Šalamun, Tomaž 1941- (Tomaz Salamun)

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Šalamun, Tomaž 1941- (Tomaz Salamun)


Born July 4, 1941, in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia); son of Branko (a pediatrician) and Misa (an art historian); married Marusa Krese (a painter) April, 1969 (divorced, 1975); married Metka Krašovec (a painter), April 11, 1979; children: Ana, David. Ethnicity: "Slovenian." Education: University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, M.A., 1965; attended University of Iowa, 1971-73; studied art history in Krakow, Pisa and Paris.


Home—Ljubljana, Slovenia. E-mail—[email protected]


Poet. Modern Gallery, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia (now Slovenia), assistant curator, 1968-70; Academy of Fine Arts, Ljubljana, assistant professor, 1970-73; poet and writer, 1973—. Consulate of Slovenia in New York, cultural attaché, 1996-97. University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, teacher of workshop classes, 1987-88, 1996; Vermont College, visiting writer, 1988; visiting professor at University of Alabama, 1999, University of Massachusetts, 2001, University of Georgia, 2003, and University of Pittsburgh, annually, 2005-07; writer in residence at Yaddo, 1973-74, 1979, 1986, 1989, MacDowell Colony, 1986, in France at Karoly Foundation, 1987, and Maisons des Escrivains Etrangers, 1996, in Italy at Civitella Ranieri, 1997, and at other venues around the world; speaker at many conferences; gives readings from his works. Military service: Yugoslav Army, 1966-67.


PEN, Writer's Union in Slovenia, Slovenian Academy of Science and Art.


Fulbright grant, 1986-87; Preseren Fund Prize; Mladost Prize; Pushcart Prize; Jenko Prize; Fulbright fellow; European Poetry Prize; Premio Alta Marea, 2003; poetry prize from Costanza, Romania, 2005.


Poker, Samizdat (Ljubljana, Slovenia), 1966, translation by Joshua Beckman published under the same title, Ugly Duckling Press (Brooklyn, NY), 2003.

Namen Pelerine (title means "The Intention of the Pelerine"), Samizdat (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1968.

Romanje za Marusko (title means "Pilgrimage for Maruska"), Cankarjeva Zalozba, 1971.

Bela Itaka (title means "White Ithaca"), Drzavna Zalozba Slovenije (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1972.

Amerika, Obzorja (Maribor, Yugoslavia) 1973.

Arena, Lipa (Koper, Yugoslavia), 1973.

Turbines: Twenty-one Poems, translated by Tomaž Šalamun, Anselm Hollo, and Elliott Anderson, Windover Press University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA), 1973.

Snow, translated by Anselm Hollo, Bob Perelman, Michael Waltuch, and others, Toothpaste Press (West Branch, IA), 1973.

Sokol (title means "Falcon"), Mladinska Knjiga (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1974.

Imre, Drzavna Zalozba Slovenije (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1975.

Druidi (title means "Druids"), Lipa (Koper, Yugoslavia), 1975.

Praznik (title means "Holiday"), Cankarjeva Zalozba (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1976.

Zvezde (title means "Stars"), Drzavna Zalozba Slovenije (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1977.

Metoda Angela (title means "Angel's Method"), Mladinska Knjiga (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1978.

Po Sledeh Divjadi (title means "On the Track Game"), Lipa (Koper, Yugoslavia), 1979.

Zgodovina Svetlobe je Oranzna (title means "The History of Sight Is Orange"), Obzorja (Maribor, Yugoslavia), 1979.

(With Svetlana Makarovic and Niko Grafenauer) Pesmi (title means "Poems"), Mladinska Knjiga (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1979.

Maske (title means "Masks"), Mladinska Knjiga (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1980.

Balada za Metko Krašovec, Drzavna Zalozba Slovenije (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1981, translation published as A Ballad for Metka Krašovec, Twisted Spoon Press (Prague, Czech Republic), 2001.

Analogije Svetlobe (title means "Analogies of Light"), Cankarjeva Zalozba (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1982.

Glas (title means "Voice"), Obzorja (Maribor, Yugoslavia), 1983.

Sonet o Mleku (title means "Sonnet on Milk"), Mladinska Knjiga (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1984.

Soy Realidad (title means "I Am Reality"), Lipa (Kroper, Yugoslavia), 1985.

Ljubljanska Pomlad (title means "Ljubljana Spring"), Drzavna Zalozba Slovenije (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1986.

Mera Casa, Cankarjeva Zalozba (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), 1987.

Ziva Rana, Zivi Sok (title means "Living Wound, Living Sap"), Obzorja (Maribor, Yugoslavia), 1988.

The Selected Poems of Tomaž Šalamun, edited and translated by Charles Simic and others, Ecco (New York, NY), 1988.

Otrok in Jelen (title means "Child and Stag"), Weiser (Salzburg, Germany), 1990.

Painted Desert: Poems, translated by Michael Biggins, Bob Perelman, and Šalamun, edited by Richard Seehus, Poetry Miscellany (Chattanooga, TN), 1991.

The Shepherd, the Hunter, edited and translated by Sonja Kravanja, Pedernal (Santa Fe, NM), 1992.

Ambra, Mihelac (Ljubljana, Slovenia), 1995.

The Four Questions of Melancholy: New and Selected Poems, edited by Christopher Merrill, White Pine Press (Fredonia, NY), 1997.

Homage to Hat and Uncle Guido and Eliot: Selected Poems, edited by Charles Simic, ARC Publications (England), 1997.

Crni labod (title means "Black Swan"), Mihelac (Ljubljana, Slovenia), 1997.

Knjiga za mojega brata (poetry), Mladinska Knjiga (Ljubljana, Slovenia), 1997, translation published as The Book for My Brother, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2006.

Morje, Nova Revija (Ljubljana, Slovenia), 1999.

Gozd in Kelihi, Cankarjeva Zalozba (Ljubljana, Slovenia), 2000, translation by Brian Hen published as Woods and Chalices, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2007.

Feast, translated by Joshua Beckman and others, edited by Charles Simic, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2000.

Table, Litera (Maribor, Slovenia), 2001, translation with paintings by Metka Krašovec published as Blackboards, Saturnaliabooks (Philadelphia, PA), 2004.

Od tam, Mladinska knjiga (Ljubljana, Slovenia), 2003.

Z Arhilohom po Kikladih, Cankarjeva Zalozba (Ljubljana, Slovenia), 2004.

Sončni voz, Beletrina (Ljubljana, Slovenia), 2005.

Row, ARC Publications (England), 2006.

Sinji stolp, Beletrina (Ljubljana, Slovenia), 2007.

Also author of Riva. Translator of works by Alexandre Dumas, Ho Chi Minh, and Simone de Beauvoir. Contributor of poems to anthologies, including New Writing in Yugoslavia, Penguin (New York, NY), 1971; East European Poetry, Ardis (Dana Point, CA), 1983; and Child of Europe, Penguin (New York, NY), 1991. Contributor of poetry and articles to periodicals, including Paris Review, Ploughshares, Boulevard, Partisan Review, New American Review, Third Coast, Harvard Review, New Republic, Mississippi Review, and Antaeus.

Šalamun's work has been widely translated.


Considered Slovenia's greatest living poet, Tomaž Šalamun attracted critical notice with his first collection, Poker, published when he was only twenty-five. Henry R. Cooper, Jr., wrote in World Literature Today that it was "a fundamental turning point in Slovene literature, the initiation of avant-garde writing." As Michael Biggins explained in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Šalamun's poetry signaled an abrupt shift away from conventional Slovenian themes and styles, nothing less than a "Copernican revolution" that set "new boundaries, or antiboundaries, of what would follow [in Slovenian poetry] over the next three decades." Šalamun's work, according to Biggins, "cut loose from meaning completely" and, at its best, is characterized by "rebelliousness, antic wit, willful opacity, and perfect timing."

After publishing two more collections of poems, Šalamun left Yugoslavia for the United States, where he had been invited to join the University of Iowa's International Writing Program. There he studied with Anselm Hollo, a Finnish American poet who later became one of Šalamun's English translators. Critics pointed out that this exposure to American life and literature influenced Šalamun's subsequent work. The collection Amerika features longer narrative poems and what Biggins described as "a new, winningly naïve and amiably seductive dimension to the poetic self." According to Biggins, "Šalamun's polyphonic voice reached maturation in the early 1970s."

The extent to which North America captured Šalamun's interest can be seen in the abundant references in his work to Mexico and the United States. In Balada za Metka Krašovec, Šalamun sets his poems in American cities, including New York and Minneapolis, as well as in Mexican towns. English is occasionally inserted in a word or line, and Šalamun's themes include travel, sex, and aging. Cooper emphasized that Slovenia is "a touchstone for all his experiences," and that Šalamun's family and extended family "are the source of much of the humor of the collection."

Cooper noted in the same review that the poems of Analogije Svetlobe, which Šalamun wrote while in Paris and Crete, are "far less personal…. Only the next to last poem of the collection, ‘Tell the People,’ picks up (predicts?) the narrative mode."

Cooper pointed out in another World Literature Today review that in Soy Realidad, Šalamun writes in his often-used mix of Slovene, English, Latin, and French and also includes a trio of poems in Spanish. Settings include the Sierra Nevada and Belize. "Metka Krašovec, his wife and editor, is mentioned often and longingly," wrote Cooper, who called Soy Realidad "an interesting but not startlingly new example of a maturing Šalamun."

Again in World Literature Today, Cooper said that Ljubljanska Pomlad is "full of strange images, bizarre juxtapositions of languages, nonsense rhymes, and engaging rhythms." Cooper declared that a native speaker could detect "subtle references," but he found the text "baffling" and called it "difficult reading."

Cooper reviewed Ziva Rana, Zivi Sok, noting that in Šalamun's poems "love, with all its attendant delights and miseries, still seems to be alive," but that "its object … remains for me a mystery." Cooper said it was no longer the poet's wife, but a "thou" who is "male, inarticulate, and well traveled," and concluded that the author's work appears "to grow both more daring in theme and expression and more obscure in meaning."

Cooper compared another Šalamun work, Otrok in Jelen, to the author's first work, Poker, commenting that in Otrok in Jelen, "poetic structure of a sort makes an appearance," and concluding that "all in all it would seem to be vintage Šalamun: not very clear but fun to read."

Several major collections of Šalamun's works have been translated into English. Turbines: Twenty-one Poems was published in 1977. The Selected Poems of Tomaž Šalamun, published in 1988, was described by Ales Debeljak in World Literature Today as offering "a very good display of some of the author's most poignant and remarkable accomplishments. Šalamun exposes lyric intimacy as well as existentialist angst with ironic wit and converts many unquestionable truths … into … his joyful … ‘transvaluation of all values.’"

Library Journal reviewer Robert Hudzik called Selected Poems "an imaginatively daring, and liberating, book." According to Richard Jackson in the Georgia Review, "Šalamun's is a remarkably expansive poetry, ready to take the world in with all its contradictions rather than risk missing any of it." Jackson referred to Šalamun's work as "mythic." "Šalamun understands the role of the body and the spirit in the poetics of Eastern Europe, and the elemental processes of imagination and art in liberating each," wrote Jonas Zdanys in the Yale Review, concluding, "this is a wonderful book."

The Four Questions of Melancholy: New and Selected Poems, published in 1997, is a collection of poems from twenty-five volumes published from 1964 to 1994. "The earliest work is primarily surreal and makes use of lullaby repetition, but the recognizable subject matter, drawn from everyday life in Central Europe, is common and recognizable," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. A New Yorker reviewer concluded that the poems "affirm Šalamun's status as a major Central European poet." Reviewing The Four Questions of Melancholy in the Artful Dodge, Andrew Zawacki noted that "Šalamun's poetry is indeed of the world, and he has been informed by international poetry in the most comprehensive sense." Zawacki stated that the work "concludes with some of Šalamun's most intense, poignant and understated poems to date." Matthew Zapruder in Verse wrote that "one of the first things that is obvious about The Four Questions of Melancholy is the brilliance of the early poems, which immediately introduce the boldness and strengths that have stayed with Šalamun for his entire career."

In a Chicago Review article, Matthew Rohrer suggested that Šalamun's focus on the surreal, which critics sometimes find difficult, is a way of tapping into our collective imagination. "If his poems seem obtuse or cut adrift from our planet's surface," Rohrer wrote, "this is because they are utterances of a different kind from what we might expect of contemporary poetry." Conventional notions of what is "real," the critic noted, do not engage Šalamun; rather, "The real situation of Šalamun's poetry is that things are said about the world that may or may not be true, but if that is your great concern, to know which of these is the case, then you have not understood the usefulness of his poetry."

Feast, a collection published in 2000 that editor Charles Simic culled from Šalamun's entire oeuvre, includes sixty-five poems rendered into English by seven translators. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that the volume is "by turns brutal and coy, gnomic and blunt," and "insistently dismembers the world, only to slyly recreate and celebrate it." Daniel L. Guillory in Library Journal hailed it as a daring, "arresting and often outrageous collection" that will "transform" readers used to more conventional poetic fare.

Rohrer's comments about The Four Questions of Melancholy might also serve as a fitting description of the poetry in The Book for My Brother. In her Booklist review of this 2006 collection, Janet St. John likened Šalamun to a juggler of words, a creator of surrealistic images so close to the brink of comprehension that they are saved only by his talent for imposing poetic order upon them. She observed that Šalamun's poetry is not for the recreational reader, but for the serious adventurer who is willing to venture into difficult terrain for the rewards that lie therein. A Publishers Weekly reviewer of The Book for My Brother found in its pages a reminder of the "eminent, still-wild spirit of Central Europe."

In an interview with Jeffrey Young in Trafika, Šalamun stated that "poetry is a parallel process to spiritual development. As in religion, you are trained how not to be scared. As in the cabala or in dervish dances, you are trained how to be with the world as long as you can endure it. Language takes you forward, and you endure as long as you can endure. But still, there is this constant fear of being too diabolic, that you will be punished for what you are doing, because when you write you compare with God."



Chevalier, Tracy, editor, Contemporary World Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.

Dictionary of Literary Biography: Volume 181: South Slavic Writers since World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.


Artful Dodge, number 32-33, 1998, Andrew Zawacki, review of The Four Questions of Melancholy: New and Selected Poems, pp. 138-149.

Booklist, April 15, 2006, Janet St. John, review of The Book for My Brother, p. 22.

Chicago Review, summer, 1998, article by Matthew Rohrer, p. 58.

Georgia Review, winter, 1988, Richard Jackson, review of The Selected Poems of Tomaž Šalamun, pp. 863-866.

Library Journal, August, 1988, Robert Hudzik, review of The Selected Poems of Tomaž Šalamun, p. 162; August, 2000, Daniel L. Guillory, review of Feast, p. 110.

New Yorker, July 14, 1997, review of The Four Questions of Melancholy, p. 80.

Publishers Weekly, April 28, 1997, review of The Four Questions of Melancholy, p. 70; August 14, 2000, review of Feast; April 23, 2001, review of A Ballad for Metka Krašovec, p. 74; April 3, 2006, review of The Book for My Brother, p. 41.

Trafika, number 5, 1997, Jeffrey Young, interview with Tomaž Šalamun, pp. 104-107.

Verse, fall, 1998, Matthew Zapruder, review of The Four Questions of Melancholy, pp. 140-153.

World Literature Today, winter, 1983, review of Balada za Metko Krasovec, pp. 136-137; summer, 1986, review of Soy realidad, p. 492; autumn, 1987, review of Ljubljanska pomlad, p. 656; autumn, 1989, Ales Debeljak, review of The Selected Poems of Tomaž Šalamun, p. 710; winter, 1990, Henry R. Cooper, Jr., review of Ziva rana, zivi sok, p. 156; winter, 1992, Henry R. Cooper, Jr., review of Poker and Otrok in jelen, p. 166.

Yale Review, spring, 1990, Jonas Zdanys, review of The Selected Poems of Tomaž Šalamun, pp. 477-478.

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Šalamun, Tomaž 1941- (Tomaz Salamun)

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