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What We Are, When We Are | Kaj Smo, Ko Smo

Series editor: Manijeh Mannani

Give us wholeness, for we are broken.
But who are we asking, and why do we ask?

—Phyllis Webb

Mingling Voices invites the work of writers who challenge boundaries, both literary and cultural. The series issues a reminder that literature is not obligated to behave in particular ways; rather, it can defy convention and comfort and demand that readers summon the courage to explore. At the same time, literary words are not ordinary words, and the series implicitly raises the question of how literature can be delineated and delimited. While Mingling Voices welcomes original work—poems, short stories, and, on occasion, novels—written in English, it also acknowledges the craft of translators, who build bridges across the borders of language. Similarly, the series is interested in cultural crossings, whether through immigration or travel or through the interweaving of literary traditions themselves.

Series Titles

Poems for a Small Park
E.D. Blodgett

Jonathan Locke Hart

Windfall Apples: Tanka and Kyoka
Richard Stevenson

Zeus and the Giant Iced Tea
Leopold McGinnis

E.D. Blodgett

The Metabolism of Desire: The Poetry of Guido Cavalcanti
Translated by David R. Slavitt

Naomi McIlwraith

Ewa Lipska, translated by Barbara Bogoczek and Tony Howard

Spark of Light: Short Stories by Women Writers of Odisha
Edited by Valerie Henitiuk and
Supriya Kar

Kaj Smo, Ko Smo / What We Are When We Are
Cvetka Lipuš, Translation by Tom Priestly

we are
we are

Cvetka Lipuš

Translation by Tom Priestly

Athabasca University Press logo


Foreword    Donna Kane
Odprti konec   Open End
Regrets   Regrets
Jutranja vožnja   Morning Journey
Kaj bi   What If
Zaposlitev   Employment
Sanje   The Dream
Dediščina   Inheritance
Vdova   The Widow
Deseti januar   January Tenth
Koncert za glas in nebo   Concerto for Voice and Sky
Težki od časa   Heavy with Time
Naj sonce ne zaide nad jezo   Let Not the Sun Go Down on Your Anger
Slovo   Saying Goodbye
Nespečnost   Sleeplessness
Novi naslov   The New Address
Poglej nas, kako lebdimo   Watch Us Float
Obisk   The Visit
Noč z grozo v gobcu   A Night with a Threat in Its Muzzle
Vodič   Guide
Gibalo   Perpetuum Mobile
Kje si, ko si   Where You Are When You Are
Negovanje   Caring
Prehod   Passage
Počitnice   Holidays
Lake Mendota   Lake Mendota
Pogled zavesti   The Look of Consciousness
Dreams Limited   Dreams Limited
To-Do List   To-Do List
Prijavni urad   The Registration Office
Na levem boku dneva   On the Port Side of the Day
Drago življenje,   Dear Life,
Čakanje   Waiting
Afterword    Tomaž Toporišič
About the Author and Translator


In “Passage” (as in many of her poems), Cvetka Lipuš reminds us that we come to know ourselves by each day’s experiences: “I thread days onto the year’s necklace. / The dark ones and the light ones, as they travel / through me, all start to gleam.”

The more experiences that travel through us, the greater our capacity to perceive the world. Lipuš expresses her experiences in Slovenian, which, like all languages, is a habitat for a group’s knowledge. Translated into English by Slavic scholar Tom Priestly, What We Are When We Are provides English readers, for the first time in book form, access to the knowledge of this gifted poet. And what is lost in each poem’s translation? As a monolingual person, I take heart in Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, who, in his acceptance speech for the Neustadt Prize, said, “The poem as it is presented is a manifestation of another, invisible poem, written in a language behind the common languages. Thus, even the original version is a translation. A transfer into English or Malayalam is merely the invisible poem’s new attempt to come into being. The important thing is what happens between the text and the reader.”

Each time I read a translated poem, an image, a thought, a perspective, once hidden from me, is revealed. I am given a new experience, a chance to widen the scope of my perceptions. Sometimes that new perspective is a recognition that, regardless of language and culture, we share many of the same root concerns and questions. Seeing the familiar in the strange is not only a comfort but expands the gift of empathy.

Much of Lipuš’s work is concerned with the hidden, the invisible, the buried—the strange but familiar forces that reside just outside of our consciousness, as when “somebody in the depths of consciousness / makes for the surface, somebody within me / suddenly grabs my wrist” (“The Look of Consciousness”). Thresholds and liminal spaces are also felt throughout the book, and the poems move with the rhythm of breath, drawing us into Lipuš’s dreams and imagination, then releasing us back into her present.

In “Sleeplessness,” we read,

I shut my eyes and

sibilant consonants unscrew themselves from words,

they rent the five thousand fifth floor of the

Tower of Babel and they lose their harmony.

And later in the poem,

Just for a moment I shut my eyes and

shares fall on stock exchanges.

An alligator in the Florida swamps munches

the foot of a tourist and excretes it

in the shape of a cowboy boot

size thirty-eight.

Lipus’s imaginative leaps are playful and, at the same time, often so startling as to have a visceral effect. We feel ourselves launched from the ordinary into the extraordinary. We sense a glimpse of the unconscious, the hidden. Our perceptions widen.

Lipuš’s ability to step outside of herself creates arresting images. Probing the surreal experience of moving into a new house but feeling only the presence of its past inhabitants, Lipuš writes, “On the mailbox is written my name.

Would you like to know how the story ends?

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