Tomaž Šalamun was born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, in 1941 and grew up in Koper, Slovenia. He studied History and Art History at the university of Ljubljana. In the years that followed, he continued his studies in Italy and France and celebrated his first success not only as a poet but also as a conceptual artist. Before his first poetry publications, he participated in the International Writing Program in Iowa (1971 to 1973) and was able to take an extensive look at American verse. In 1986 a Fulbright scholarship brought him to Columbia University in New York, where he returned from 1996 to 1999 as a cultural attaché with the Slovenian consulate. In 2003 he was a guest of the German Academci Exchange Service in Berlin. Today Šalamun lived with his wife, the artist Metka Krašovec, in Ljubljana. He passed away on 27 December 2014.
Starting in his student days, Šalamun worked for Slovenia’s most important literary magazine ‘Perspektive’. When in 1964 the magazine published the young editor’s first subversive poems, the authorities stepped in. But, according to Šalumun, it was his fiveday imprisonment that first sowed the seeds for the popular success of his experimental works. The private publication of his first collection of verse ‘Poker’ (1966) sparked the development of a Slovenian avant-garde. Since ‘Poker’, Tomaž Šalamun had published 32 books of poetry, won his country’s most important literature prize, and made a name for himself internationally with translations into numerous European languages. Over the years his poetry – as evident in the 1997 US retrospective ‘The Four Questions of Melancholy’ – has matured stylistically and come to address a wider variety of themes without losing its provocative energy. From the perspective of a first-person narrator, Šalamun looks at the surreal aspects of everyday life and love, yet always remains the “bugbear”, delving into the abyss of the human soul and laying bare the borders and rules of the Slovenian language.
Šalamun’s verse is characterised by the strife-torn history of the Balkans yet has a far wider relevance. The influence of contemporary American poetry, familiar to him through his translation work, cannot be missed and in the United States earned him a reputation as the “unknown force” behind a new generation of American writers. In German-speaking countries, where there are only three translations to date, he is far from receiving the attention he deserves.
© international literature festival berlin