When we read Skin, we couldn’t put it down. We were sad. We were frightened. Skin made us feel less alone. We are super excited that Tone took some time to chat with us about his collection, out in 2014 from Tavern Books. If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, we think you’re gonna need it.
Tone Škrjanec, the noted poet and translator, was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 1953, and is widely regarded as belonging to the literary vanguard of his generation. He graduated in Sociology from the University of Ljubljana, had a short career teaching, and worked as a journalist for ten years. Since 1990, he has been a program coordinator at the Cultural Centre KUD France Prešeren in Ljubljana. (Bio from Tavern Books.)
Tell Tell Poetry: “The smell of the skin” starts with the idea of touch, and yet, in the beginning, the “I” isn’t capitalized until the poem “Prague early in the afternoon.” The poems then go back and forth between the lowercase “I” and the capitalized I. Was this the way the poems were written, or did this come after?
Tone: In the original Slovene book everything was written and printed and no letters were capitalized, even the names (of the persons, cities, rivers…). But you must know that in Slovene “I” (that is “jaz”) is normally not capitalized and in English it normally is. And that is why and how some capitalizes “I’s” entered the book. In any way it is not very important and has no special meaning, but if anyone finds something in it even better.
The speaker transitions between states and places: from the lake to the forest to the house, and yet remains tethered to a psychical space by observing the natural world. Did any objects or observations surprised you as you wrote the collection?
Oh, yes, a good surprise makes a good poem. And though it looks all the same everything is permanently changing. Yesterday there was nothing and today if I look through the window there is snow on the roofs.
Everything in this collection is shifting: “something black like a bird,” “everything’s crooked,” “everything depends on clouds,” “everything very faint.” What do we miss when we look at everything at once? What do we find when we focus on the fly, the leaf, and the orange oranges? In other words, do you believe we must have both?
Very simple, when we focus on the fly, the leaf, the orange oranges we see the fly or the leaf or the oranges, and if we look at everything at once we see all the stuff all mixed together and in relation. And there is the difference. And off course we have it both and in the same time.
The sense of time is haunting in this collection. The idea of yesterday, of waiting for something, of having everything change and manipulate and interact with the body. How did these poems come together for the book and which was the newest poem written?
Time is such a tricky and relative phenomena, so very very little happens just »now«, for now being so short and the past and the future so vast. The book was written between 2003-2006 with no special plan but at in the end fitted to the title. In anyway the title came later, the poems made the title and the book.
What were you seeing, looking at, and thinking about when writing this?
I think that it is all written in the book.
I agree with your sentiment: “everything very weird,” and yet it is through that almost lonely observation that peace comes. Do you feel a certain sense of peace or unsettling when you write?
When I write I feel the mixture of both. It’s a special kind of restless or like being high peace.
You often translate work yourself. What was it like working with a translator on this collection? Do you feel that the original feelings or ideas were properly preserved in translation?
I never translate my work myself. I like to translate from English to Slovene, but not into English, I don’t feel good enough. It was a nice experience to work with the translators of the book, we were all the time in contact and I know that my poems were properly translated. As well as I know that in translation you always loose some but also win some.
The poems in this collection often echo like the best haiku do. What words from your collection echo through you most often, if any?
The last few lines of the poem “Dust”:
…we always have our naked body
which glitters like a star.
always beautiful as a star.
and i don’t want to go home.
One of my favorite lines is from the poem “Prague early in the afternoon,” where you write, “met a lip which reminded me / of a train in the afternoon.” What is your favorite line from the collection?
I don’t know, can’t say, there is so much lines. And thank you for your favorite line.
I loved seeing through the speaker in this collection. What books and speakers do you return to in order to better see?
Issa, Basho, Jure Detela (slovenian poet, 1951-1992)…
What is today like for Tone?
It’s cold, some snow and gray, not nice. Just like the world and the entire situation in the world. It looks we are hurrying nowhere.
What are you currently working on, listening to, seeing, and touching?
I am working on a new book of poems that must be finished quite soon. The title of the book will be Breathe (I believe) and will be published in Ljubljana in this autumn. I am listening to Goat, Captain Beefheart, John Coltrane, Brigitte Fontaine and a lot of others, seeing mostly what I can see through the window (gray), and touching – hm, there is always a lot of things to touch. And waiting for the spring (sorry but today is the coldest day in this season).