Remembering Tomaž Šalamun.
Salamun at the Spier Poetry Festival, 2014. Photo: Retha Ferguson
I had written to tell Tomaž Šalamun he’d changed my life—thanks to him, I’d begun to put down roots in a new continent, and met the woman I was going to marry. I had at least assumed I could take him out to dinner on his next visit to the U.S. The letter went unanswered for a couple of weeks and then a reply materialized in my inbox. “With my last strength I greet you,” he wrote, dictating the letter to his wife, the painter Metka Krašovec, “enjoy the States, I think this is the best place for you.” Five weeks later, on December 27, 2014, Šalamun passed away in his beloved Ljubljana.
I had only met him once, at a festival on a wine estate outside Stellenbosch in 2013, but he had made an immediate and lasting impression. It took me a few days to shape my speechlessness into an answer. “He is calm and patient,” Metka assured me in her postscript, “and he accepted his death the moment he found out about his cancer.” I had assumed he was all but immortal, sustained by the unfettered vitality that electrified all of his poems. After all, this was the man who beat Lucretius up his ass, thought killing smelled good, stuffed Mitteleuropa with shine and “cut off [her] claustrophobic head with a clasp knife”; who paused halfway through a poem to wonder how he would make love that day, “will I be like a pasha, a conquistador, will I/tremble, amazed and quiet?” It was thus greatly distressing to learn he’d spent the last three months of his life suffering from such vertigo that it left him unable to read, write, or walk by himself. I had sensed a hint of frailty during our time in South Africa. During a weekend at a farm on the banks of the Berg River, our host had offered to take us on a ride through his holdings, and although I’d seen Tomaž eye the horse somewhat longingly, he’d excused himself saying he’d hurt his back, but didn’t tell us how. I wish he had: as Christopher Merrill informed us in his elegant tribute, Tomaž injured himself tobogganing down the Great Wall of China. Of course he had. Read More