Born in Croatia and raised in Slovenia, Slovenian poet Tomaz Salamun has published 30 collections of poetry in his native language. His poetry has been translated into more than 20 languages, and he’s had nine collection published in English. The Blue Tower: Poems is the tenth in English, and translated with the author by Michael Biggins of the University of Washington; it was first published in Slovenian in 2007.
To read the poems of The Blue Tower is to become disoriented and dislocated, and that is perhaps the point. Here’s a representative example, from the first poem in the collection, “The Bride Wins Both Times:”
To provoke the pasture’s ladder, to wash out the cat’s message,
What you hear through walls is panic coming here.
In Morocco he whipped slaves. First I open the chest.
The ribs turn gray. I saw nomads, women on horseback. The dog days will
come dressed in a
T-shirt. I’ll show you hand, my hand is your hand…
This is language being used in an unconventional way, simultaneously drawing attention to itself and pushing the reader to the next phrase the next line, seeking the connections or the context and finally realizing there may not be any (in this poem, in a kind of refutation of the title, there isn’t even a mention of a bride).
Another example of this dislocating action is from the poem “Persia.” But here, the word and idea of “jump” helps to knit the poem together, as does a bit a repetition:
When I jumped on the sieve, the sieve
got sick. The word departed from the flesh and
became the fruit of Nicodemus. No one is free
of gentle bonds, buttons and ribbons
excepted. We dug them in pearlike flutters.
From there a short jump to a branch. Johnny Weissmuller,
Such a well-stitched tarp, where do you see these now? We turned
Gristle into myriads. Into mush. Into pharaohs…
This is not stream of consciousness poetry. Each sentence, each phrase is usually so well contained and tightly written that this isn’t a flow of language but indeed a very careful, heavily crafted use of it.
The effect, interestingly enough, is to push the focus of the poems to the reader, trying to make sense of the phrases and sentences and finally evaluating each phrase and sentence on its own merit and personal meaning.
The Blue Tower is full of arresting ideas and language, but a slow and careful reading is a necessity to grasp them.