The Four Questions of Melancholy: New and Selected Poems

Tomaz Salamun, Author, Christopher Merrill, Editor, C. Merrill, Translator White Pine Press (NY) $17 (266p) ISBN 978-1-877727-57-3
That Salamun is one of Europe's most popular and prolific poets is confirmed by this comprehensive collection, drawn from 25 volumes of poetry published in Slovenia from 1964 to 1994 and translated by many poets and writers. Salamun was born in Croatia and raised in Slovenia; his poetry reflects, but is not limited by, the tortured history of the Balkans. The earliest work is primarily surreal and makes use of lullaby repetition, but the recognizable subject matter, drawn from everyday life in Central Europe, is common and recognizable: an abandoned hat, sandwich bread, a government scholarship. His style sometimes recalls Williams, with unexpected line breaks; sometimes Ashbery, with quatrains capturing a dreamlike view of the world; sometimes Whitman: ""I am a water lily, a soldier of holy trees/ holy dreams... O wood! wood!"" As the selections move through the middle years, the work expands in scope and the style intensifies. ""The Tree of Life"" (1985) begins, ""I was born in a wheat field snapping my fingers./ A white chalk ran across the green blackboard./ Dew made me lie on the ground./ I played with pearls."" Through the later years, even up to 1994's Ambergris, Salamun continues to bear witness to what's around him. On occasion invention gives way to frivolity (""My brain is a butterfly, a soft precious material... Swinging your clubs can/ really damage it, or at least destroy my day""). Salamun, however, rarely strays far from the bones of his observations, as in the last poem here: ""Kiss the eyes of Peace, may it stream down/ upon the trees. The sun shines and no longer roars/ so intolerably. The soul again hopes to sense its/ ribs, the sap. The cold has done me good...."" (June)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 05/01/1996
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