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Tomaž Šalamun


Tomaž Šalamun was born on July 4, 1941, in Zagreb, Croatia, and grew up in Koper, Slovenia. In 1965, he graduated from the University of Ljubljana with an MA in art history. It was during his time at the University of Ljubljana that he began writing poetry. He published his first book, Poker, the following year in Ljubljana, when he was only twenty-five.

Šalamun traveled to Italy and France to continue his studies in art history before returning to Ljubljana to take a job as assistant curator of a modern art museum.

In 1970, he taught twentieth-century art at the Academy of Fine Arts for a year. The next year, he traveled to the United States to join the faculty of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. While there, he was introduced to Ted Berrigan and Anselm Hollo, who were also on the faculty. Hollo would later become a translator of Šalamun’s work.

By 1973, Šalamun was back in Ljubljana, where he worked odd jobs and translated the works of William Carlos Williams, Guillaume Apollinaire, and others. Šalamun primarily lived in Ljubljana for the rest of his life, but regularly visited the United States for teaching posts.

Šalamun was influenced by the work of poets such as Charles Baudelaire and Charles Simic, and his work is said to have ushered in the growth of modernist Slovene poetry in the postwar years. His absurd, playful style of verse is what led poets like Robert Hass to praise his “love of the poetics of rebellion” and earned him his reputation as a leader in Eastern European avant-garde literature. Šalamun published over thirty poetry collections in Slovenia, and his books have been translated into more than twenty languages. His most recent English-translated works include On the Tracks of Wild Game (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2012), There’s the Hand and There’s the Arid Chair (Counterpath, 2009), and Woods and Chalices (Harcourt, 2008).

In her review of On the Tracks of Wild Game, Dorothea Lasky writes, “Tomaž Šalamun’s poems never cease to show me what language can be, as they come from a place of turbulent winds and the wild earth.” Laura Solomon writes, “There is a grisly ecstasy to conscious life that few poets have, or have ever had, the nerve to approach but which Tomaž Šalamun captures as casually as raindrops in a leaf cup.”

Šalamun’s honors include Slovenia’s Jenko Award, Mladost Prize, and Prešeren Prize. He also served as a Fulbright Fellow at Columbia University in New York City and a member of the Slovenian Academy of Science and Art.

Šalamun died on December 27, 2014, in Ljubljana.

Selected Bibliography

Soy Realidad (Dalkey Archive Press, 2014)
On the Tracks of Wild Game (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2012)
The Blue Tower (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)
There’s the Hand and There’s the Arid Chair (Counterpath, 2009)
Woods and Chalices (Harcourt, 2008)
The Book for My Brother (Mariner Books, 2006)
Row (Arc Publications, 2006)
Blackboards (Saturnalia, 2004)
Poker (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2004)
A Ballad for Metka Krasovec (Twisted Spoon Press, 2001)
Feast (Harcourt, 2000)
Homage to Hat and Uncle Guide and Eliot: Selected Poems (Arc Publications, 1998)
The Four Questions of Melancholy: New and Selected Poems (White Pine Press, 1996)
The Shepherd, the Hunter (Pedernal, 1992)
The Selected Poems of Tomaž Šalamun (Ecco Press, 1991)

Tomaz Salamun
Photo credit: Matej Druznik

By This Poet


Young Cops

All young cops have soft
mild eyes. Their upbringing is lavish.
They walk between blueberries and ferns,
rescuing grannies from rising waters.
With the motion of a hand they ask for
a snack from those plastic bags. They
sit down on tree stumps, looking at valleys
and thinking of their moms. But woe is me
if a young one gets mad. A Scourge
of God rings, with a club that later you can
borrow to blot your bare feet.
Every cop wears a cap, his head murmuring under it
A sled rushes down a slope in his dreams.
Whomever he kills, he brings spring to,
whomever he touches has a wound inscribed.
I would give my granny and my
grandpa, my mom and my pa, my wife
and my son to a cop to play with.
He would tie up my granny’s white hair,
but he’d probably chop up my son
on the stump of a tree. The cop himself would be sad
that his toy was broken. That’s the way they are
when smoking pot: melancholy. They take off
their caps and breathe their tears into them.
Actually, they’re like camels riding
in the desert, as if it were the wet palm of a hand.

We Build a Barn And Read Reader's Digest

Quick ostrich. Quick ostrich. Quick sand. Quick sand.
Quick lime. Quick grass. The white juice from celeste Aida,
and forgot-to-take-it dries up. The one

trampled by sheep (down below), Grischa and Beatrice
(up above) converse. They'd recognize each other in
a cover, a box, a jacket, a picture, in moss and trampled

dirt. At this angle of the sky
no pictures are allowed. Corpses are wrapped up like
sheaves. Dismiss the footprint. Wipe your eyes.

Stop pilfering. Grapshot gets tangled up.
I go paying visits with my lives.
Here I just romped and touched the rug

with a yellow shoulder. I don't know what a word is.
To cry out moth! when on your white towel you see 
a scorpion? El Alamein! Where is the difference?

Rommel was kissing heaven's dainty hands, and yet
from his airplane above the Sahara, my uncle
Rafko Perhauc still blew him to bits.

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