You are one of very few non-American
poets who regularly appear in print in America. Do you think there’s
something distinctly American about your work? Something distinctly
Šalamunian about America?
I don't know. I visited the US for the first time when I was 28 (first
as a conceptual artist when I was part of Information Show in MOMA),
but I was already formed as a poet, after my two samizdats and one
officially published book, mostly influenced by French (Rimbaud,
Lautréamont, Cendrars, Desnos), Slovenian (Kosovel, Zajc), Russian
(Chlebnikov. Mandelstam) Serbian (Popa) and Polish (Milosz,
Rimkiewicz). Of course I also knew Whitman, Eliot and Pound, but what
blew my mind, exploded me and changed my chemistry in Iowa in 1971 was
Ashbery's Three Poems
idols and my friends then were Anselm Hollo and Bob Perelman. We had a
lot in common. As I escaped from too strong French philosophers
(Derrida, Barthes, Kristeva, Sollers -- I was an avid reader of Tel Quel
these were authors who were just starting to influence the US. If I
weren't formed before, and also writing something similar to language poetry,
I would have been swallowed by the strong American poetry scene, the
strongest in the world then and now. Two years of America, the freedom
to write, and a few drives from coast to coast were enough to get some
America under my skin.
We can’t think of a single other living poet who has had so many
different translators – and certainly not so many translators who are
themselves poets. Why do you work with so many poet-translators? What
are some of the benefits and challenges of this method, particularly
given that most of your translators are not fluent in Slovene?
It comes from my mania and provincialism. Slovenians at that time
didn't have anybody (except the architect Jozef Plecnik) known in the
world. I didn't want to feel like an orphan among the European friends
of my parents. So I aggresively begged everybody to translate me.
To be in the hands of a good poet is more important then to be
translated by somebody who just knows the language. Well, I was
extremely lucky also with my two translators who know Slovenian:
Michael Biggins and Sonja Kravanja.
What qualities make a good translator of your poetry?
Openness, passion and love.
Your poems have always been overrun with animals, and this selection is
no exception: rabbits, rats, mice, elephants, carps, spiders, boars,
otters, cats, ladybugs, horses, crocodiles, dogs, and cattle all get
named in these eight short poems. “The beastmaster is greasy,” you say
in “In Lisbon” – are you the beastmaster? Are you the zoo? Or are you
I too was shocked to see so many animals in these poems. Strange. I'm
more the beast than the zoo director, I would say. Many beasts are
taking me apart. Still now. I'm still snowing journals with my poems in
spite of knowing that I'm damaging my reputation.