In his posthumous collection, Druids (translated by Sonja Kravanja, published by Black Ocean Press), Tomaž Šalamun (1941-2014) recreates our known world into one that is at once haunted and liberated, a rare blend of nature, humanity, faith, disbelief, past, and present. Though remarkably contemporary in Šalamun's use of surrealism and absurdity to speak to modern issues like rampant consumerism, dangerous nationalism, and ethnocentrism, there is a timelessness to these poems, especially in Šalamun’s speaker, reminiscent of Tiresias, the oracle at Delphi, St. John in The Book of Revelation, or Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet. Though we are cautioned from worship—
I’m placed in God with all my flesh.
Food in a pan, the people’s food.
I flow out, on all sides, like a river
and people tell me they wash their
souls in me. And I tell them that
I wash my soul in them…they fail
to see that we are all the divine hands’ flesh. (76)
—we become the adherents to Šalamun’s faith in humanity that reaches back to the time of animism and naturalism when humanity and nature were one and the world felt “divine.” The blurring between nature and human design becomes “A treaty of grey / with the heavenly hour— / this is a cloud” in which humanity, nature, and the divine exist all on the same plane, begging us, the newly-initiated, to “Let the spirit be anointed in bronze,” to see the beauty in art, each other, and our past (16, 39). In reading Šalamun’s poems we are transported to the forest primeval, where the trees stand like Druids, but the trees are no longer trees but rather “buses [that] / resemble / quiet polite / people” and the universe is now a pot of coffee over which a family connects and looks back “Into the hard, / enrapt eyes of our great-grandfather” (14, 59). In this strange ecotone, we experience Šalamun’s warning and encouragement to humanity, a powerful farewell that should not be taken lightly. In a world where so much simple joy is “erased by the secular / regulation of the road,” Šalamun invites us to embrace the strange, the ordinary and make it all beautiful by looking through it all to something bigger: the human spirit.
Druids by Tomaž Šalamun is available from Black Ocean Press for $25 and can be found on their website: http://www.blackocean.org/.
Slovenian poet Tomaž Šalamun (1941-2014) is hailed as one of the most prominent poets of his generation, renowned for his impact on the Eastern European avant-garde movement. He authored over forty collections of poetry in Slovenian and English; he is known for experiments with surrealism, polyphony, and absurdism.
Sonja Kravanja is the recipient of several translation grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, and she received the Columbia University Translation Center Merit Award and a Pushcart Prize for her translations of Tomaž Šalamun. A native of Slovenia, she now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Tyler Truman Julian is originally from Wyoming, though he currently resides in Mesilla, NM, with his wife. He is an MFA Candidate in New Mexico State University's fiction program and is the Assistant Poetry Editor for Puerto del Sol. His work has been published in Burnt Pine Magazine, Oasis, Wyoming Magazine, and Cigar City Poetry Journal, and his full-length poetry debut, Wyoming: The Next Question to Ask (to Answer), is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.