Bronislava Volková, Clarice Cloutier - Up the Devil Back | Po hřbetě ďábla
A common complaint, both within as well as outside of the Czech Republic, is that there is never enough of translations of Czech literature into world languages. While many other European, and other small countries officially found and support their own translation centers, supplying their translators with both room and board while that or other project of professionally translating a work of home literature into a foreign language is being finished, politically extremely busy Czech government has not, during the last twenty years, seen a necessity of establishing such a center.
Thus it is of a great importance, and a great joy, indeed, whenever a compilation of Czech writing appears in any other language for information, as well as enjoyment, of foreign readers interested in this or that other culture.
To be frank, it takes an enormous deal of personal courage to undertake a project such as either a history or anthology of one´s own literature. The landscape of any literature is vast, a number of decisions has to be made before one begins the task. It is necessary to ask: how far into the history am I to go? What traditions/trends of this or that period of literary history to include? What, if any, typological sorting of the material I have to make?
Of course, a number of anthologies of Czech writings have appeared since 1989, the year The Berlin Wall´s demise opened the door to specifically Czechoslovak/Czech November 17th. However, those that would include erudite English translations for English - speaking reader remain precious few. Two immediately come to mind: C. J. Hříbal´s "THE BOUNDERIES OF TWILIGHT", Czecho- Slovak Writings from the New World (Many Minnesotas Project No. 6, New Rivers Press 1991), and "THE TASTE OF A LOST HOMELAND - CHUŤ ZTRACENÉHO DOMOVA", compiled and edited by Vera Borkovec, A Bilingual Anthology Of Czech and Slovak Exile Poetry Written in America (Published by the Czechoslovak Society Of Arts and Sciences /SVU/ 2002).
While both editors of these two anthologies, C. J. Hříbal and Věra Bořkovec, exhibited a terrific courage in compiling their anthologies (Hribal´s book mixes both poetry and prose, includes even photography, Borkovec ´s sticks strictly with poetry but includes both Czech & Slovak authors, although the Czech Republic´s and Slovakia´s parting, by mutually consented "velvet divorce" happened way back in 1992), both limited their scope to the Czech literature in exile, i. e. written mostly outside the borders of the country, former Czechoslovakia, or countries, Czech and Slovak Republics (since 1993).
The latest anthology "UP THE DEVIL´S BACK" compiled and translated by Bronislava Volková and Clarice Cloutier goes farther. Due to the political impoverishment of former Czecholovakia by agreeing with, its former Eastern part - Slovakia´s, long longed-for independence, Volková and Cloutier were able to concentrate on the Czech writers exclusively. But they exhibited even greater courage, when they decided to chuck out the hitherto comfortable, albeit artificial, division between Czech poetry written "domestically" and that written "in exile", or, in more current terms "abroad". I do not intend to dwell overly on the term "exile" here, I would be merely opening a can of worms: exile, as such, can be either physical, or internal. A person may be living in his or her native country and spend a life in inner exile, while another person, a refugee, many spend his or her life abroad, and, spiritually, never leave the home country. As I said, let us not go into this here... a whole body of literature, studies, books et cetera exist today on the subject.
Bronislava Volková and Clarice Cloutier took a look at the Czech poetry today, set up limits, and created thirteen categories: Beginning with the middle of the nineteenth century and Czech poet Antonín Sova (1864-1928), they scanned the highlights of different phases of modern Czech poetry developments and went to work, thus opening the riches, and the marvels, of contemporary Czech poetry to any either Czech or English-speaking interested reader all the way to contemporary Martin Reiner (born 1964). Every and each of other sixty three poets you meet in this book is interesting in his or her own way. These are editors categories: Turning the Century. Ancestors of the Avant- Garde. Poetists, Surrealists and Beyond. Philosophical Lyricists. Catholic Poets. Group 42. Poetry under Pressure. Makers of irony and Futility. Four generations of Prison Poets. Poetry Crosses the Border. Poetry Crosses the Ocean. Generation 68 at Home. Echoing the Century.
Going back to my admiration for the editor´s courage: being into certain extent familiar with the length and breadth of the subject called "Czech poetry", I fully appreciate the efforts that went into this latest Slavica venture. The landscape of Czech poetry is very wide, indeed. How to, out of so many deserving authors, choose merely a handful to represent this or that period of Czech poetry in the book? A very, extremely, difficult, and, of course, dangerous, task... Based on my former experience with the projects of this kind, there, understandably, outcries will be raised, should this or that reader not find his or her favorite Czech poet represented. For myself, I would, perhaps, include Karel Kryl (1944-1994), today, in opinion of many, the greatest poet of generation of Czech poets born during WW II years. (My pain in this respect is somehow lessened since I am currently at work on my own book "KRYL", due out, by samizdat, in two months, only in Czech, though.) However, with an undertaking of this sort, the necessary limits come with the territory, perhaps, with the possibilities that are opened today with internet, some HOUSE OF CZECH POETRY will be opened on-line, and - with a boundless electronic space at creators’ disposal, ALL Czech poets of merit will be included. Volkova’s and Cloutier´s work is merely a book, a material object that is handled, carried, picked up or laid down at reader’s pleasure and convenience. This is to be understood. It is a tremendous work.
The Dedication reads: "This volume is dedicated to those who will be moved by these verses". This bilingual anthology is a walk through the garden of Czech poetry. Of course, it will serve well as a compass to both teachers as well as students of Czech literature both in the Czech Republic and abroad as it provides a springboard from with instructors or students may continue researching other Czech poetry on their own. But, for a regular lover is Czech poetry anywhere, this Slavica volume is a veritable walk through a garden of delights.
With Afterword by Alfred Thomas, University of Illinois, Chicago
Available throug www.slavica.com or Amazon Books.Jiřina Fuchsová
...is a Czech poet, former
Lecturer in Czech Language,
Literature and History at Loyola
Marymount University in Los
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