by Johannes Goransson on Jul.25, 2011
A decade has passed since Tomaž Šalamun declared “it is better to be a new young god in American poetry than to be President of the United States” in his introduction to Peter Richards’s first full-length collection, Oubliette—and indeed the past ten years of the presidency have rendered this statement understandable at a visceral level. That the internationally renowned Slovenian poet connected so intensely with the “religious magma” of a young American poet was also rather prescient, for Richards’s poetry resonates so strikingly with his European contemporaries, many of them unavailable in English at the time.
The interlocking poems that make up Helsinki, for example, would be right at home in the 2008 anthology New European Poets. The sequential and surreal aspects of the collection call to mind the work of Vénus Khoury-Ghata, each poem adding nebulous yet elemental detail to the world imagined by the whole. In 2011, Šalamun’s compatriot Aleš Šteger reads Richards’s third full-length collection as a “sinking into Hell,” which nicely underscores the incantatory power of the book’s title. Helsinki is indeed a dark prayer located inside the artificial paradise of language and the hell of words. This verse universe beckons close reading on the tactile, syntactical level.