Monday, December 29, 2014

Could Everyone Please Stop Dying - Tomaz Salamun and Poetry and Charm

Poet Tomaz Salamun 
Almost five years ago I met Tomaz Salamun backstage in the Art Zone of Ljujbljana. It was an evening I will never forget. Salamun was exceptionally kind to me and the word that comes to mind is really --- gallant. He wanted me to be the last reader as I was an "international guest." I managed to politely but firmly decline. To read on the same stage was quite enough of an honor. It was a full house. I read in English and another poet who had translated my work read it in Slovenian. Behind us, a pianist played. The stage was candle lit.

A couple of days later I was in a popular coffee house when I saw Tomaz again. He was sitting at a table surrounded by young poets. When he noticed me sitting alone he came over and insisted that I join them. We talked about the role of translation in American poetry and he let me know that the United States --- and Iowa in particular --- had been very good to him. He commended American poets for embracing a variety of poetics. "Not like the French," he said.

A little later when Tomaz got up from the table another poet told me how generous he'd been to the new generation of Slovenian poets. He'd created a writing residency in New York City for younger poets that provided Slovenian poets three months in New York to write.

While these are just fragments of our time together what I want to convey is that Salamun was a man who loved poetry and believed in helping other poets --- even if that poet was a young woman from the Pacific Northwest --- wherever that may be.

I am honored to have known him however briefly. Years later when I worked for Library Journal writing reviews I was happy to offer this piece on Wood and Chalices, Harcourt Inc.



Salamun, Tomaz; Wood and Chalices; Harcourt, Inc; 96 pages; 978-0-15-101425-5

What we desire from poetry largely determines how we experience these finely sculpted poems. The collection abounds with a lyricism of myth and travel, mischief making and Italian art. Instead of employing the straight jacket of narration, Tomaz Salamun is far more interested in the juxtapositions of high and low culture, personal observations and natural sink holes. Does grief shout in the valley? Does it rebound off radiators? Salamun asks us in the final poem of this heartfelt collection. But do not expect him to provide any answers. The poems here pose more questions and play more games than the average reader may at first comfortably comprehend. Yet, the work is not hermetically sealed. Salamun is considered the preeminent poet of Slovenia having published over thirty-five books in Slovenia / Yugoslavia and now ten books published in the United States. It maybe helpful to know that the linden trees, rivers, and names of his native country appear hand in hand with fragments of a fertile imagination. A self-excavation unfolds as motifs of animals, woods, and the porous earth itself circle back in frequent imagistic appearances. Though to apprehend the music and spirit of the work is perhaps more important than to codify it. Be ready: To step into the splash. Happily recommended for those readers open to the surreal and the non-linear.





1 comment: