In our last instalment, we introduce Czech authors who were born in 1940s and 1950s and thus spent a large part of their lives in an undemocratic regime. They represent poets that do not normally get selected for translation by academics or editors although Tomáš Míka who translates his own work, has been published and known internationally. He moves in multi-lingual cultural spaces with ease and inhabits them with irresistible charm. However, there are many reasons for the lack of representation in translation: behind the Iron Curtain, post Jaroslav Seifert & Nobel Prize for Literature, and with enormous success of Miroslav Holub in English, hunger for Czech poets rapidly decreased. Moreover, over the years it has been overshadowed by the proximity of the bigger, and thus more significant Poland.
And there is the issue of translation itself. Jiří Dědeček is a singer and songwriter as well as outstanding translator of many French texts into Czech. His poems reveal that musicality, and with rhymes, so natural in Czech, pose a difficulty in other types of languages, namely English (and I have tried my best to do his text justice). Jiří Žáček is incredibly popular and even those who do not read poetry and do not know any other poet, know his name. His poems are recited to toddlers by their mothers, school children find his texts in their reading books. However, his easy and playful rhymes, self-deprecating sense of humour do not travel well. Moreover, at present rhymes are sneared upon in Czech poetry, as one unnamed editor of a prestigious literary periodical explained to me, We don’t do rhymes anymore, that is not how you are supposed to write. This rejection of rhyme in contemporary poetry is even more surprising because a rhyme in Czech is as natural as is iambic pentameter in English.
And then there are poets who made their names in other parts of creative industry. Daniela Fischerová is famous as a scriptwriter, playwright and prose writer both for children and adults. She was also a close associate of president Václav Havel, another playwright who had made his name worldwide before leaving his mark in Czech history and politics in the 1990s. On the other hand, Olga Walló is a true legend of translation, radio, TV and film, admired by many, even worshipped.
Olga Nytrová represents a stream of Czech poetic output that gets rarely noticed or mentioned even locally – she is a spiritual and philosophical writer who uses verse as a medium of expressing and unpicking her understanding of the world and universe with a large number of successfully published books.
Natalie Nera (All texts below are translated by me apart from Tomáš Míka, the translation is his own.)
JIŘÍ DĚDEČEK And the Blues A Blues The blues no blame here and with you Your rhythm I hear lost and dear losing myself, adieu My soul turns to dust and what attracts me to you are lost sorrows of a refugee Avoiding the old place and somehow have answers Greeting all who are disgraced and prostate cancers A blues The blues what can I change the unchanged revivalist I in you With no roots growing for my wreath My blues You are like the story about a maid who is waiting to be saved, by the pen that becomes blade From Pošta shora, 2019 publisher DANIELA FISCHEROVÁ Looking Back Lot’s wife looked back And at once Orpheus looked over his shoulder And at once I have a contract with my memory That some videos are not going to be shown anymore In return I give up Names foreign languages and addresses My memory demands more and more Perhaps Right before the end I am going to look back And in one horrifying glimpse I will face myself Like a naked old octopus That will see herself in the mirror for the first time From Potvora mlsná, příběhy, portréty TOMÁŠ MÍKA Stripping off I’ve stripped off my thirst while waiting I'm almost a stranger as before back then long ago deliberately distancing closeness Only when it's not within reach I am calm and at the same time I’m not Only then do I pull my hands out of my pockets and use them as a welcome So far, just a picture not painted yet And I immediately turn my back on it and start to run never to come back I know I'll find you farthest from you xxx At her wailing wall he didn't shed a tear even the wall fell silent very desirable but he was unwelcome with a fishing rod without a hook xxx I tend towards the minimal closing both my eyes and doors all other entrances and exits restricting movement to breathing Sleep is not coming but the encounter is drawing near I know it Transl. by the author OLGA NYTROVÁ Socrates’ glass Eyes full of tears the irritating Prague air tired bronchial tubes nasopharynx full of pus Breathe in again a clean sip of air hear the seagulls by the sea catch the rhythm of the waves Socrates’ glass full of red wine left next to the scented sticks and the slender candle Let the words flow like a tune their juicy flesh taking in like paradise fruit from the lost beach. OLGA WALLÓ You shouldn’t trust me at all I can lie but not well It’s dark outside like in the light well An unlikely likening The dark outside with daggers and a spell And courage badges Ice melting in the mountains I climb Every day something happens for the last time From Láska k stáru (Love in the Twilight Years) JIŘÍ ŽÁČEK Wings If our ancestors had wings, they would fly. But our ancestors were fish God knows why. (Approximately half a billion years ago.) Perhaps to you, that’s a blow? Back then, the strangest creatures roamed the seas: Their eyes of a fish, Teeth of a fish, Fins of a fish, A tail of a fish - their missing-wings – a secret wish. But evolution supports constant change. I think of those wings all the time And how it’s all arranged. I hope our descendants Will really try And in gazillions of evolutionary days, Powered only by their arms, they will reach the sky The fish will be amazed! The salamanders will be amazed! The mammals will be amazed! And you will be amazed, it’s not just a phase!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Jiří Dědeček (b. 1953, Karlovy Vary) is poet, translator, educator, singer-songwriter. He was educated at a specialist secondary school for languages. In 1976 he graduated in librarianship from Prague University and was conscripted to the army, after which he worked in the Prague Language School as an interpreter in French. In 1983 to 1987 JD studied script writing in FAMU (Prague Film Academy).
He started writing in 1974, and his output includes poetry, songs, plays and musicals. “Because the possibilities for publishing any of my work were practically non-existent, I started singing in clubs and theatres. And so for this reason I am mostly known in my country as a folk singer. I see the texts of my songs as the main area of my creativity. The music is simple, but it si there to help convey the thought.” His publications include: Texts (1982), published by the Club of Friends of the Semafor Theatre; What happened in the ZOO (1987), from the children´s publishing house Albatros; The moon over the housing estate (1987); etc… In 1988 his translations of Georges Brassens´songs from the French was published. His recent collection of poems Questionnaire was firts published in Munich, and, after the revolution, in Czech Republic
Daniela Fischerová, b. in 1948 in Prague, is a prominent Czech writer, playwright and script writer as well as an award-winning author for children. For many years, she worked as an editor in a publishing house. In the 1990s, she was one of the close advisors of President Václav Havel. She currently teaches creative writing. More information at https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniela_Fischerov%C3%A1.
Tomáš Míka was born in 1959 in Prague, Czech Republic. His original work includes books of poetry “Nucený výsek” (Destruction of Animals), 2003 and “Deník rychlého člověka” (Journal of a Fast Man), 2007 and “Textové zprávy” (Text Messages), 2016. His book of short stories “Und” was published in 2005. He works as a translator from English, among the authors whose works he translated are Samuel Beckett (Watt), John Bunyan (The Pilgrim’s Progress), James Hogg (Confessions of the Justified Sinner), Jack Black (You Can’t Win). He lives in Prague.
Olga Nytrová (b. in 1949 in Prague) is an academic, philosopher, editor, poet, playwright and writer. She is head of Prague’s Writers’ Society and literary-drama club Dialog na cestě. She also works in clerical service of Czechoslovak Hussite Church. She represents a spiritual brand of Czech poetry. More information at https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olga_Nytrov%C3%A1
Olga Walló was born in 1948 in Prague. She read philosophy at the Charles University and then carved a successful career as film dubbing director, writer and translator of literary texts, including Shakespeare etc. She has always written poetry but started publishing her poetic texts at the age of fifty. She currently lives in a remote cottage in the middle of the deep mountain forest in the Czech Republic but counts among legends of Czech radio, film, television, literature and literary translation.
Jiří Žáček, born in 1945 in Chomutov, is a writer, poet, playwright, translator and author of textbooks for young learners. With accolades of national and internation awards, he is truly a national treasure. His poems are known to generations of children and adults alike, popular for their melodic grasp of Czech language, easy rhymes and wit. More at https://jirizacek.cz/ and https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ji%C5%99%C3%AD_%C5%BD%C3%A1%C4%8Dek