Categories
Review

Decoding Foreign Dreams

Book Review of A Dictionary Of Foreign Dreams by Slovakian Poet Pavol Janik by Sarita Jenamani

Fall of Berlin Wall thirty years ago had marked the end of an era in the European history: the division between capitalist West and the satellite states of Russia, that is, the East Europe. The cold war and the iron curtain had pushed the entire East Europe into obscurity. On both sides of this divided world narratives of East vs West were quite black and white, however, still a number of writers from East Europe like Milan Kundera, Bruno Schulz, Bohumil Hrabal, Danilo Kiš, Ismail Kadaré, Nobel Lauret Herta Müller, Ágota Kristóf, László Krasznahorkai, Czesław Miłosz, Zbigniew Herbert had secured their place in the world literature, but unfortunately voices of many poets and their work still remain hidden from Anglophone readership.

Apart from its marvelous creative innovations, literature of this period is significant also because it provides a parallel and more insightful perspective on the politico-cultural landscape of the twentieth-century Europe.  This part of the world, the so-called East-European region, is, however, more of a psycho-geographical concept and an imagined construct of the cold war. It represents a peculiar constellation of micro-regions, an amazing amalgamation of cultures, languages and tradition that are highly different from each other.  

Slovakia, among the West Slavic group of nations, is the least-known country and this holds also true of its poetry. The reasons are mainly historical. The Slovak nation dates its establishment to the ninth-century Moravian Empire that included the territory of the former Czechoslovakia, southern Poland, parts of Austria, and parts of Hungary. In tenth century, the Moravian Empire was defeated by the Magyars (the Hungarians), and Slovakia became a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, afterwards it was a part of the Austrian Empire and in the wake of the Second World War it went under the influence of USSR.

The Modern Period of Slovakian literature has been shaped on one hand by the increasing influence of foreign literary trends, well as by the ideological influence of the former Soviet Union. However, you can find here, as in many parts of the East Europe, a place of unexpected cosmopolitanism that lies buried away from the view of Anglophone readership.

Slovakian poet, dramatist, prose writer, translator, publicist Pavol Janik is a typical example of this phenomenon, a wonderful voice from the little country Slovakia who seems to find its place beyond its border.

His book The Dictionary of Foreign Dreams is a collection of his poems in English translation. This poetry speaks of ordinary and mundane with an extraordinary poetic twist. It has a strong sense of regionalism yet at the same time it appeals to the readers who are not familiar to it. The opening poem of the book: ‘I am carrying you, morning’ written in 1975 paints a perfect landscape of desperation and hope.

Behind the horizon the light is spraying.

The sky trembles like a tear.

The winged summer wilts.

Through the algae’s lonesome dew slides.

.

Trees hold empty nests in their hands.

I quietly sing birds psalms.

In the empty night, empty star is falling.

Empty gaze of water is still cloudy.

.

I read an exclamation of silence

and drink the morning blood stream aloud.

The morning is taking deep breaths.

The peculiar phenomenon of the East European confusion of identities that somehow binds these countries is also reflected in the lines of his poem, ‘The report from the end of the cold war’.

How much is the Czechoslovak crown worth here

in the capital of the ugliest women in the world

where the only chance for survivor

is your photograph?

.

An English poet,

who thinks that Bratislava is in Yugoslavia,

but knows that Dubcek lives there,

is only interested if Havel is free.

His rhymes, inspired by London and by other such European cities written about the size and dimensions of his desk could as well stayed on his noble table. He seems to be a poet who is gifted with the talent of or propensity to getting extraordinary poetic experience from ordinary things. Putting in other words, his is poetry concerned with enlivening the ordinary. Existential notions of nothingness and authenticity are explored here as they pertain to a poetics of the mundane. His poem ‘Bad Habit’ provides a telling proof of this tendency.

Every day

I go to work

for my wife, Olga,

so she has enough for shopping.

.

I must make an effort.

The weekend approaches

and the children would like to eat on Sunday.

We still have not succeeded

in breaking this bad habit.

.

The poem ‘At the table’ portrays this phenomenon in a different way.

.

An infirmary of flowers of the field

in a vase.

So many of the white

that the blood inside our veins stiffens.

.

Thus we wither together

torn away from

life.

Some of Pavol’s poems are written with the acumen and approach of a cinematographer. Pavol, a dramatist, a keen observer, purposefully juxtaposes images and here a combination of theater language and specialized reading experience is made accessible in an adroit fashion that takes his poetry to new level of specificity and concentration; the subject fades away, allowing the poetic record to speak on its behalf. As the poem “summer” shows us:

The sun smashes our windows.

An urgent song reaches us from the street.

.

On the cellophane sky

steam condenses.

Unconfirmed reports are reproduced

about the wind.

.

The trees are the first to begin to talk

about the two of us.

At times the poet appears to be offering life in a way that is combined with humor and the self-irony: humorously, his poetry asks questions about the dark unspoken conditions that rule our world – a world where we knowingly or unknowingly follow the set rules without asking their relevance and this is a juncture where a writer should make his/her readers aware of this uncanny game. In his poem “New York” he writes:

Where does the empire of glass and marble reach?

Where do the slim rackets of the skyscrapers aim?

.

God buys a hot dog

at the bottom of a sixty-storey street.

.

God is a black

and loves the grey colour of concrete.

.

His son was born from himself

in a paper box

from the newest sort of slave.

Pavol Janik is a widely published poet whose literary works have been published not only in home country, Slovakia, but also in a number of other countries, and it is indeed solacing to know that such powerful voices are not getting lost behind an imagined iron curtain but finding their due space in global literary field.  

The poem that gives the books its title ‘A Dictionary Of Foreign Dreams’ opens up with a dream as well as with a little sense of confusion over the vastness of this globe.

At the beginning it was like a dream.

She said:

“Have at least one dream with me.

You’ll see – it’ll be a dream

which you’ve never dreamt about before.”

.

Descend deeper with me,

dream from the back,

dream retrospectively

in a labyrinth of mirrors

which leads nowhere.

 A Dictionary Of Foreign Dreams is a wonderful poetry collection that not only provides you a sneek peek of Pavol Janik’s poetry in particular and Slovakian poetry in general but also leaves you craving for more such poetry.

Sarita Jenamani is a poet of Indian origin based in Austria, a literary translator, anthologist, and editor of a bilingual magazine for migrant literature – Words & Worlds – a human rights activist, a feminist and general secretary of PEN International’s Austrian chapter. She has three collections of poetry. She writes in English, Odia and translates to and from German. Sarita translated Rose Ausländer, a leading Austrian poet, and an anthology of contemporary Austrian Poetry from German into Hindi and Odia. She has received many literary fellowships in Germany and in Austria including those of the prestigious organizations of ‘Heinrich Böll Foundation’ and ‘Künstlerdorf Schöppingen’.  She studied Economics and Management Studies in India and Austria where she works as a marketing manager.

Categories
Poetry

New York & more…

Poems by Pavol Janik, a virtusoso of Slovak Literature

(translated by James Sutherland Smith)

PAVOL JANIK | VIRTUOSO OF SLOVAK LITERATURE 


NEW YORK 


In a horizontal mirror
of the straightened bay
the points of an angular city
stabbing directly into the starry sky.

In the glittering sea of lamps
flirtatious flitting boats
tremble marvelously
on your agitated legs
swimming in the lower deck
of a brocade evening dress.

Suddenly we are missing persons
like needles in a labyrinth of tinfoil.

Some things we take personally –
stretch limousines,
moulting squirrels in Central Park
and the metal body of dead freedom.

In New York most of all it’s getting dark.

The glittering darkness lights up.

The thousand-armed luster of the mega city
writes Einstein’s message about the speed of light
every evening on the gleaming surface of the water.

And again before the dusk the silver screen
of the New York sky floods
with hectoliters of Hollywood blood.

Where does the empire of glass and marble reach?
Where do the slim rackets of the skyscrapers aim?

God buys a hot dog
at the bottom of a sixty-storey street.

God is a black
and loves the grey color of concrete.

His son was born from himself
in a paper box
from the newest sort of slave.


A DICTIONARY OF FOREIGN DREAMS


At the beginning it was like a dream.
She said:
“Have at least one dream with me.
You’ll see – it’ll be a dream
which you’ve never dreamt about before.”

Descend deeper with me,
dream from the back,
dream retrospectively
in a labyrinth of mirrors
which leads nowhere.

The moment you come to the beginning of nothing
you’ll dream an exciting dream.

Frame it
and hang it in your bedroom.

So it will always be before your eyes
because a dream which is removed from the eye
is removed from the mind
in the sense
of the ancient laws
of human forgetfulness.

Dream your own.

Dream your dream
which is reflected on the surface 
of a frozen lake.
A dream smooth and freezing:

Grieving keys,
a downcast forest,
curved glass.
The tributes of mirrors.

The rising of the moon
in a dream of water.

Recoil from the bottom
of the mirror’s dream.

In the gallery of dreams
then you’ll see
a live broadcast from childhood
fragments of long-forgotten stories.

Because our obsolete dreams
remain with us.

Don’t be in a hurry, dream slowly, completely
until you see the crystalline construction
of your soul
in which dreams glitter.
- intentionally and comprehensibly like flame.

Perhaps you’ve already noticed
that new dreams always decrease.
They wane.

Soon we’ll light up
in the magical dusk
of the last dream
the despairing cry
of a starry night.

Pay a toll to the dream’s
deliverance from sense.

You repeat aloud
the intimacies of secret dreams,
with the dull gleam
of your persistent night eyes
you explicate a mysterious speech of darkness.

You dream, therefore you exist!


UNSENT TELEGRAM


Inside me a little bit of
a blue Christmas begins.
In the hotel room it’s snowing
a misty scent – of your
endlessly distant perfume.
We’re declining bodily
while in us the price
of night calls rises,
waves of private earth tremors
and the limits of an ocean of blood
on the curve of a lonely coast.

*New York has been translated to 21 languages

PAVOL JANIK | VIRTUOSO OF SLOVAK LITERATURE 


NEW YORK 


In a horizontal mirror
of the straightened bay
the points of an angular city
stabbing directly into the starry sky.

In the glittering sea of lamps
flirtatious flitting boats
tremble marvelously
on your agitated legs
swimming in the lower deck
of a brocade evening dress.

Suddenly we are missing persons
like needles in a labyrinth of tinfoil.

Some things we take personally –
stretch limousines,
moulting squirrels in Central Park
and the metal body of dead freedom.

In New York most of all it’s getting dark.

The glittering darkness lights up.

The thousand-armed luster of the mega city
writes Einstein’s message about the speed of light
every evening on the gleaming surface of the water.

And again before the dusk the silver screen
of the New York sky floods
with hectoliters of Hollywood blood.

Where does the empire of glass and marble reach?
Where do the slim rackets of the skyscrapers aim?

God buys a hot dog
at the bottom of a sixty-storey street.

God is a black
and loves the grey color of concrete.

His son was born from himself
in a paper box
from the newest sort of slave.


A DICTIONARY OF FOREIGN DREAMS


At the beginning it was like a dream.
She said:
“Have at least one dream with me.
You’ll see – it’ll be a dream
which you’ve never dreamt about before.”

Descend deeper with me,
dream from the back,
dream retrospectively
in a labyrinth of mirrors
which leads nowhere.

The moment you come to the beginning of nothing
you’ll dream an exciting dream.

Frame it
and hang it in your bedroom.

So it will always be before your eyes
because a dream which is removed from the eye
is removed from the mind
in the sense
of the ancient laws
of human forgetfulness.

Dream your own.

Dream your dream
which is reflected on the surface 
of a frozen lake.
A dream smooth and freezing:

Grieving keys,
a downcast forest,
curved glass.
The tributes of mirrors.

The rising of the moon
in a dream of water.

Recoil from the bottom
of the mirror’s dream.

In the gallery of dreams
then you’ll see
a live broadcast from childhood
fragments of long-forgotten stories.

Because our obsolete dreams
remain with us.

Don’t be in a hurry, dream slowly, completely
until you see the crystalline construction
of your soul
in which dreams glitter.
- intentionally and comprehensibly like flame.

Perhaps you’ve already noticed
that new dreams always decrease.
They wane.

Soon we’ll light up
in the magical dusk
of the last dream
the despairing cry
of a starry night.

Pay a toll to the dream’s
deliverance from sense.

You repeat aloud
the intimacies of secret dreams,
with the dull gleam
of your persistent night eyes
you explicate a mysterious speech of darkness.

You dream, therefore you exist!


UNSENT TELEGRAM


Inside me a little bit of
a blue Christmas begins.
In the hotel room it’s snowing
a misty scent – of your
endlessly distant perfume.
We’re declining bodily
while in us the price
of night calls rises,
waves of private earth tremors
and the limits of an ocean of blood
on the curve of a lonely coast.

All these poems are excerpted from his book, A Dictionary Of Foreign Dreams

Mgr. art. Pavol Janik, PhD., (magister artis et philosophiae doctor) was born in 1956 in Bratislava, where he also studied film and television dramaturgy and scriptwriting at the Drama Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts (VSMU). He has worked at the Ministry of Culture (1983–1987), in the media and in advertising. President of the Slovak Writers’ Society (2003–2007), Secretary-General of the SWS (1998–2003, 2007–2013), Editor-in-Chief of the literary weekly of the SWS Literarny tyzdennik (2010–2013). Honorary Member of the Union of Czech Writers (from 2000), Member of the Editorial Board of the weekly of the UCW Obrys-Kmen (2004–2014), Member of the Editorial Board of the weekly of the UCW Literatura – Umeni – Kultura (from 2014). Member of the Writers Club International (from 2004). Member of the Poetas del Mundo (from 2015). Member of the World Poets Society (from 2016). Director of the Writers Capital International Foundation for Slovakia and the Czech Republic (2016–2017). Chief Representative of the World Nation Writers’ Union in Slovakia (from 2016). Ambassador of the Worldwide Peace Organization (Organizacion Para la Paz Mundial) in Slovakia (from 2018). Member of the Board of the International Writers Association (IWA BOGDANI) (from 2019). He has received a number of awards for his literary and advertising work both in his own country and abroad.

Pavol Janik’s literary works have been published not only in Slovakia, but also in Albania, Argentina, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Nepal, Pakistan, Poland,  the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Romania, the Russian Federation, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, the United States of America and Venezuela.

James Smith Sutherland is a writer, critic, poet and translator.