Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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translations from Slovene by Brian Henry

Twelve Poems: Translator’s Note
Brian Henry

These translations are from Tomaž Šalamun’s book Deception, which was published posthumously in 2018 in a six-hundred-page book called Morning, which gathers six individual collections written between 2004 and 2013. Deception is the second book in Morning.

Deception consists of seventy-two poems that Šalamun wrote in Richmond, Virginia between January and May 2008, when he was Distinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Richmond, where I’ve taught since 2005. I saw him frequently while he was in Richmond. Translating these poems felt especially poignant because I was constantly reminded of his time here. As a translator, I have become accustomed to a certain level of emotional detachment from what I’m translating, even when the poet is a dear friend. I rely on my knowledge of them while translating, but in the end, I am working with words on the page. Seeing my own name in a couple of these poems was something of a jolt to my usual perspective.

Like most of Tomaž’s work from the 1990s and 2000s, the poems in Deception blend autobiographical details and imagination, past and present, absurdity and seriousness, tenderness and terror. Nearly all the poems in Deception are in couplets, and most are fourteen lines long. They’re not traditional sonnets, but the space of the sonnet held Tomaž’s interest for over four decades. Various fourteen-line configurations (especially single-stanza blocks, seven couplets, and two quatrains plus two tercets) have appeared regularly in his work since his fifth book, Amerika, was published in 1972.

Most of Tomaž’s poems employ severe enjambment, breaking lines in the middle of predicates, prepositional phrases, and so on, in part because he considered the beginnings of lines to be at least as important as the endings of lines. My translations maintain his approach to enjambment, even when differences in Slovenian and English syntax required reconfiguring the relationship between a sentence and a line.  

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