Tomaž Šalamun

Acclaimed Slovenian Poet

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • An evening with Tomaž Å alamun

“All of [Salamun's poetry] has provocation and imaginative intensity and aesthetic risk.”-Robert Hass

“[Salamun has] a gift for remarkable images and detail, both surreal and quotidian; and an acute sensitivity to the astounding variety of the world and of history” -Boston Review

“Tomaz Salamun’s poems never cease to show me what language can be, as they come from a place of turbulent winds and the wild earth.” -Dorothea Lasky

Considered Slovenia’s greatest living poet, Tomaž Šalamun (pronounced Toh-MAH-sh SAH-la-mahn) has been dubbed “Nobelisable” (a candidate who could perfectly well win the Nobel Prize) by several major European newspapers (The Guardian, El Mundo, FAZ) and “One of Europe’s great philosophical wonders” by Jorie Graham. He was born in Zagreb in 1941, and is one of the foremost figures of the Eastern European poetical avant-garde. He is revered by many American poets for his unique surrealistic style. His books have been translated into twenty-one languages, and nine of his thirty-seven books of poetry have been published in English. His first collection, Poker, was published when he was only twenty-five. His most recent collections are There’s the Hand and There’s the Arid Chair (Counterpath Press, 2009, translated by Thomas Kane and others); The Blue Tower (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011, translated by Michael Biggins); The Book for My Brother (Harcourt, 2006, translated by Christopher Merrill and others); Poker (Ugly Duckling Press, 2003, 2008, translated by Joshua Beckman); Row (ARCpublications, 2006, translated by Joshua Beckman); Woods and Chalices (Harcourt, 2008, translated by Brian Henry), On the Tracks of Wild Game (2012), Soy Realidad (Dalkey Archive Press, 2014, translated by Michael Thomas Taren and the author), and Justice (Black Ocean Press, 2015, translated by Michael Thomas Taren and the author). His selected poems, translated into Chinese by Zhao Si, will appear in Beijing in May 2014 by The Writer’s Publishing House.

In 1964, as editor of a literary magazine “Perspektive,” he was threatened to be jailed for twelve years, but due to fast world media reaction, he was released before the process started. He has a degree in Art History from the University of Ljubljana. Poetry, says Šalamun, came to him as a revelation, dropping, “like stones from the sky.”Publishers Weekly writes, “Šalamun has become an influence, and a mentor, for plenty of young American poets. One reason lies in Šalamun’s postmodern mix of giddy and global with the earthy retrospect he takes from his homeland….[He] makes his new collection a whirlwind tour of sites and moods….”Šalamun’s first visit to the US was in July 1970, when he was personally invited to exhibit his work at the MOMA in the famous Information Show.

Šalamun’s many prizes include the Preseren Prize, the Jenko Prize, a Pushcart Prize, the European Prize for Poetry by German town Mí¼nster in 2007, and 2009’s “The Golden Wreath” from Struga Poetry Evenings in Macedonia. He also received the 2003 Altamarea Prize in Trieste, Italy, and the Festival Prize at Costanza, Romania, in 2004. In 2013 he received the Montenegrin international NjegoÅ¡ Prize, the most important prize in the Balkans. He is a member of the Slovenian Academy of Science and Art. He occasionally teaches in the US, where he was also a Fulbright Fellow at Columbia University, a member of the International Writing Program at Iowa, and a Cultural Attaché at the Consulate General of Slovenia in New York. In spring 2008 he was appointed as Visiting Professor in Creative Writing and Distinguished Writer-in-Residence by the University of Richmond; and in 2011 he taught at the Michener’s Center MFA in Austin, Texas. He is a member of the 2014-2015 Black Mountain Institute Bennet Fellowship in Las Vegas.

He lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Considered Slovenia’s greatest living poet, Tomaž Šalamun is the author of thirty-seven books of poetry, nine of which have been published in English. The Book for My BrotherPokerRowWoods and Chalices; On the Tracks of Wild Game; Soy Realidad; and Justice, which is forthcoming in 2015. His selected poems, translated into Chinese by Zhao Si, appeared in Beijing in May 2014. Šalamun’s many prizes include the Preseren Prize, the Jenko Prize, a Pushcart Prize, the European Prize for Poetry by German town Mí¼nster in 2007, and 2009’s “The Golden Wreath” from Struga Poetry Evenings in Macedonia.

Tomaž Šalamun wrote the poems collected in On the Tracks of Wild Game in a time of personal crisis during the politically repressive years of the 1970s. It was with this book, which saw its first publication in 1979, that Šalamun made a complete transformation in moving from art-making to poetry.

THE BLUE TOWER (Poetry, 2011)
The work of this “eminent, still-wild spirit of Central Europe” (Publishers Weekly) continues to electrify. In The Blue Tower, language is re-made with tenderness and abandon: “Rommel was kissing heaven’s dainty hands and yet / from his airplane above the Sahara my uncle / Rafko Perhauc still blew him to bits.” There is an effervescence and a sense of freedom to Salamun’s poetry that has made him an inspiration to successive generations of American poets, “a poetic bridge between old European roots and the American adventure” (Associated Press). Trivial and monumental, beautiful and grotesque, healing, ferocious, mad: The Blue Tower is an essential book.

Poems born in “a time of abrupt needs,” There’s the Hand and There’s the Arid Chair catalogues those individual and imperative fancies that, in the cosmos of Tomaž Šalamun, eternity aims to replace: A genealogy of dressmakers and songbirds. A topography of hulking oil tankers and coldwater flats. A biography that locates the poetic “I” as, at once, a primordial being and a tamer of beasts, a monster and a guardian angel. With uncanny and sometimes harrowing grace, Salamun plumbs every reach of the imagination in search of a space where we can simultaneously delight in and mourn the disintegration of the body. And it is here, in this borderland of the unreal and the everyday, that love is consumed so its contours might not be forgotten, that life carries on in the dying wish that a bicycle might be purchased. There’s the Hand and There’s the Arid Chair brings nine accomplished translators into collaboration for a new book by this “major Central European poet.” -The New Yorker

Inspired by Rimbaud and Ashbery, the Slovenian poet Tomaž Šalamun is now inspiring the younger generation of American poets-and Woods and Chalices will secure his place in the ranks of influential, experimental, twenty-first-century poets. Salamun’s strengths are on display here: innocence and obscenity, closely allied; a great historical reach; and questions, commands, and statements of identity that challenge all norms and yet seem uncannily familiar and right-“I’m molasses, don’t forget that.” 


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.

-from The Blue Tower


I am a mason, a priest of dust
foritfied like a monster, a crust of bread
I am a water lily, a soldier of holy trees
holy dreams, with the angels I shout

I am a castle, a dead rock wall
I carry the boats, a ferryman
O wood! wood!
come here, little herons, a seed

come, gardeners! light, appear!
come, spread hands, pane of glass
blue whirls, come, smooth plain
the wind, of the sliding, of creatures on different levels

the pastures are burnt, lava seething
shepherds are waiting, restless, trampling with their wings
dogs, smelling themselves, the wolf-dogs
here the memory stands, the order, the signs of the future

-from The Selected Poems of Tomaz Salamun


You catch water with a pin,
the water turns to slush.
You point at the tree with your hand,
the tree burns.
You divide lines with a shadow.
You open the door for love and death.

-from The Selected Poems of Tomaz Salamun