A review of Woods and Chalices by Tomaz Salamun

Reviewed by Bob Williams

Woods and Chalices
by Tomaz Salamun
2008, ISBN 978-0-15-101425-5, $22.00, 96 pages

Tomaz Salamun was born in Yugoslavia in 1941. He lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and is distinguished writer in residence at the University of Richmond, Virginia. He is the author of over thirty books of poetry. Brian Henry, also of the University of Richmond and a noted poet, translated many of the poems in collaboration with the author and the remainder by himself.

The sixty-seven poems occupy seventy-seven pages. The shortest poem is two lines and the longer ones are seldom more than four pages in length. Salamun’s preferred format is that of a quasi-sonnet, that is, a poem of fourteen lines. As the following example shows the sonnet structure is elusive at best.


The juice is sore. The stupor endures the bag. When you hurry,

you stand up, smith yourself. The vault is still coming.

You believe, you believe, you believe in your fruit.

Exhausted, cruel, and lazy, do your eyebrows blaze

with your loot? What else do you still know, incised one?

You mellow from sores and pains, no longer mine.

You bound yourself to nothing. Are you betraying me

to awaken me? So I would squeal and hurt?

You drown in your huge shoes, soldier,

naked to the waist, drawn by the manuscript.

One could hardly see water under the thick green

August leaves and the flickering of the centurion.

You rolled, as a priest would sneakily count

handfuls of earth. The sun was worn out.

The language is hard and unyielding, characteristics (since Salamun participated with his translator on this poem) that the poet elects. The language here and elsewhere consists of short images delivered in the fewest possible words. One image hinges on another in associative ways that have no traffic with logical coherence. The poet’s message may be private but the subterranean emotions are powerful.

This poetry will fail the reader that cannot be open to these feelings, the reader who must have a sweeter coating with enough tickling along to be able to read with eyes half shut, but for the alert and careful reader this is a valuable collection from a fresh and startling poet.

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places