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On Tomaž Šalamun

Yellow is my favourite colour. If red is fire and passion, and blue is calm water, yellow is a flower. Yellow is very few things? Famously: sunflowers, cheese, taxis, bees, rubber ducks. The child’s sun is yellow. As is what I used to call, as a child, ‘normal yellow butter’ (margarine). ‘Yellow’ is fun to say, it feels good in the mouth. Tomaž Šalamun is yellow.
The untitled poem in HEAT Series 1, the first of four, begins: ‘What’s your favourite colour?’ The second line responds: ‘my favourite colour is yellow’. Who is speaking? Why? The speaker is so blatant, so central, sitting at the start of the line, every line but so unclear, as in we learn such random, context-denying facts. They seem to speak (speak?) from nowhere, like mouths without bodies. The poem is surreally unnerving, moving from the charming ‘favourite colour’ question to ‘would you carry a wig / if your hair fell out overnight’, implying immense stress or the plot of a children’s book. Then we go like tourists to lower case-p portugal until finally, it turns out, this may be a job interview…but is it anything? No it’s a poem.
Šalamun’s charming randomness feels contemporary. I can hear the internet comedian’s sense of timing in the translation, the weird dry singsong of the call and response ‘did you have an uncle in the air force / I had an uncle in the air force’. In addition to the comedy, the delight of it visually appearing on the page like a butterfly painting. Not merely comedic, Šalamun’s poems are rich with tonal potential, even when short and simple. There is a pathos to the world or worlds this poem contains, but it slips in and out of place. The final line’s dead, uninfluential uncle hangs there abstract as the colour yellow. I am sorry he is dead, but I hardly knew him, just as yellow noise.

To read ‘Four Poems’ by Tomaž Šalamun click here.

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