Literature 
thrives here.

A City of Literature is, above all, its people.

Portraits

Meet notable individuals from the city of literature.

  • Dejan Koban
  • Majda Kne
  • Kozma Ahačič
  • Matej Bogataj
  • Stanka Golob

Outlooks

What makes Ljubljana a city of literature?

  • Zdravko Duša
  • Urban Vovk
  • Svetlana Slapšak
  • Suzana Tratnik
  • Samira Kentrić
  • Nada Grošelj
  • Miklavž Komelj
  • Marjetka Krapež
  • Kristina Krajnc
  • Katja Zakrajšek
  • Katja Perat
  • Igor Divjak
  • Goran Vojnović
  • Carlos Pascual
  • Arjan Pregl

Stories

Home libraries

  • Dr Maja Bogataj Jančič
  • Janez Lajovic and Maja Dobravec Lajovic
  • Tina Mahkota
  • Manca G. Renko and Luka Mesec
  • Tanja Radež
  • Adela Železnik and Marijan Rupert
  • Zora Stančič
  • Zdravko Duša
  • Dr Tina Košir

A Good Reading Habit

Profiles of readers and diverse styles of reading.

Portraits

Dejan KobanPoetry will forever be a necessity

Andrej Hočevar


Slovenian poetry should be thankful for Dejan Koban (1979). If it were not for him, it would lose one of its  most dedicated readers, and even more importantly, one of its most tireless and passionate promoters, who never leaves his house without at least one book of poetry in his backpack.

Dejan Koban has designed or hosted a number of - mostly literary event cycles - projects, with Ignor (and accompanying festival) in The Gromka club among the most noticeable, together with Parjenje kačjih pastirjev v mraku (Mating of Dragonflies in the Dark) in the Jalla Jalla club, poetry slam in the Channel 0 club, and last but not least, the Mlade rime (Young Rhymes), which he has co-organised with Veronika Dintinjana for many years in the Menza pri koritu club. The list should include at least one more of his recent projects, namely the marathon readings at the World Poetry Day, which take place at multiple locations across Ljubljana and literally last over 24 hours. What used to be Poetry is cool!, and later became Poetry is a necessity! are two of well-known Koban’s mottos, carrying the same level of punch in the packed Menza club and at protests in 2012, where Koban took over the poetry part and used it to re-contextualise its current social and political role.


Punk and the full moon

Needless to say, Dejan Koban is himself a poet. In the fall of 2020 the Šerpa Literary Artistic Association published his Klastrfak, and Koban presented the collection through a multimedia performance. He immediately let it be known that he would take an active role in the sales of the book, organising occasional actions in social media, borrow a Pony bicycle (he doesn’t drive a car) and personally deliver the purchased books. Koban is well aware of how much effort it takes for books to sell, and his approach undoubtedly stems from the punk do-it-yourself principle, which permeates every part of Koban’s engagement.

“I discovered punk and poetry simultaneously,” says Koban while reminiscing on a particular night at the end of his high-school days. Once he had discovered punk (on a cassette lent to him by one of his girl school friends), the world opened up to him - if he has any regrets it is that he didn’t have an older brother who would introduce him to this tradition earlier. Then, on a sleepless night - it was in February of 1996, he remembers every detail with incredible accuracy - when his room was lit by a full moon, and he was at first drawing ground plans of imaginary cities in the moonlight, as he liked to do, and then started to write some sort of short texts in the semi-darkness. “Uh, these are poems!” he said to himself in surprise and immediately committed himself to poetry, which he hadn’t been acquainted with at all before. Only after his first collection of poems had been finished, he read the entire school library practically in one go, and then started to visit other libraries and borrowing entire opuses of poetry, carrying them around in his backpack.

As he realised later, his first texts echoed mostly the war in Bosnia, which had hurt him immensely, partly because of a deep rift it caused at the time between him and his father. Nevertheless, one of the poems was a love poem. It hit him that - since he couldn’t play the guitar - he could gain popularity through poetry.

While Koban is today somewhat ashamed of his youthful poetry (who isn’t), the most important thing about his high-school collection isn’t the fact that it was published, but predominantly that even back then he managed to use it for a cunning, albeit not planned, and representative feat of building an audience: someone illustrated the book, someone else designed it, he brought in typesetters, reprographers, printers and binders. Koban used to attend the then called Secondary School of Printing and Paper (today’s Secondary School of Multimedia and Graphic Technology Ljubljana), which was obviously in need of just such a group project.

Once the book was published the once unpopular high-school student presented his poetry to the public for the first time at a school event and in front of an audience of no less than 600. It is hard to believe but he experienced something similar twice more: first at a reading in front of a crowd of protesters in 2012, and later in 2013 in Kino Šiška, where he found himself as the second cameraman and spoke to Peter Hook (from Joy Division). “You’re writing poetry?” Hook asked him. “Would you join us on stage and read one of your poems? Come to the backstage in ten minutes!” Koban got on the stage and started reading his 11-minute-long poem, which was accompanied by surprised exclamations by his journalist colleagues from the first row: “Koban! Koban!”


Train to Metelkova

“I found the quiet too loud,” explains Dejan Koban as he remembers the period in his youth when trains stopped due to a strike. At the time, he lived with his family right next to the train tracks and got used to the vibrations, missing them when the trains were no longer there. As a child, he would regularly salute locomotives, and greet trains from his snow tower in the winter, where the engine drivers would throw him candy. The railway marked his childhood in the eighties, when his family would visit Ljubljana (it’s hard to imagine little Koban wearing a tie), and his youth in the nineties, when he used to get up at five in the morning to catch the train to his school, also in Ljubljana. This was also the way he discovered the city he came to live in, determined to live a life of poetry: on the way - and sideways - to the train station. There is no doubt about which sideway proved to be the most important for him. “Metelkova is my home!” he says straightforwardly.

Koban got to know Metelkova and fell in love with it right from the start, despite the fact, he says, that he didn’t quite understand it back in 1993; at the time, he was in the phase of his back and forth radical political beliefs, and even became a Slovenian nationalist for a time, just to spite his father. One of the events he remembers from those days includes Kuzla - the first Slovenian punker - and him in the empty Metelkova, encountering a lost female tourist and arranging for her to sleep over at one of their suspicious friend’s. Three years after the occupation, when Koban was already part of the anarchistic and alternative world (“politically I’m a humanistic anarchist,” he says), he felt it was a pity that there wasn’t that much literature in Metelkova. “Heterogeneous nature is important,” he says, “seeing music taking over the monopoly puts me in a bad mood.” He feels that alternative culture should be different in every segment, and there was a point in time when Metelkova had found itself in danger to lose literature altogether. The person responsible for this not happening even after the Mlade rime left is definitely Koban, among others.


Poetry as creating a community

Koban has been an active independent promoter of poetry for over 15 years now. In his own words, his resolute passion hasn’t lost its momentum during this time. He always manages to come up with a new idea for how to push poetry forward, for what to do with it in order to bring in the audience. At the start of the 21st century, Koban took part in poetry workshops where he met Veronika Dintinjana. The pair organised the now legendary Mlade rime since 2006, which brought up to a hundred visitors per event to the Menza pri koritu club.

Back then, Koban came up with the idea to organise debut poetry evenings in Metelkova, which would at the same time cultivate the audience and ensure it would come back again and again. But there were others developing similar ideas, which led to the Mlade rime starting with two Spanish fellows who came to Ljubljana as exchange students. The name of the cycle which later evolved into one of the most recognisable literary-event trademarks, was the result of a mistake, Koban recalls, as someone fortunately wrote “rhymes” instead of “Prešerns” on the posters. Koban later took on the production of recognisable posters with focus on typography, as well, but burnt out, according to his own words, after some 140 posters, so he let others take over the design process (of unique poetry-zines, among other things). There is currently a team of 15 co-workers from every generation taking care of Ignor.

While the typically relaxed atmosphere made the readings a meeting and identification point, and was an important quality of events organised by Koban, he started to develop video readings recently due to the fact that events have been cancelled because of the pandemic. He used to contribute short video clips already as an official contributor to the Pranger Festival, and has been stubbornly defying the less-than-favourable circumstances by publishing video readings of poetry.

By doing this, he managed to re-establish a firm community on social networks. He says that he got the idea during the first quarantine while watching videos featuring authors opening new boxes of Legos. His approach is once more direct (in a punk sort of way), unrestrained, personal and intimate. Koban most of all isn’t and refuses to be a literary critic - this allows him to react, through occasional written commentaries, in an emotional and most of all sincere way.


How to be independent

While rebelliousness might not be an entirely insignificant driving force for Dejan Koban, the most important principles of his participation are surely the alternative concept and above all independence. The alternative approach is ingrained in Koban’s organisational approach, as he generally doesn’t apply for public funds for his projects. He introduced an entry fee for some of his events, Ignor, for instance, is “an informal artistic cooperative”, he even got a loan to publish his collection of poems Metulji pod tlakom (Butterflies under Pressure, 2008, self-published). He arranged for a colleague of his involved in another project to be paid in instalments - not least because this is the reason he goes to work for, as he says.

His writing is also alternative, “contaminated with film editing” (Koban works as a film editor at the Radio-Television Slovenia) of momentary events, words, short cuts, blind sequences, mistakes and other imperfections. In his own words, he would like to see more experimentation, as the tradition of the avant-garde and the visual is now being lost in poetry, while the “canonization of word” is clearly taking the lead in our parts.

At the moment, Koban is in the process of planning future projects, among them the mini-publishing house “Črna skrinjica” (Black Box), which will represent “authors from the very edge, unknown or yet unknown”, without any public funding, of course. This is in line with Koban’s history of “publishing” activities, as he is practically the only one who used to “publish” a variety of chapbooks or zines, from the Mala ignorirana knjiga to the Ignor’s library and other publications, which are always as ephemeral as they are unique.

With all these said, remaining independent is of the utmost importance. Independent of funding, independent of the scene. To belong or not to belong, this is not the correct question. Because Dejan Koban’s greatest strength is in his ability to create his own scene, again and again, which never wants to be his alone.