In January, the new online literary place called Real Pants asked Christopher DeWeese to assemble a series of tributes to the much beloved poet Tomaz Salamun who passed away in late December of 2014. Here is a link to this collection: Stars Will Fall on Your Head . Contained here among poems and heartfelt memories, is a recording of an extraordinary reading Tomaz gave at Umass. 

I'd like to repost my contribution to this tribute below:

 

Paradise means an enclosed garden 

“We have a collection of Zoos / we keep them in an animal called memory”  Martin Corless-Smith

Tomaž Šalamun was my professor at the Michener Center for Writers during the spring semester of 2011. He was invited to teach a literature course on contemporary European poetry. That semester, I also took a class with Mary Ruefle who was leading a workshop at UT.  Tomaž and Mary formed a Friday night ritual of eating together at the Italian restaurant Vespaio on South Congress.

*

Tomaž’s class had a show-&-tell structure. He’d mailed to Texas a large box of books from his own library, out of which he would make for us photocopies of poem upon poem from all over Europe. A small forest of photocopies each week! He would begin each round of offerings, and we’d circle the table, each presenting the work of a poet, or movement. Beautiful forest. We talked about translation, war, censorship, exile, languages, painting, prison, and how no culture exists without poetry.

*

About one’s life as a reader, he said: It is food. You have to read what feeds you, no matter how unpopular the author or how obscure.

*

We would pronounce his name at least four different ways, and he’d reassure that each was correct.

*

My son, who has a diagnosis of autism, was six at the time when Tomaž and Mary were in Austin.  Conversation was difficult for him, though he had a large vocabulary. We’d play a rhyming game where I’d say a word and he’d echo back another. Street. Feet.

One night we were having a small dinner party, and I told him that Caleb and Daisy were coming, and Tomaž and Mary were coming.

He rhymed Daisy to hazy, Mary to hairy.  He said Tomaž was mirage. “Caleb” stumped him. I suggested May love.  He eventually settled upon hayloft.

*

Tomaž apologized the first day of class claiming he’d never taught a literature course before. He would often remark that his English was poor. When my husband Jeff raised his glass to a future in which Tomaž wins the Nobel Prize, Tomaž said: no never, my work is too strange for them.

*

In class he encouraged us to share our own work. His responses were often not verbal, but made of expressive noises. In describing Claire’s poem, he stood up making the onomatopoeia for gigantic, spread out his limbs as though he were straddling two towers, and began taking steps like a walker on stilts, except these were building-sized stilts that made crushing sounds.

*

The night of Tomaž and Mary’s reading at UT was the night of cosmic news.  Before the reading began, Mary gave the announcement that Dean’s heart had arrived. He would go into surgery at 10pm.

Tomaž read first, leaving a wake in which Mary quietly stepped into, and rather than saying Thank you for your stunning work, or What an honor to be here with you, she inclined her body in a long, formal bow to him.

*

After many glasses of champagne at the reception, we all went out on the lawn, a huge circle of writers, and we held hands, and Tomaž lead us in chanting Dean Dean Dean. A ring-around-the-rosie procession chanting doctors doctors doctors. Then nurses nurses nurses.

*

In my bestiary, Tomaž is the tree that grows peacocks from its branches.

*

He told me in my kitchen, Carolina, your son, there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with him, he’s fine.

*

About the afterlife, Shamala said: Tomaž has a beautiful soul––I am not worried for his afterlife.

About the afterlife, Jeff said: He’s made heaven sweeter and weirder.

About the afterlife, Dean said: Let his flaming head be forever telling us to be artists.