje, where, waiting for the train home, he caught a cold that developed into meningitis. He died on 26, 1926. His coffin was adored with a ribbon of the colors of the Slovene flag; Italian Carabinieri members threatened to exhume the coffin, removing the ribbon, to prevent what they feared would become a "nationalist" outburst.

Despite the short period of his creative output (1923-1926), Kosovel managed to create more than 1000 poems as well as two prose works consisting of lyrical prose and sketches, and literary criticism, essays on cultural issues, notes, diaries, and letters.

The first collection of 60 poems, Pesmi (Poems) appeared in 1927, edited by Alfonz Gspan. In 1931 Anton Ocvirk published Kosovel's Izbrane pesmi (Selected Poems), and in 1946 he again edited the poet's Zbrano delo (Collected Poems), but left out more than 170 of Kosovel's constructivist works. Not until 1967, 41 years after Kosovel's death, did those poems appear in Integrali '26 (Integrals), one of the most exciting events of Slovene literary history. In 1998 the Slovene Writers' Associating, along with Slovene P.E.N. and the Association of the Slovene Literary Translations published an English-language version of Integrals, translated by Nike Kocijančič Pokorn, Latarina Jerin, and Philip Burt.


Pesmi, ed. by Alfonz Gspan (1927); Izbrane pesmi, ed. by Anton Ocvirk (1931); Zbrano delo, ed. by Anton Ocvirk (Ljubljana: Dr˘zavna zalo˘zba Slovenije, 1946); Integrali '26, ed by Anton Ocvirk (1967)


Integrals, trans. by Nike Kocijančič Pokorn, Latarina Jerin, and Philip Burt (Llubljana, Slovenia: Slovene Writers' Association, 1998); The Golden Boat: Selected Poems, trans. by Bert Pribac and David Brooks (Great Wilbraham, Cambridge, England: Salt Press, 2008); Look Back, Look Ahead: The Selected Poems, trans. by Ana Jelnikar (Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling Press, 2010)

For a large selection of Kosovel's poetry (with the constructivist markings), click below:

For an essay on Kosovel by David Brooks and another selection of his poems, click here:

To see the covers of several of the magazines that Kosovel edited, click here:

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