This is history

Today is Slovenian Cultural Holiday and on this occasion here is a little tribute to the greatest Slovenian poet.

I was lucky enough to witness the greatest Slovenian poet Tomaž Šalamun read in Ljubljana’s club “KUD France Prešeren” a long time ago. The biggest stir, poorly concealed rapture and what can only be called poetic high he caused with his poem “There’s Raspberries” that has long been my favourite. I’ll never forget how he almost giggled as he brought it to the end and gave the audience a surprising stare (“Really? This one?”).

No wonder then that I translated it as soon as I started my first blog. (Slovenian original can be found here.) Here we go:

There’s Raspberries (“Maline so”) by Tomaž Šalamun
Translated by Manja Maksimovič

We arrive in Karlovac
and we talk about
how we shall play
man to man
two centers
or cross formation

and Guato has new sneakers
and lights come on
and each of us has a number
and Škinko is a fantastic forward
and they take a time-out
but nobody can penetrate our zone
and all our baskets are boneless

but in the second half aunt Agatha arrives
and says
ooo how pleased i am
and aunt Lela arrives
and says
ooo how pleased i am
and Olivieri arrives
and says
ooo how pleased i am
Siora Pesaro
and all of them are walking up and down the stand

ooo how pleased we are
how about you
are you pleased with yourself
they ask me
when i’m making a throw-in

and i think about it

i’m pleased
for sure i’m pleased
ooo how pleased i am

at the end journalists ask me
why did you lose this game

there’s raspberries
i say

But a spike in my stats that is not likely to be repeated any time soon was caused by another poem of his. A “non-profit organisation serving creative writers” chose my post with his poem “I Have a Horse” as an assignment for their members to write a similar poem. Have a look. I had writers flocking to my blog – I think the record was 780 hits in a day – and yet barely anybody had a second look around.

Here is his early poem in which he gives a self-definition and rounds up the nation.

Tomaž Šalamun: History

Tomaž Šalamun is a monster.
Tomaž Šalamun is a sphere rushing through the air.
He lies down in twilight, he swims in twilight.
People and I, we both look at him amazed,
we wish him well, maybe he is a comet.

Maybe he is punishment from the gods,
the boundary stone of the world.
Maybe he is such a speck in the universe
that he will give energy to the planet
when oil, steel, and food run short.
He might only be a hump, his head
should be taken off like a spider’s.
But something would then suck up
Tomaž Šalamun, possibly the head.
Possibly he should be pressed between
glass, his photo should be taken.
He should be put in formaldehyde, so children
would look at him as they do foetuses,
protei, and mermaids.

Next year, he’ll probably be in Hawaii
or in Ljubljana. Doorkeepers will scalp
tickets. People walk barefoot
to the university there. The waves can be
a hundred feet high. The city is fantastic,
shot through with people on the make,
the wind is mild.

But in Ljubljana people say: look!
This is Tomaž Šalamun, he went to the store
with his wife Marushka to buy some milk.
He will drink it and this is history.

Translated by Tomaž Šalamun and Bob Perleman

Tomaž Šalamun: History

Tomaž Šalamun je pošast.
Tomaž Šalamun je drveča krogla v zraku.
nihče ne ve za njeno orbito.
Leži v polmraku, plava v polmraku.
Ljudje in jaz jo gledamo, začudeni,
upamo dobro, morda je zvezda repatica.

Morda je kazen božja,
kamen, mejnik sveta.
Morda je taka pika v vesolju,
ki bo dajala energijo planetu,
ko bo zmanjkalo nafte, jekla, hrane.
Morda je samo igra celic, bula
in bi ji bilo treba odtrgati glavo kot pajku.
Ampak nekaj bi potem posrkalo
Tomaža Šalamuna, verjetno glava,
bolj verjetno glava kot telo.
Iz glave bi zrasle nove noge.
Verjetno bi jo bilo treba stisniti
med stekli, fotografirati in dati
v formaldehid,
da bi jo otroci gledali
kot fetuse, morske vile in človeške
ribice. Vratarji bi špekulirali
z vstopnicami in jih dvakrat prodajali.
To je dobro za ljudi, ker jim daje kruh.

Drugo leto bo verjetno na Havajih
ali v Ljubljani. Na Havajih je telo
toplo. Ljudje hodijo bosi na univerzo.
Valovi so visoki do sto čevljev.
Neprestano trese, trese zemljo.
Po mestu drvijo dobičkarji.
Kraj je fantastičen za ljubezen,
ker je sol v zraku in blag veter.

Ampak v Ljubljani rečejo ljudje: poglej!
To je Tomaž Šalamun, v trgovino je šel,
s svojo ženo Maruško kupuje mleko,
da bi pil mleko.
And that’s history.

(Arena, 1973)

Tomaž Šalamun wrote “I got tired of the image of my tribe and moved out“. Not surprisingly Slovenians tend to do it in on a regular basis. In the year 2000, he was the main speaker at the Slovenian Cultural Holiday event where national cultural awards are presented.

His sentence that still rings true in my head was: “We are few, thus we need to be strategically deployed.”

The word on the street about our tribe is somewhat different: “We are few, yet we are crap.” Nahhh, you don’t have two heads, said the mother to the son. Now good night. Mwa. Mwa.

Besides, it’s written in Croatian.

Here is this photo and some others from the centre of Ljubljana.

Today’s national holiday celebrates the death of the greatest Slovenian poet of all times, France Prešeren, who died in 1849. And two years ago Tomaž Šalamun signed out for good as well. Here is his poem that I posted on my first blog in his memory. On the second anniversary of his death a cultural centre opened in Ljubljana with his name, his entire opus and a library.

Long live those who dare to disturb the universe.

Photo: © signature mmm

8 Comments Add yours

  1. jan says:

    That is a great poem. Happy Slovenian Cultural History Day! Have some raspberries.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jan. Having them in buckets throughout! 😀


  2. I especially love the last line of this post. And as always I learned something from you, more than one thing, in fact. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, you’re very welcome, Claudia. I love knowing this.


  3. In Polish “Maline” = “Malina” 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Malina – singular, maline – plural. And there is dual also in Slovenian – two malini 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In Polish: one “malina” – two “maliny”.

        Liked by 1 person

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