Tomaž Šalamun, On the Tracks of Wild Game

27 Nov

By Brandon Ghigliotty


Pages with poetry tucked into its corners, giving a glimpse into a mind at work. The white on the page chases four lines:

Heavenly shepherds,

young men on earth,

where did your women hide,

as you fled into this tree? (“Good Day, Iztok”)

Tomaž Šalamun’s work is a dark, surrealistic trek into the thoughts of an artist. Slipping from incantatory passages and affirmations into bizarre abstractions and conduits into the subconscious, Šalamun navigates the craft of poetry via pure intuition, yet his work gives the reader pause. It is impossible to gloss over passages such as:

Killing sounds

authentic, love—less authentic.

Flowers don’t smell

authentic, but good.

Killing smells good.

Flowers smell good, red, black, and

white.  (“Son”)

More grounded work such as the line, “A surge in the scent of daffodils.” (“Good Day, Iztok”) juxtaposes with the grisly “Give me your skin, I said to him. And I sucked up/his marrow so that only the devil/was left of him.” (“Son”)

Šalamun admits he knows nothing of the techniques underlying poetry, but describes his ravenous consumption of work from the poets who influenced him. In this method, as others have done before him, Šalamun apprenticed himself under the work of his predecessors and cultivated his own voice—a voice he carries into his readings.

Perhaps Šalamun is trying to escape the apparitions conjured by his poetry, but he frantically rushes through his work. Šalamun chooses a few poems to read in English and then reread in the original Slovenian. These moments elevate the reading from others, as hearing a poem in the poet’s mother tongue is a purely sonic experience.

After his hypnotic reading, Šalamun said, “Between ‘you can’ and ‘you cannot’ is art.”

When asked about his writing process and how he comes to his ideas, Šalamun said, “When I write I’m not in my mind–I’m out of my mind.” It can be a frustrating process. Šalamun recollects a five year period where he could simply could not write. A time during the Balkan War when his work weighed on him and inspiration fled. He wonders if his work contributed to the dark mood of that period—then distracts himself—moving on to another subject. His fleeting, scattered thoughts are reminiscent of his poetry—glimpses of the past lost to the procession of time.

On the Tracks of Wild Game, the latest collection of Šalamun’s poetry, translated into English by Sonja Kravanja, is available now from Ugly Duckling Presse.