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  • The Diverse and Communicative Nature of Peter Svetina's Children's Literature
  • Igor Saksida (bio)

Peter Svetina's children's literature begins with easily understandable, sometimes explicit, patterns of communication. His first two animal fairy tales, O mrožku, ki si ni hotel striči nohtov (The Walrus Who Didn't Want to Cut His Nails; 1999) and Mrožek dobi očala (The Little Walrus Gets Glasses; 2003), deal with the issue of difference and acceptance, establishing an intertextual dialogue with older texts that focus on similar topics. After his first forays into children's literature, Svetina's poetry and stories develop along two distinct paths: toward language play on the one hand, and toward realistic topics on the other. Both developments reflect the author's distinctive poetics of combining nonsense and realism, including problem-focused fiction.

Svetina's poetry collections are extremely varied and represent one of the high points of contemporary Slovenian poetry. Svetina's first book of verse, Mimosvet (By-World; 2001), could be labeled as a collection of problem poetry. Growing up is not shown against a background of symbolic concepts, typical of children's and young adult poetry at the time; instead, Svetina's poems show reality in a childlike and playful manner. Svetina's flashes from un uncomplicated (but not naïve or idealized) children's world are a trademark of his poetics of "communicative minimalism" that transcends late modernist poetry's complex linguistic innovation.

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On the other hand, language play is the basis of his brilliant Pesmi iz pralnega stroja (Poems from the Washing Machine; 2006), wherein Svetina combines nonsense with taboo words and a lyrical attitude toward nature; many of the texts in this book are also visual poems, providing young readers with a glimpse into the possibilities of poetic expression. Even in Svetina's mixed-genre collection of poems and short stories Ropotarna (The Lumber Room; 2012), nonsense is the common creative basis. As explained in the 2013 Večernica Award jury's [End Page 54] justification, "The Lumber Room is an organized chaos of tiny treasures, patiently waiting for the reader to pick them up and blow the dust off them. The writer's skillful navigation between poetry and prose, between the conscious and the subconscious, is merely playful fluctuation, full of rhetorical figures that with a particular dynamics take the reader from the real to the irrational, from the mighty to the nonsensical. … A ramble through Svetina's Lumber Room leads to a more creative read, full of elusive twists and turns" (Haramija 85). The author transforms various names, creates words out of letters and numbers, uses mirror text (which can be read by using an actual mirror), toys with fairy tale motifs, and shows the wonders of imaginary travels through space and time. This game of nonsense often communicates the value of art and creativity, which can exist anywhere and at any time.

Svetina's Domače naloge (Homework; 2014) is a collection of poems that move away from the poetics of language play; although one can still detect wordplay typical of nonsense poetry (e.g., play with letters, unusual neologisms), the poems are predominantly based on the real world of a contemporary child, who is not just playful and appreciative of the wonders of nature but also sometimes lonely:

For grandma to comefor us to school,for kitty to wait for uson our doorstep.

For someone to be homewhen we come from school,for us not to be alone,I ask you, our Father,I ask you, mom.

(Homework on Prayer)

And aware of impermanence:

On a white fielda crow pecksforgotten autumn'sbreadcrumbs.

From afar, it lookslike a breadcrumbitself.

Will it be peckedas well?

(Homework on Crows) [End Page 55]

A similar topic is at the center of Molitvice s stopnic (Prayers from the Steps; 2016), a book based on a rarely touched-upon theme of children's poetry: a child's reflections on God. The collection also deals with gratitude, as well as fear, aging, and intergenerational communication. As such, the collection could easily slip into moralizing or idealizing...