The Slovenes are coming! Five of them, anyway: Tone Škrjanec, Tomaž Šalamun, Gregor Podlogar, Ana Pepelnik, and Primož Čučnik. This could be big trouble (see their bio notes). Catch you unprepared? That's just what they want! Better click Continue Reading This Entry below.
Tomaž Šalamun at Brown University, 2007
THE SLOVENE POETRY WEEKEND IN NYC (September 26 — 29) is presented by Ugly Duckling Presse (Brooklyn) and Literatura Magazine (Ljubljana) in collaboration with all kinds of savvy institutions including The Ministry of Culture of Slovenia.
For a schedule of events, scroll on down.
As it happens, Harcourt has just published Woods and Chalices , a new book of poems by Tomaž Šalamun translated by Brian Henry (whose credentials as a mammal might be suspected, considering the quantity of quality work he has published in the last decade). In English, Šalamun has always seemed like five poets. In part, that’s because his poetry is so alive, changeable, and effervescent. But it’s probably also related to the fact that Šalamun has had so many different translators, each bringing out different qualities in the poems.
Šalamun’s range is enviable. Some of his longer poems like “Schooling” and “Sunflower” from Four Questions of Melancholy are extraordinary for the way they develop a complex psychological world. Less interested in line break (in that particular work) than in juxtaposition and transition, Šalamun shifts from political bite to humorous self-deprecation to quotidian observation to anarcho-whimsy in a single stanza. It’s often the transitions that make his poems riveting. In other books, Šalamun speed-deals a mix of antic violence, self-mythologizing posturing, and holy innocence. He ratchets-up the intensity by alternating serial short subject-verb-object sentences with stubbed fragments. With his traveler’s ear cocked toward various dialects, he concocts American yodels (“O billy loo billy loo”), quotes phrases in Spanish or Italian, and plugs stanzas with haunting song-like refrains. Whether the tone is despairing or ecstatic—and it is often both twisted together—the poems win the reader with their incomparable exuberance.
His work has sometimes been described as surreal, but I’m not sure that’s the right word for it. Certainly, the surprises of his poems are neither so playful or explosive as a lot of French Surrealism nor so sensual or layered as a lot of Latin American Surrealism. In Woods and Chalices, Šalamun quick-freezes familiar language then shatters it. Out of the shards, he juxtaposes a scary, new language: intuitive, intelligent and razor-edged. Here, for instance, is the beginning of “In New York, After Diplomatic Training”:
The good sides of a siege are not also those
smudged by a horse. There’s a face
in the clause. Seven cherry trees. The notorious
seldom ever helps. He thinks mainly
about his blades. Do the smaller
and bushy help? Those seized below the dock.
Indeed, there is a face in the clause, but it is a Janus face. The syntax starts in one direction—we read “notorious” first as an adjective—and then careens in another: maybe “notorious” is a noun. Wait, maybe it’s both. But we aren’t inclined to decide when the energy of the poem is yanking us onward. If Ashbery, whose work may have inspired these poems, sometimes adopts the slippery sexiness and farce of a Jello-wrestler, Šalamun does the quick feints and jabs of a knife-fighter. Weirdly enough, it’s a kind of violence that holds the fractured dramas of these poems together. That, and the terse grammar. And the fabulous line breaks across which (thanks to Brian Henry) meanings are doubled, reversed, and severed.
I recently heard Ana Pepelnik, who is a generation younger than Šalamun, give a memorable reading in Slovenian (while I read to myself the English). Here is a translation of one of her poems by Zoë Skoulding (the Welsh poet I mention in a recent Harriet post). And below the poem, a website where you can hear Pepelnik in a fabulous performance with two poet/musicians playing amplified objects, turntable, feedback, etc.
Something has scared the butterflies.
While they’re hanging around the tender flowers
nervously sipping something sweet for breakfast
I shiver. An orange-brown butterfly scrambles
on the little toe of my left foot. I don't know whose
heart is pulsing faster. I don't even know if butterflies
have hearts. It is all sensitivity. Of flowers.
Of butterflies. Of people. That is why you’re moved
by every sound and why in a long moment
of ease you think of the donkey
with gloomy white-ringed eyes. He was
searching for a patch of shade and quiet
with you. Though crates of coca cola were
hanging off his back, he was lighter than me. Relaxed.
Used to it. But I couldn't stop thinking about
how many people there really are in this world. Maybe
that's why the butterfly settled on me. So that we
could hold our hearts together and stop trembling.
So we could rest in the donkey's shade and draw
white rings on the sun to let others carry the weight
of summer. To get used to it. And drink coca cola.
Translation by Ana Pepelnik & Zoë Skoulding
Ana Pepelnik’s work in performance with Primož Čučnik & Tomaž Grom: click here
Friday, September 26, 10pm: SLOVENE BOOK PARTY Celebrating the publication of Tomas Salamun's POKER (2nd edition), Tone Skrjanec's SUN ON A KNEE (2nd edition), and A SLOVENE SAMPLER with poems by Primo Cucnik, Anna Pepelnik, Gregor Podlogar, Tomas Salamun, and Tone Skrjanec. @ The Poetry Project at St Marks Church (2nd Ave at 10th Street, East Village) $8, $7 for students and seniors, $5 for members free chapbook with admission / Slovenian wine and refreshments
Saturday, September 27, 1pm to 4pm: SLOVENE POETRY ROUND TABLE PANEL 1 — Translating Slovene Poetry: Barbara Carlson, Kelly Lenox, W. Martin, Ana Pepelnik, Gregor Podlogar & PANEL 2 — Influences and Intersections Between Slovene and American Poetry Primoz Cucnik, Phillis Levin, Matthew Rohrer, Tomaz Salamun @ Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery (Bleecker-Houston) F/V to Second Ave, 6 to Bleecker, East Village, free admission
Saturday, September 27, 5pm to 8pm: SLOVENE SOCIAL HOUR(S) presented by MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine in cooperation with Stop Smiling @ 138 Ludlow St (corner of Ludlow and Rivington, Lower East Side) free admission / $3 beers and drink specials with DJs Paul Killebrew (this guy is a terrific poet--FG), Katie Geha, Gregor Podlogar and a "Poetry on Record" Recording Booth
Sunday, September 28, 7pm SLOVENE & AMERICAN POETS (Reading #1) Richard Jackson, Paul Killebrew, Dorothea Lasky, Anna Pepelnik, Tomas Salamun, Tone Skrjanec, @ Melville House (145 Plymouth Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn) free admission reception and book sales follow reading
Monday, September 29, 7pm (?) SLOVENE & AMERICAN POETS (Reading #2) Corina Copp, Primoz Cucnik, Gregor Podlogar, Matthew Rohrer @ KGB Bar (or other venue, to be determined) PARTICIPANTS [from Slovenia]Primoz Cucnik Ana Pepelnik, Gregor Podlogar, Tomaz Salamun, Tone Skrjanec [from the US] Joshua Beckman, Barbara Carlson, Corina Copp, Richard Jackson, Paul Killebrew, Dorothea Lasky, Kelly Lenox, Phillis Levin, Peter Richards, Matthew Rohrer
*for bios click here
Born in California’s Mojave Desert, poet Forrest Gander grew up in Virginia and attended the College of William & Mary, where he majored in geology. After earning an MA in literature from San Francisco State University, Gander moved to Mexico, then to Arkansas, where his poetry—informed by his knowledge of...