A few months ago, I picked up a book from the “Free! Please Take One!” box at the Scottish Poetry Library. It’s a Selected Poems by Slovenian writer, Tomaz Salamun, titled Homage to Hat and Uncle Guido and Eliot. I’ve begun reading it recently and really like what I’ve read so far.
Colm Toibin says Salamun aims “to give equal power to the cheeky voice and the soaring voice, avoiding always the obvious and the prosaically meaningful.” He does so using the tools of absurdity, the deceptive casualness of the New York School poets, a dazzling and endlessly inventive imagination, and a self-deprecating wit. All those aspects are present in his poem, History, which sends up the whole idea of public curiosity into a writer’s life. The poem was originally published in 1973 but it’s probably even funnier now than when it was first written, given the ‘celebritization’ culture that exists in book marketing these days.
The fascinating and personal introduction to the book, written by Robert Hass, is published in full online at a Poetry International website page.
Anyway, I reached a poem called Rabbit Oaxaqueňo and wondered what was going on in it. Oaxaca is a coastal Mexican town, and Salamun lived in Mexico for a couple of years. I wondered if the title represented some culinary speciality, but can’t find anything about that. The poem is odd and takes the considerable risk of presenting itself in a list of questions. I’ll type it below. I’ll take the poem down after a week or so (or if writer or publishers object, I’ll take it down immediately), but I’d be interested to know what you make of this:
Rabbit is reading the Bible,
Why does your mother read the Bible too?
Why do you live in garbage, rabbit?
Where did you get these mirrors?
Rabbit, why are the children on the road boxing?
Rabbit, how come children on the road have boxing gloves?
Rabbit, how come your mirrors are six feet tall
and only a few inches wide?
Why don’t you have a chair, rabbit?
Why don’t you have a table?
Where do you wash your face, rabbit?
Where is your water?
You turn away from me and sleep.