Tomaž Šalamun: Four New Poems

Tomaž Šalamun
COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

Translator’s Note

There is a certain, unquantifiable pleasure that comes from an act of translation that takes place in the flesh. Across a table. In a crowded room. Where any number of people might bear witness to how even the smallest issues of language — the slight bend of a comma — are argued with animation. It is in the intensity — even in retrospect — of such moments that you have a living record not of opinion, not of fancy, but of necessity.

And if these poems are anything, they are necessary. They are poems of salvation, of salvaging, monuments to the body under duress. Consider, for example, the following passage from “Meditations on Death”:

Somebody throws a potato in the breast.
A consideration about what explodes,

the potato or the breast (how the potato
is summoned up?) is superfluous.

Here, a twofold pressure exerts upon the poetic pause. It refers the reader back to the action that has already been undertaken, the consequence that cannot be altered. And so we are anticipating, with each pause, the superfluity of the contemplative act. But at the same time, the pause is indicative of a devotion that exists in spite of both the superfluity of our contemplation and the irreversible violence that makes it so. With each one, we transcend — as the poem does — the mortal. We recognize the speaker as one “not to be bitten, pricked by/ bees,” one capable of breathing life when it seems as if there is none left to be breathed.

Šalamun’s is a poetics that seems to come naturally, spontaneously. His is a language that seduces us with its playfulness, even at times when we feel as if we have no right to think playfully. And it is this seduction that sometimes distracts us from the nuance of what’s before us. Because these are not only poems that are written in moments of necessity; they are written with the careful attention — the deliberate precision — of one who knows fully both the gravity of the moment and the singularity of his ability to render it. The ‘I,’ in these works is a savior. And for a savior, the comma matters.

— Thomas Kane

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