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, his poetry is acutely precise in its observation and concentration, and could also be described – in very broad terms – as surrealist. His influences are mainly European, most notably the Serbian master poet Vasko Popa and the French surrealist Francis Ponge, whose mantle he could be said to have taken on in prose poems which describe everyday objects in minute terms, only to explode in the imagination through what he perceives in them. Other influences would inevitably include some of the German and Spanish-language poets he has translated into Slovenian, such as Gottfried Benn, Ingeborg Bachmann, Peter Huchel, Neruda and Vallejo. His poetry is multi-layered and technically versatile, ingenious and inventive, adventurous and playful yet serious in intention, and above all, incessantly curious in its investigations which the reader is invited to share – and he loves to ambush the reader with the unexpected.
'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
Praise for Above the Sky Beneath the Earth (2019):
‘Aleš Šteger is the real thing! He is the poet of inimitable gifts! He is one of the best Eastern European poets of his generation! It is the truth: Šteger is a marvelous voice, one that takes some of the playfulness of his Yugoslavian compatriots Vasko Popa and Tomaž Šalamun to the whole new level. What is that level? It’s Šteger’s very own kind of wisdom: "Between truth and man / I choose waiting.” What is the source of this wisdom? “I got stuck in silence,” the poet says, “therefore I write.” To which one might add: he knows loss, therefore his poems are beautiful. In these remarkable translations by Brian Henry we are lucky enough to behold in English the work of this major Slovenian voice.’ – Ilya Kaminsky
'The playfulness of Aleš Šteger’s Above the Sky Beneath the Earth is contagious.' – Valzhyna Mort, Poetry