Interview with the poet Martin Vlado (Book Revue 2007/11)

Art is, among others, certain kind of searching, when mortal has the feeling that ethic, science or religion does not satisfy him. Maybe it is searching of something divine out of divine, when the questions exist, but there are no answers. Literary production can also patch the empty holes which cause that there is something not rounded off in our consciousness. I know you are a believer. What can't offer you for example the Christianity? Whom or what are you looking for in your poetry?

I understand Christianity as a kind of offer. And as for my poetry, I will find there nothing else as me, no matter how hard I would try. And through myself I will find something what inspired me to take a pen, paper and try to write a poem. Or aphopoem, as someone aptly named my maneuvering between aphorism and poem. Poetry can be a dialogue with God. And it doesn't have to be only deadly serious conversation; after all, sense of humour is certain kind of intelligence. I believe it is a God's gift which doesn't clash with poetry too much. Some time ago, Tomáš Janovic signed under several aphopoems from my book Cafédrale / Dream of an Orthodox Coffee Lover which contains some of these rather witty "flirts" with God. I'll afford to show: "God is just one / if there were more of them / they would never / agree on / the creation of world." Inspiration not only by something divine. I think that approval of such texts by Mr. Janovic proves that I didn't take the God's name in vain.

Any miracle must be in power of belief, only then there is technically no point to subject it to the analytical research which could decide its verity or falsity. Of course, I'm literally talking about a miracle in contradiction with modern sceptical reason. However, miraculousness can have much more superficial meaning which feeds and resurrects the poetry of ordinary life. Which matters do you still consider to be miraculous?

Ordinary day itself with its situations, moments, details, atmosphere is something what feeds and resurrects the poetry of ordinary day. And to be a poet means to see all this. To see the things, which are maybe not noticed by majority of people. Personally, I don't like a term "poetry of ordinary day". When I hear these collocations of words, I recall something second-rate, low-grade. And I think that many excellent writers also feel it like this. Anyway, I need to have that life in literature. Recently I have had the influenza, I could afford a book. I read Stanislav Štepka, Ten Commandments (and several more). I consider Radošina Naïve Theatre – Radošinské naivné divadlo or Theatre Traffic Light – Divadlo Semafor (Theatre Traffic Light was inspiration for Štepka) from times of its golden era (Suchý, Šlitr) to be those miraculous matters which you are asking for and which have survived. Humour, at heels of which walks the sorrow, has always been and still is a great inspiration for me. I still have all those treasures on old vinyl records... Sometimes I go to the cemetery in order to calm myself. One day I noticed mother and son at one of graves. Son was hardly a first-grader. Mother gave him the matches and two little lamps. Boy lit the little lamps. Wind blew the flames out. Boy lit the little lamps again. Wind blew the flames out again. Boy was alternately singing to himself and grumbling. After a while, mother began to pull the son from grave, it was time to go home. Boy gave mother an uncomprehending look. He burst into tears. Maybe this is also such miraculous moment of ordinary day and I could be a witness of it.

I understand the natural popularity of your poetry for many readers – it simply and comprehensibly expresses the paradoxical truths about life. Also therefore, poetry of emphasizing the details is closer to readers than to the professional critique. Although this kind of poetry is spread though crowds in greater extent than another one, poetry as a whole remains on the periphery of artistic and cultural interests, anyway. In what lie the causes and what could get the poetry out of this sad position?

Artistic and cultural interests were strongly supported before 1989, but at the same time they were subjected to cruel ideological control of the supporter. Maybe the poetry was at that time more crowds-oriented, too. It is generally known that dictatorship favours a word. Word has an importance, society, which is not free, can be kept together or disintegrated by word. In the normalization period of declared socialism in Czechoslovakia a word, which dictated, was already empty, but a word, which was heard in theatres, movies, humour or was written, brought a relief, therefore the reading was maybe more usual and life was generally more connected with culture. Solutions for today lie in good ideas of individuals and groups. There are some known cases of "ultradelicate" forcing the poetry upon population, for example at the bus stops and in public transport. I don't know whether someone has ever evaluated the efficiency of such timid poets "attack" on the crowds. I don't know whether a passenger who is not very interested in poetry, and in books generally, found the way to the library through this manner of poetry propagation. One thing is certain. Poetry has always been doing well on the periphery, when someone longs for it a lot, he will find it there.

Except poetry, you occasionally write the prose. It is said that quality authorial bilateralism is unusual: naturally, when someone is excellent at poetry, he doesn't have to be in prose and vice-versa. There are more reasons for that. In literary practice I observe many such cases myself; on the other hand, they are disproved by exemplary instances of multilateralism from the history of world literature. How do you perceive the authorial attempts trying to interfere into the wide-spectrum production? Why did you start to devote yourself also to the prose?

Some bards (for example Štefan Moravčík) asserted or assert that a good writer must know how to write everything. For example Vojtech Mihálik didn't allow a promising novice in poetry to get into the New Word until he proved him that he also knows a bound verse, possibly that he is able to write also so called "engagé" text conformed to the time. It is possible to polemize about the fact to what extent is a profession important for the overall result. This question was also opened by Jozef Urban in his "textbook" The Sorrows of Young Poet. However, trying of all sorts of things is in human nature. I also tried to write the reviews some time ago. Fortunately, I realized that they are only my lay views of a book, but a real review requires more. I don't dare to write a more extensive prose, either. I had been also waiting quite a long time before writing a short story. It is said that it's necessary to live through something for prose. I have maybe two tens of short stories and majority of them was published in newspapers, magazines and radio. I'm testing them in this way. I'm not in a hurry. Joy of writing does not leave me, but I'm writing less. I haven't written a poem for more than a year. Writing of a four-page short story lasts half of a year. And its "fine-tuning" takes another half of a year. For several next weeks, I have doubts about what I have written. Texts often end up in a bin. I would like to present myself with a book of these hardly created short stories on my fiftieth birthday.

We are somehow withdrawn before the world. The writers themselves carry too much on their shoulders, sometimes they go with a rucksack and sell own books. I'm glad that the translations are published, but it would be great if new names began to appear. It's good that an author abroad remains anonymous: if his text is really worth something, he can get ahead earlier than in our country where official circles determine its candidates. On the contrary, more popular author may not get a response there. It seems that publishers forget that they can profit from the licence contracts. Anyway, Slovak book market is with regard to the foreign one only a grain of sand in the desert. However, one exception has recently delighted me – it was a publication of Balco's King of the Sparrows (Vrabčí kráľ) in Polish. What does, in your opinion, prevent us from publishing in the magazines and from publishing the quality books abroad? What could be a solution?

The only barrier for getting ahead in any field should be only a low-quality "product". However, this is very simplified view corresponding to the ideal situation. Many factors come into play and these change ideal situation into the real one. I don't have a more general overview about translations of contemporary Slovak younger authors. Way to translations certainly goes also out of the official structures, but why not to try an institutional method first? Another way are personal contacts abroad and a generous sponsor. The best solution is to realize both ways simultaneously. But all these are only my theoretical considerations. I don't know so much about it. But I know that you are smoothing the path and that you have already succeeded in something. By the way, I would like to thank you – publicly – for the possibility to publish my poems in Polish. Apropos, mister Balco. His Sorcerer (Strigôň) is unforgettably charming. And I also read The Devil's Trophy (Diablova trofej) with taste.

Reading of world literature uplifts the spirit, it gives an overview to the author himself, what he can afford and what he can't. He can, in this way, pick up on certain trends, come up with something new, but at the same time, reading places him into a problematic situation: how is it possible to surpass by original fiction the works which are so strong that they can be only genuinely admired? Not only for this, there are great authorial doubts accompanying the writing and they lead the wise men to humility. How do you see the future of Slovak literature in the context of a world one?

There have always been discussions and doubts about Slovak literature in many different contexts – better said since Slovak literature has been alive. For example a question of Štefan Krčméry (writer, literary historian and critic) on the basis of which one of the surveys in the Revue of Contemporary Culture was started some time ago: "What do you think, does our post-revolutionary literature offer us something cheering?" At that time I answered to the intent that there is no other literature in our country, except for post-revolutionary one. Because there was such tradition in our place that pre-revolutionary literature was sometimes also a post-revolutionary one. After all, I have already lived anywhere for less than half of a century and at the same time I haven't almost left the hometown (Czechoslovak Republic – of course I don't think the 1st Czechoslovak Republic, but democratic people's republic which lasted to 1960; Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, Slovak Socialist Republic, Czech and Slovak Federative Republic, Slovak Republic). But seriously. Slovakia has its great names and happy periods which favoured the literature. The future of Slovak literature in the context of a world one will mainly be the future of a small nation's literature. However, I think that the literature of nations – former Soviet satellites, could be interesting for the western world. We have experience, unknown for this world, maybe with the exception of Spain and Portugal, until we stay in Europe and until we ignore the colours. Generation, which was so charmingly named by one letter of Cyrillic alphabet by Viliam Klimáček, could be a challenge. And maybe not, it is quite possible, too. Time factor is merciless and more or less it is connected with literary themes regardless of the timelessness that should be a matter of fact in a good literature. Almost so much time passed from the end of the Cold War in Europe as from the foundation of 1st Czechoslovak Republic to its first dissolution. But on the other hand, we have some young literary predators here not burdened with the normalization past, however marked with the present.

Radovan Brenkus thanked for the interview