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by Tomaž Šalamun (translated from Slovenian by Brian Henry)

I’m a mollusk.
Bound with hooks.
Ironed by

vehicles, no? I ask

to watch me,
I ask hunger to turn

Why would I
graze when the Lord
looks at me,

who else
grazes when the Lord
looks at him.

“Mollusk” is both the title poem and final poem of a 2013 Tomaž Šalamun book, published the year before he died. “Mollusk” is also the final poem of his 2011 volume of Selected Poems in Slovenian. The poem’s placement in these books and its role as a title poem seem to indicate that Šalamun was quite fond of it.

Šalamun wrote the poems in Mollusk in 2005 in Ljubljana, Pittsburgh, and Tokyo. He was incredibly prolific in his final decade, finishing nearly 20 books of poetry. He traveled a lot and always wrote while traveling. During that decade, he also wrote books in Austin, Berkeley, Iowa City, New York, Richmond, China, Croatia, France, Germany, and Italy, among other places. Despite their various sites of composition, the poems are unmistakably Šalamun’s.

Mollusk includes 76 poems, 44 of which consist of seven couplets—the predominant form of this period. “Mollusk” is one of the 14 poems in the book composed in tercets, which tend to have shorter lines and more enjambment—and thus more speed and verticality—than the poems in couplets. As a reader and translator, I approach poems like “Mollusk” with a sense of excitement because I know they will move quickly and unpredictably and I’ll have to match their contagious energy.

–Brian Henry

Brian Henry is the author of eleven books of poetry, most recently Permanent State, and the new prose book Things Are Completely Simple: Poetry and Translation. He has translated Tomaž Šalamun’s Woods and Chalices, Aleš Debeljak’s Smugglers, and five books by Aleš Šteger. His work has received numerous honors, including two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, a Howard Foundation fellowship, a Slovenian Academy of Arts and Sciences grant, and the Best Translated Book Award.

Slovenian poet Tomaž Šalamun (1941-2014) is hailed as one of the most prominent poets of his generation, renowned for his impact on the Eastern European avant-garde movement. He authored over fifty collections of poetry in Slovenian and English, and is known for his experiments with surrealism, polyphony, and absurdism.