Book Review: Soy Realidad

The sin piles up like a ziggurat
and the ziggurat is designed also on the necklace worn by the 
peacock
Nobody can invent
the new atomic weight of love

Soy Realidad by Tomaž Šalamun is his twenty-first and latest collection of poetry. Soy Realidad (translated: I am reality) was first published in 1985. Šalamun was born in 1941 in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. He has taught at the Universities of Pittsburgh, Richmond, and Texas and a Fulbright Fellow at Columbia. 

Usually in poetry collections I will find a handful of poems or lines that really hit me just right. Most collections I have read contain good and very good poems, and in that mix are a very few simply amazing poems; the ones you read and not only know what the poet is saying and feeling, but have also lived those same experiences. There is a bit of magic in that connection with the poet. Šalamun’s collection is different from most I have read. Instead of notes on a few poems and several highlighted lines, my copy of Soy Realidad is highlighted and marginal notes fill all the available space. It more closely resembles an overamped college freshman’s textbook than my normal minimalistic notes. 

…And
if I have to listen again to these
petit bourgeois problems of the Niceean
councils and witness the liquidations
of our best tested guerilla cadre,
you, colts, will again go back,
route march to darkness, In this cantina
while others might stab you with knives,
I will calmly place small change
por mi copa de alma blanca
~ Cantina in Queretaro

“Dangerous Thoughts” brings a simple thought challenge of a pious man who mentally delves into the world of fleshly pleasures knowing he can pull himself back to his ascetic spirit as before. How many other things can this apply to life. Immediate thoughts turned to drug use and other addictions that people assume that they are too smart to become addicted. I can stop at any time because I am stronger and smarter, than the rest. 

“To Deaf Brothers” offers, in part :

I refuse to be free in every place
to then fall back in empty dry
blackness only in my native country.
I’m not a cynic, I’m a poet, a prophet
With my life I go there where I am.
I won’t be strangled by your nets,
your Saint-Beuvish mumblings are 
criteria for no one. 

Poetry can compress detailed thoughts and ideas in a few simple words. Sometimes a single line can provoke imagery that would take paragraphs to explain. One such line caught my attention in “Cantina in Queretaro”:

the cataracts of the underworld. 

Thoughts ranged from eyes glazed over in death, to crossing the River Styx, to the blind eye we turn to the unpleasant things. The illusion created is far greater than the number of words used. 

Later in the collection Šalamun switches to a freer, paragraph format. In “The Bird Dove” reference to the stars and a Buddha’s lumberjacks reminded me of Kerouac’s Dharma Bums. Perhaps that is what Šalamun does best, he finds intersections. He creates paths that cross our paths and the reader will pause at those intersections and recall and reflect on a memory. Many times that memory is so detailed by Šalamun it feels like they are shared memories of a single event. That unique spark of poetic magic, I mentioned at the top of the page, that we find in our favorite poems thrives in Šalamun’s Soy Realidad . This is a collection you will want to carry around with you. Granted, most of us don’t carry a book in our pocket anymore, but get the e-book, put it in your phone, read when every you have a moment or two, select a poem at random. You will not regret it. An unbelievable collection 

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