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.