Slavko Mihalic is one of the greatest Croatian poets of our time. Since his début in 1954 he has published a large oeuvre, including almost 700 poems. Slavko Mihalic grew up in an environment rich in art, literature and music, and for some time hesitated which direction to choose.
Apart from his writing talents he was a gifted organizer and while in secondary school started a handwritten school magazine, called Tornado. He spent a few years working for the newspaper Borba, and briefly studied Italian, until in 1952 he decided to pursue a career in Croatian letters. As a student at Zagreb university he became the driving force behind the magazine Tribina (Tribune), which shared the fate of many periodicals of its time in being banned after a few issues by the communist authorities.
In 1954 he published his first book of poetry, Komorna muzika (Chamber Music). Like many writers in the former Yugoslavia, Slavko Mihalic often ran into trouble with the government, while enjoying the support of publishers and editors, even local authorities. It so happened that Mihalic's collection Godišnja doba (Seasons) appeared as 'samizdat' in 1962, to be awarded the Prize of the City of Zagreb a little later. In 1966 he led a group of writers who started the magazine Most, which published Croatian literature in other languages.
In 1972 Slavko Mihalic hit upon hard times: he was sacked as editor of Most and expelled from the Croatian Writers'Association. While trying to make a living from painting and drawing, he continued to write. In the meantime, his work began to appear in Italian, Slovenian, Polish, English, German, Macedonian and even Albanian. Mihalic himself is a productive translator.
In 1980 he published his collection Pohvala praznom dzepu (In Praise of an Empty Pocket), which won the Writers'Association's Tin Ujevi Prize the following year.
In 1983 Slavko Mihalic became a candidate for membership of the Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences, which did not award him full membership until 1990.
The war which devastated large portions of Croatia in 1991 and 1992, and which almost flattened the city of Vukovar, deeply affected the poet Slavko Mihalic, witness such poems as 'Portret rara 1992' (Portrait of the War in 1992) in his collection Baršunasta zena (Velvet Woman), published in 1993.
Slavko Mihalic's poetry is concerned with several themes: love and tenderness, as in 'Priblizavanje oluje' (Gathering Storm, 1961), the indefinable, as in 'Ne mogu izgovoriti ime grada' (I cannot name the town, 1970), moods arising from political developments, as in 'Majstore, ugasi svijecu' (Put Out the Candle, Master, 1977), or the intimacy of everyday events, as in 'Kantata o kavi' (Coffee Cantata, 1977).
[Slavko Mihalic took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 1999. This text was written on that occasion.]