There’s the Hand and There’s the Arid Chair by Tomaz Salamun
(Counterpath Press, Denver, 2009)
There’s the Hand and There’s the Arid Chair is a lovely collection by the Slovenian poet Tomaz Salamun. Perhaps it may not be for everyone, as it is a dense read with images that run all over the place. Yet the agenda — both political and aesthetic — is sincere. Salamun’s plain yet ellusive language has its elliptical moments and heights. Freighted with a rich tapestry of cultural references (mostly European) that stretch from myths, folk tales, or autobiographical details to historical moments and political situations, the poems literally have a life of their own, a vivacity that can prove to be ageless.
I often read about Tomaz Salamun being a monster, and that the poet himself plays an active part in mythologizing himself. It thus did not come to me as a mystery when I arrived at this poem, “Monstrum (Lat.) from the Verb Monstrare,” one that certainly merits being quoted in its entirety:
I add to the story, because no doubt
there will be many theses on
who I am. My life is clear the way
my books are clear. I am
as alone as you, voyeur. Like you
I flinch if someone sees me.
I look into your eyes. We both know
the question. Who kills? Who stays?
Who watches? The one furiously
taking his clothes off to be innocent,
isn’t that a mask? Your heart beats
because your blood beats. You have
the same right as I do, I, who am
your guardian angel, your monster.
— p. 93
As revealed in another poem — with a straightforward poem, “Poem” — Salamun meditates on his relationship with poetry and art, in an effort to evaluate the role that his writing may play in a larger social context. He interrogates himself about his conditioned environment, and observes the changes in his work, detaching himself from his “self”:
Where am I?
Where do my gallows stand?
Why do I have granulated eyes?
The town will follow you.
My poetry is no longer credible,
not for a long time.
It rots from the sheer glowing.
— p. 96
So many poems in this book deserve an in-depth analysis, and these are merely some quick notes I have jotted down after my first read. I understand that this book project is a team effort. Other than the author himself, there are nine translators who had worked on the poems, each taking on different writings, and refining details to his/her sensibilities. Perhaps this explains why the style is so diverse in this work. Still, in the literary world where team efforts may be seen as seldom, a collective act is a statement in itself. It is a challenge and is always courageous.
Fiona Sze-Lorrain's book of poetry, Water the Moon (Marick, 2010) is an Honorable Mention for the 2011 Eric Hoffer Book Award. Translations of Bai Hua, Yu Xiang and Hai Zi are forthcoming from Zephyr Press and Tupelo. An editor at Cerise Press, she is also a zheng concertist. (www.fionasze.com)