A Conversation withTomaz Salamun

Editor Jeffrey Young met with Tomaz Salamun at his home in Ljubljana during the first week of August, 1995. They recorded a conversation, of which the following is an excerpt.

TS: It is the opening of language which starts. The first step can be just surrender. It can be a happy surrender, and through this, it’s like an animal would come out. A beautiful dove would come out through this surrender, which is language, and you follow. When the language is really going, is really making itself, there can be no doubt. If I would allow doubt at that moment, I would be like a runner who is thinking of his legs. I don’t have time to doubt, I have to be absolutely there, not to lose a microsecond or to allow a microspace to come in between what happens, because this could block the whole process. Sometimes I have the feeling that I’m just getting up and stepping directly into some place, and I experience it as someone would whip me, or that flowers would cover my head or my face. And this would be language. Language is the material or the substance that comes from this meeting, this coming together. When it happens it’s a miracle, a jump, a delight. Sometimes I feel that I am screaming from delight, but also from awe. I give whatever I have to it.

JY: Is this an inner world that you’re describing?
TS: It’s a presence, a clarity. I don’t see if this is outside of me or inside of me. I see it in the space where I am, or in the space toward which I am going, because I am seeing. It may not be palpable in terms that I would touch it, or even understand it, but I perceive it, I describe it, so it’s real, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to write it. If this were invention, it wouldn’t be sustainable as language. There are many times when one wants to get the heat for writing, and then you do write, but you have to stop because there is no life in it. It’s not real. It didn’t really happen. You only wanted it to happen. And these are big sins. This can be really damaging for the process, because it means that you were in hubris. I think that language melts the self, the self is just gently overpowered and becomes part of heaven, part of a void, which is at the same time the utmost of fullness, transparency, and translucence. But writing can also be diabolical, because it cuts things apart, it goes very deep and makes space and touches places we probably should not touch. But the diabolic position does not come from dark, it comes from light, from wanting to bring light as far as it can go. Sometimes the language is very happy and it does things like a dolphin, it is pure grace, you just follow grace, and you have this feeling of water and light. The dolphin is the language. You don’t know what it is. It’s important that you don’t lose faith in going toward it. I have enough faith to just jump, to be a part of it, to go with it. I describe what I see. It’s like the inside of an atom or the inside of a giant. I can start to describe those giants, those creatures who are probably guards and watchmen who are there to scare us. But if you know the process, you don’t get scared. If you are initiated enough you know that they are watchdogs for people who are less initiated. You know that they cannot damage you.

JY: And poetry itself is a process that initiates you?
TS: Poetry is a parallel process to spiritual development. As in religion, you are trained how not to be scared. As in the cabala or in dervish dances, you are trained how to be with the world as long as you can endure it. Language takes you forward, and you endure as long as you can endure. But still, there is this constant fear of being too diabolic, that you will be punished for what you are doing, because when you write you compare with God, you are doing as much as you can to the utmost borders, to the deepest wounds, as much as you can sustain, and if in the procedure something goes wrong, you can go crazy, you can become impure, you can get sick. Language can drive you toward madness or suicide as the wounds in love can drive you toward the longing to disappear. I’m not afraid that I would commit suicide, but there were several times in my life that I was afraid that suicide would come onto me as an external force that would just crush me. When it went toward me once, I experienced it as the end of the world, an earthquake. I just jumped out of the car and lay down in a field and waited like a deeply wounded animal. I had the experience that suicide would come onto me as completely dark, this utter destruction, total cold, total darkness, total nothingness. This is very complicated. It is a mixture of grace, a mixture of punishment, of enjoyment, in a way it is resignation. Resignation is when you lose faith, when you don’t want to fight for it, when you are so wounded you don’t believe in what you wanted before, when you punish yourself, when you feel guilty about some possible mistakes in the process, how you fought for it but didn’t get it and you put down your goals and say, I give up. Resignation comes from the split between where you would like to be and where you are now and that you’ve lost the faith to have it again, to be there again.

JY: What is it that you have faith in?
TS: Maybe I will start with joy. Just sticking with joy – maybe this is faith. If I lose faith then I don’t write. I just wait. I’m defeated. I don’t have energy. Poetry has to be completely open, it has to be there, it has to discover spaces which were not discovered, it has to be very courageous. Of course it can come to points which are dead or destructive. It happened to me. I came to borders which were absolutely dark, absolutely cold. It was as if everything was taken out of me. The gift for language was just taken away. I was punished. I was completely tormented. It took a certain period of time before I could calm down and for the guilt to go away, because when you make a mistake you know it through the feeling of guilt, that you have transgressed in such a way that everything can be taken out of you, or that you can be destroyed, even physically. I would have a very hard time explaining this, I just sense that poetic language is at the same place as physics after nuclear weapons, that it is more dangerous than it was before. Definitely the punishments can be as strong as in terrible weapons. It is therefore important not to sell out and to develop intuition and a sense of not falling off the gentle pattern of the world. One has to be aware of not being manipulative. Poetry has to have ground, has to fight mirrors, has to fight media, has to not give away what was always there to protect humans. It’s harder and harder to break through these mirrors, these glasses, to not be caught in these incredibly complicated angles and different spaces. Mirrors are dangerous, mirrors are a trap. Mirrors end something, because they destroy nature, they forget about organicity, they are completely liquid, they are completely free, they are completely manipulative. For example, if the war is going on, and the pain is real, and you make it all too visual and repeat it for so long that the link between pain and what you see is destroyed – this is very dangerous, this is when we humans are part of it, and we have to fight against it. Language is a tissue which connects these things so that they cannot come completely apart. To develop language, to make it strong and fresh, you have to constantly travel to the spaces across the line and bring it back. Language has to go to these places to be powerful enough to protect us. But both the language of power and poetic language are hidden. They travel through initiation, and they have to stay hidden. They cannot open up or be enlightened completely, otherwise the structure of the world, the bones of the world, would fall apart. This is what happens in revolution, that one group just enters the secrecy of the initiation of power and takes it out. This ends in blood, always. The poet’s role is not to allow slaughter and blood. And it’s like language gets its food in the most dangerous areas, and you have to bring it back safely. States of awkwardness come out of mistakes, come because of sins, because of what is put in between, because of what is damaged. Evil is sins and mistakes, dead parts, dead times. In this way I’m Gnostic, I’m not Christian. I don’t know very much about hell. Dante described it so completely that I’m not interested in it. Suffering is sins and mistakes. Evil is not there. It’s just a moment on the way.