Introducing Four Czech Poetesses

Our journey through the Czech poetic landscape starts with four strong female voices of their generation. Naturally, there could be many more and of other generations, and we hope that in the future, we can expand the offerings. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy these four powerful samples.

 Jana Orlová
 The ancient gods are still online
 I would like to lie with hops
 overgrown in the woods like my fur
 in the strained fascia of a clerk
 I will measure out my desire for you with steps
 torture for the advanced
 and I know there's still time because
 the ancient gods are still online
 Translated by Phil Jones

 Lenka Kuhar Daňhelová
 On the Task of H.G. Adler
 We are bereaved,
 For all of those who are no longer.
 The living for the dead.
 We are the chronicles of the dead.
 Being the history of shadows,
 Not a recollection,
 Being a memory.
 What a task!
 Moreover, to prove  
 How to be yourself!
 This tangle, entwined,
 Is my property.
 It’s for the best to
 Leave it alone.
 Crossings. Passages.
 Only when I picture them,
 I am able to understand that I am a survivor.
 Of myself and my history.
 Who once, in this situation…
 I am not!
 What can I do about it?
 Oh, what a task,
 My invisible wall,
 To be!  

Olga Stehlíková
In the Traffic Jam
 I spend my time in the traffic jam.
 I am always on the way somewhere.
 I spend my time in the traffic jam:
 it slows down,
 Everything stops for the time being,
 in the workday hustle and bustle.
 Then time relaxes, freezes,
 rips apart its own abdomen and reveals its insides 
 that still emit the fumes,
 These are the moments when I realise
 my finality,
 When finally,
 I know what to do with my hands
 -        the steering wheel feels like the human skin -,
 when I catch my own glimpse in the rear mirror,
 although I stare ahead.
 I call you to call me,
 in the empty car, I utter aloud
 your name, sound after sound,
 but you don’t call or answer,
 because you are driving,
 you’re in the flowing traffic,
 your gear has been in five for a while
 and you have no reason to lower it.
 These are the moments I can see
 inside the surrounding vehicles –
 they are so near,
 the lesser and the great Ploughs,
 the little and the big girls in it,
 little stars for indicators,
 extra delicate angry moves.
 The Czechs don’t know the art of merging,
 even though it is so simple.
 These are the moments of contemplation,
 when time becomes relative,
 when unexpectedly, in unfamiliar diversions 
 memories emerge,
 like seals by the holes in ice,
 when I remind myself,
 I ought to go and see the grave,
 that your path is smooth,
 that I managed only a little
 that I haven’t had my supper.
 I spend my time in the traffic jam.
 Children in the backseats shout at life,
 they are at the age when life still listens
 to their screams. Google responds to
 my key word.
 Securely fastened seatbelts,
 anatomically shaped seats amongst breadcrumbs,
 This is the best place for them,
 one day they may scream their way out of them, perhaps they already sit in their own urine.
 The steering wheel skin is so humanlike,
 I check myself in the rear mirror:
 a seventeen-year old, wild, seat-belted
 old lady with a license,
 a favourite mug and full tank.
 No, we won’t make it today.
 I have only one time, which
 makes it a rare commodity, uncountable.
 I devote my time, I give it
 away in tiny, neat parcels,
 It is an invisible charitable act,
 which I am going to deduct.
 My photo is in all my documents.
 Look, the box here under the dashboard
 is so deep. Like Grand Canyon.
 What you put in nobody will ever see.
 Once I entrusted myself to the headed, embossed paper.
 The jam is in the intestines of a withheld argument.
 I will never get rid of metaphors.
 Hold onto the gear!
 From the tailback in the next lane
 A man in the city jeep gazes at me,
 perhaps my lights are not on, or
 I am bad at pulling away, I am sloppy with my clutch
 -        he is always by my side.
 The sideview of profiles one the left and right.
 The front view is only enjoyed before
 the head-on collision.
 Look at all the control lights,
 so much I have to watch,
 to make sure the kids grow up and no one badmouth them
 -        still, their warning lights will be on one day.
 No, we won’t make it today,
 my sweet ones,
 I purr like an engine.
 the crash barrier lures you more than an Oreo tartlet,
 blacker than tarmac.
 Not far behind them
 a strange city, in which we live,
 from which we try to climb up
 in the dangerous, small, mobile,
 carefully serviced homes.
 Not far behind them wild shrubs
 with the young ones, who are soon going to fly out
 across six lanes of the motorway, succeeding for the first time.
 Simona Racková
 How Long
 How long does forgiveness take?
 Six years, five months and twenty-four days.
 I walk against the grain of time, while listening,
 As my husband and my son play chess for the first time:
 You can’t make a move twice in a row,
 You have just lost your queen.
 Last night I dreamed of giving birth to twins,
 One was born dead.
 I ought to be happy about the one I have
 -        the reddened, wrinkled fingers, hair still stuck together,
 black strands, we two skin to skin -,
 or should I mourn the one that has died?
 Since I didn’t watch the egg enough, not enough:
 I pushed the box back haphazardly, piled on more things.
 And it was made from brittle, dark chocolate.  

All three poems translated by Natalie Nera

About the Authors:

Lenka Kuhar Daňhelová (born in 1973 in Krnov) is a translator, author, poet and artist,  and together with her husband, director and co-founder of an international poetry festival Aside/European Poets Live.  She has authored four poetry collections, one novel – her output, including translations, is more than 22 books to-date. In 2013, she was awarded Lirikonov Zlát for an outstanding translation from Slovenian.

Jana Orlová (1986) is a Czech poet and a performer. She published “Čichat oheň” („Sniff the Fire“) with her own illustrations at Pavel Mervart publishing house in 2012 and “Újedě” her second book of poetry at Větrné Mlýny publishing house in 2017. Her works appeared in “Nejlepší české básně” (Best Czech Poems) at Host publishing house in 2014 and 2018. She released poetry book in Ukrainian and Romanian in 2019. Her poems were translated into Hindi, English, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Belarusian, Polish, Bulgarian, Greek and Italian. She treats performance art as living poetry. She gained the “Objev roku 2017” Breakthrough Act Award 2017 at Next Wave Festival for “crossing the boundaries of literature, fine art and theatre naturally and with ease”. She gained the Dardanica Prize in 2020. Her work is to be seen at A recent translation into Spanish in

Simona Racková (born in 1976 in Prague) is an editor, poet and literary critic, head of the Review at the prominent literature bi-weekly Tvar. She received the Dresden Lyrical Prize (Dresdner Lyrikpreis invites Czech and German poets to take part) in 2016 for her poems from the book Tance (Dances). Her works have been translated into seven languages.

Olga Stehlíková (born in 1977 in Příbram) won Magnesia Litera in 2014 for her debut collection Týdny. She is a linguist, researcher, poet, author, editor and researcher, one of the most translated poets of her generation. Recently, she has started writing and publishing successful books for children.