Slovene Author in Focus 2019: Esad Babačić
Prepared by Kristina Sluga, the editor of Vilenica Almanac
Esad Babačić was born in 1965 in Ljubljana, where he grew up in a working class migrant family in the apartment blocks of the Moste and Vodmat housing estates. Since he did not do that well in school, he found employment as a manual labourer in the Žito bakery when we was still underage. At that time, he met some boys who had a band no singer. Esad stepped in front of the microphone and he also became the main writer of the lyrics – so in 1983, Via Ofenziva, one of the most important punk new wave bands, came to life. The band soon gained not only the attraction of young music fans but also of the regime. Because of the socially critical lyrics (for example, “Proletarian,” a song with a cult status today), the boys were often interrogated by the police. Military service put an end to the youthful fooling around. Babačić served his military time in Titograd (Podgorica). After returning to Ljubljana in the nineties, he started studying Slovene language and literature, as well as Southern Slavic languages at the Faculty of Arts. Besides poems, he also began writing literary criticism, translated from Serbian and Bosnian, published columns in several newspapers (Razgledi, Dnevnik), was a journalist for Slovene national television, and for a while even worked as a writer for a marketing agency.
In his work, Babačić keeps traversing different areas of art. He has published fifteen poetry collections so far, a bilingual children’s book Kiti plavajo počasi/Whales swim slowly (2014), a biography Trdobojec (2010) about the boxer Dejan Zavec, as well as a literary non-fiction tale about Slovene hockey under the title Banda (2013). He has acted in several feature films, taking secondary roles in Outsider (1996) and Headnoise (Zvenenje v glavi, 2002), as well as in the lead role in the documentary Every Child Is Beautiful When It’s Born (Vsak otrok je lep, ko se rodi: Esad Babačić – Car, 1983) by the director Slavko Hren. He also shot a short film Kozara – Lj. – Kozara (1998), the hockey film Jesenice: Detroit (2008) with co-scriptwriter and director Damjan Kozole, and the two documentaries Dragotin Gustinčič (2015) and For Happier Days: Kajuh (Za srečnejše dni: Kajuh, 2015) with co-scriptwriter and director Slobodan Maksimović. Besides his work in art, he is also the initiator of the project “Believe in Your Basket” that strives to renovate basketball courts, while in 2018 he took part in the project “We Include and Activate!” Aimed at the social activation of vulnerable groups, this project is being carried out by the Slovene Book Agency.
He stepped into literature from the margin. He wrote about what he saw and what he lived; his “street” poetry never looked back towards literary history and it never cared much for the literary present either, which is also why it couldn’t be comfortably placed it into any of the literary movements of the time. His poetry is unique because it is uncompromising, it is full-blooded, it hits you directly in your mug – it is just like the seventeen year old was when he wrote it; as he roared against the social order of the time and resisted the “lethargy of unfreedom.” After his poetry was published in several magazines, he published his first poetry collection Freedom just keeps on walking (Svoboda pa kar hodi) in 1986 and another, under the title Kavalo, in the same year. Other collections followed: To the Little Boxer (Malemu boksarju, 1988), Angel with Shredded Wings (Angel s scufanimi krili, 1989), Black Jack (1994) and Wind in Veins (Veter v žilah, 1994). After a short poetry silence, when he had to re-evaluate his attitude towards poetry, he published Whales Don’t Boast (Kiti se ne napihujejo, 2000), Couch (Divan, 2006), Biospektiva (2010; co-authored by Roman Uranjek), Every Child Is Beautiful When It’s Born (Vsak otrok je lep, ko se rodi, selected poems, 2011), Elephants Cry Honestly (Sloni jočejo pošteno, 2011), Arrivals, Departures (Prihodi, odhodi, 2013), Kitula (2015), Fifty Selected Poems (Petdeset izbranih pesmi, 2015), and We Are Cut Away From the Sky (Odrezani od neba, 2018). Esad Babačić’s poetry has been translated into many languages and has received several awards. Among others, he received the Velenjica – čaša nesmrtnosti award for 10 years of outstanding poetic work in the 21st Century.
Babačić’s impulsiveness from his youth sharpened with years, his poetry turned to intimacy, his poetic language became purer, but the poet’s sharp, unyielding critique of the post-transition everyday stayed. Nevertheless, between a lyric flicker of thought and a long narrative poem, here and there, a perfect joke finds its place: “The Russians never / run away. / It is too far.”
Translated by Urban Belina