Tomaž Šalamun

Tomaž Šalamun (1941) has published 38 volumes of poems in his native Slovenia and has been translated into nearly two dozen languages. The Turbines (Windhover Press, U of Iowa, 1973) and Snow (Toothpaste Press, West Branch, IA, 1974) were the poet's debut collection in English. His true national debut in the U.S. was Selected Poemsof Tomaž Šalamun, edited and in large part translated by Charles Simic, brought out in 1988 as part of Ecco Press's prestigious Modern European Poetry series. It was followed by The Shepherd, The Hunter (Pedernal, 1992), The Four Questions of Melancholy (White Pine Press, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2007), Homage for Eliot, Uncle Guido and Hat (ARCpublications, 1998), Feast (Harcourt, 2000), Poker (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2003, 2008), Blackboards (Saturnalia Books, 2004), Row (ARCpublications, 2006) The Book for My Brother (Harvest Books, 2006), Woods and Chalices (Harcourt, 2008), and There’s the Hand and There’s the Arid Chair (Counterpath Press, 2009).

In 1997, Christopher Merrill wrote this in an Introduction to Šalamun collection The Four Questions of Melancholy. New and Selected Poems:

“If Slovenia has a national disease, it is melancholia—a legacy, perhaps, of more than a thousand years of subjugation to the whims of stronger powers. Franks, Bavarians, Hungarians, Teutons, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, all ruled at one time or another over this tiny land wedged between the Julian Alps and the Adriatic Sea. “In the absence of a nation-state of their own,” Debeljak notes, “the only real home for Slovenians was carved out in their language and poetry.” 

Šalamun visited Iowa City several times. He was a participant in the University of Iowa's International Writing Program in 1971. Here is what he remembered in 2007, during a later visit to Iowa City, about his first landing:

I must tell you that the poem 'History' [included below] was written at Iowa, because Iowa in 1971 was an incredible place for me. ['History'] is a very young poem, and it’s full of total joy and craziness, and it happened here, because I felt like this here.

Maybe I should start with how Iowa is totally magical for me, and why. I was in Ljubljana. Primož Kožak, a playwright, was here, with the IWP, and then, he was also involved in helping to select the next Slovenian person to come. He very decently offered this position to his younger playwright peer, his competitor. He said “no.” Then to the best young fiction writer, and he said “no.” And when I was asked, I said “Yes, of course.” And it had to be done very quickly. Two days later, Michael Scammell —you might know his name — he was then a lecturer in Ljubljana, then he became responsible for writers in prison for the International PEN […] and he said: “If you go to America, you will for sure meet the Finnish poet Anselm Hollo and like his poetry. Anselm Hollo was in Finland—and Finland was too small for him; he went to Germany, married in Germany, then worked for his uncle who was friends of Jung’s, then came to England, then became an English poet, than BBC wanted to promote him to a much higher position, he didn’t like this … he escaped … and he must be somewhere in America.”

I flew to Iowa City (Cedar Rapids), we went to Mayflower, I signed the lease, I went downtown, I went to one bar—I don’t remember its name— and then I went to Donnelly’s, and in Donnelly’s there was an older person and some people around him, and they were laughing and they included me. I realized they were poets, and I said, “I’m a poet, and come from the IWP.” And then the older person said, “Let me drive you to Mayflower.” On the road he had a small accident, and, when he handed his driver’s license to the police officer, I realized that he was Anselm Hollo!

That is how Iowa started for me, and it didn’t stop. Every third year there is some strange connection!

Like, again, the magic of Iowa: Chris Merrill happened to live in Santa Fe, there also lived my ex-girlfriend who then married an American and translated my third American book. And she asked Chris, introduced him to a reading of my book. So Chris was interested and came to visit me in Ljubljana—we became friends, he became my translator.

Among the honors awarded Šalamun are the Prešeren Prize, the Jenko Prize, a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright fellowship to Columbia University, The Festival Prize in Romania, the Altamarea Prize in Italy, a fellowship to the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, and the European Prize from the town of Münster, Germany. He has served as cultural attaché to the Slovenian Consulate in New York and as a visiting professor at several American universities. He is married to the artist Metka Krašovec and has a daughter and a son.



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