by Dr. Ján Gavura
In the period from 1945 to 1948 Slovak poetry witnessed a return to the poetic works of the interwar years and prolongation of literary trends dominant in the 1930s. A significant degree of continuity may be observed in relation to spiritual poetry. Books are published mainly by authors of the second wave of the so-called Catholic Moderna; some of them wrote their best works at that time. Janko Silan wrote Piesne zo Ždiaru (Songs from Ždiar,1947) and Úbohá duša na zemi (The Poor Soul Upon Earth, 1948), and Svetloslav Veigl wrote his book Láska smrť (Love, the Death, 1946). Furthermore a third wave of the Catholic Moderna developed in a promising way, represented by Vojtech Mihalik and his collection Anjeli (Angels, 1947) as well as by Viliam Turcany, his junior by two years. Some poets of Catholic Moderna movement emigrated (Rudolf Dilong, Nicholas Sprinc, later even some others) because they were scared of retribution of new Soviet and Czechoslovak power. More remarkable change can be observed in the works of the most compact avante garde group of poets – the Suprarealists. The poetics of fantasy and experimentation had been examined heavily during the critical war years, revealing that behind the rich imagery a relatively superficial and simplified vision of the world incapable of principal reflexion was hidden in the works of several suprarealist poets. In reference to this, M Hamada speaks about the crisis of suprarealism. The most distinguished figures of this avante garde stream, however, did not get lost – R Fabry’s poetic composition Ja je niekto iný (I Is Someone Else, 1946) and Pavel Buncak’s collection S tebou a sám (With You and Alone, 1946) rank among the most inspiring poetic works of that time.
The events of the Second World War, the crisis of humanity and critical situations of existence posed pressing questions to the artists who tried to give answers through their verse. Many poems became a direct response to what happened, indeed topics of war could be found in poetry as early as the 1930s when poets perceived the threat of worldwide conflict. All the leading poets reacted to the war and all of them, without exception, opposed it. Among the first was Emil Boleslav Lukac, who expressed concern at the growth of fascism in Europe as early as in 1934 in his collection Elixír. Later Laco Novomesky, writing his volume Svätý za dedinou (Saint Behind the Village, 1939) also included poems dealing with the Spanish antifascist resistance. The topic of war was dealt with in further works by Lukac in his collections Moloch (1938) and Bábel (1944) and by Novomesky in the collection of poems Pašovanou ceruzkou (With Smuggled Pencil, published in 1948), which was written during his imprisonment in 1940-1941. Similarly Valentin Beniak reacted to the war threats and particular war events in his books from the end of the 1930s, and later with a broader concept in the poems Žofia (Sophie, 1941) and Popolec (Ash Wednesday, 1942). Among the key antiwar collections also rank the books Hostina (Feast, 1944) and Studňa (Well, 1945) written by Jan Smrek, the main figure of Slovak poetic and cultural life since the 1920s.
The Second World War remained the central topic of Slovak poetry long after 1945 (in drama it preserved its leading role until well into the 1970s). This may be accounted for by reference to the political usage of the outcome of the war, in which a central role was accorded to the liberation of the country by the Soviet Red Army. After the political takeover in February 1948, which turned democratic Czechoslovakia into a totalitarian state with a one-party (communist) system, the political impact on literature was complete. The activities of artists during the existence of so called Slovak State (1939-1945) started to be examined, and their involvement in political and cultural institutions, their loyalty to the rules followed by the fascist Slovak government were reviewed. Official doctrine of the newly-constituted government derived from the materialistic philosophy of Marxism started to create a uniform plural foundation of Slovak culture. Journals and publishing houses of religious and spiritual literature were closed as well as the cultural tribunes supporting the democratic wing of the Slovak population. Within a year two thirds of existing periodicals had been banned.
Politisation of culture was followed by totalitarian rule. This was foreseen by artists who tried to escape it by making compromises which would still leave them with the freedom to create art works (Manifesto of Socialist Humanism, 1948). Their gesture, however, was refused as insufficient and the prevailing cultural policy required a total implementation of certain criteria. The word ‘truth’ was defined in a more precise way as ‘the party truth’, demonstrating that the values and interpretation of phenomena was measured by the criteria of political utilitarianism. Such a political dictate to the cultural activities of artists led to the loss of plurality as well as to topical uniformity (in poetry agitation lyrics, posterity and pathos), a vulgar simplification of style, a black and white vision of the world and utopian visions presented as reality. The period between 1949 and 1955, also called a period of schematism, produced poetry celebrating the transformation of Slovak society, the building up of a new country and the transformation of man. The presentation of time had uniform attributs, the past was dark, the present was hard and subordinated to the fight for better tomorrow, which it was said ironically ‘had not arrived yet’. Among the authors representing this schematic poetry were Milan Lajciak, whose collection Súdružka moja zem (Comrade, My Land, 1949) was considered an example of socialist poetry, Ctibor Stitnicky, Milan Ferko and other poets who had created successful poetry in the preceding years or decades such as Vojtech Mihalik, Andrej Plavka, Jan Kostra, Pavol Gasparovic Hlbina and Vladimir Reisel.
A qualitative change came after the death of Stalin (1953) and the collapse of the cult of personality (1956). Until then Slovak literature had been mired in a crisis unlike any other in the 20th century. In these dark years poets were allowed to publish only works which accorded with strict cultural and political directives; some of them remained silent willingly, while the silence of others was enforced. Several cultural representatives or artists were imprisoned following artificial political processes (the most famous being the process involving the so-called ‘bourgeois nationalists’ of 1954 where several leading artists including Ladislav Novomesky and Ivan Horvath were sentenced to imprisonment), while in the so-called ‘monster processes’ many members of the artistic intelligentsia (including Vladimir Clementis) were even sentenced to death and executed.
The first remarkable talents of the latter part of the 1950s were those of poets Milan Rufus and Miroslav Valek. Both entered literature relatively late, intentionally avoiding the vulgar schematic years. The first collection by Milan Rufus, entitled Až dozrieme (When We Mature, 1956) resumes the Symbolist line of Slovak poetry with sorrow as its basic tonality, the tragic feeling and return to private and intimate expression. Rufus from the very beginning introduced himself as a poet of lasting human and artistic values that did not change in his subsequent output which amounted to over 20 books of verse in the years 1956-2008, including Zvony (The Bells, 1968), Chlapec maľuje dúhu (A Boy Paints the Rainbow, 1974), Prísny chlieb (Severe Bread, 1987), Čítanie z údelu (Reading From Fate, 1996) and Vernosť (Faithfulness, 2007).
A more dynamic change was brought to Slovak poetry by Miroslav Valek, who carried on modernisng trends of the national and foreign avante garde. The centre of Valek´s poetry was the image of man as a creature with a private as well as social life, a human being giving love as well as losing it. Even though the anthropocentric character is typical of art, the poetic vision of man by Valek has an almost metaphysical validity. In this anthropology man is a unique creature, as well as part of a larger whole within the history of the world. His formal expression is unique, marked in early collections (Dotyky, Touches,1959 and Príťažlivosť, Attractions, 1961) by civil language, dynamic metaphor and irony, and in later collections (Nepokoj, Unrest, 1963 and mainly Milovanie v husej koži, Making Love in Goose Flesh, 1965) by disillusion, sarcasm and even cynicism. According to Valek, a poem has to originate from an idea and the poem carries the meaning as a whole. Válek introduced himself as a poet of a thinker’s calibre (‘an analyst and a synthetist in one person’, E Jencikova) and a suggestive poetic image. Together with Miroslav Valek and Milan Rufus, other authors contributed in a positive way to the development of Slovak poetry. One of them was Viliam Turcany with his late debut Jarky v kraji (Ditches in the Country, 1957), in which he brings back idyllic poetry and enchantment with a classical form.
The decisive moment at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s was the arrival of a strong poetic group, the so called Trnava Group, also known as the Concretists, made up of Jan Stacho, Jan Ondrus, Jozef Mihalkovic, Lubomir Feldek and later also Jan Simonovic. Their position in Slovak poetry was so strong at the beginning of 1960s that the subsequent generation of poets entering literature a few years later felt the necessity to annul the poetry of the Concretists, to get rid of its impact. The poetry of the Concretists was based on sensual concreteness and ‘concrete memory’ (it was from this that the name of the group was derived), which got into poetry through sound and picture motives, through evocation of childhood and direct experience. Metaphor was lifted up (‘metaphor will save the world’, L Feldek), metaphor was able to enchant through its imaginative character and meaningful interpretation. The inclination to sensual phenomena rather than current happening marked efforts to avoid the political requirements of the official cultural doctrine.
Despite a joint appearance (in 1958), this poetic group comprised strong individuals who in the end parted company in their artistic programme. Jan Ondrus was the first to acquire a strong personal profile in the group; he aroused interest through his poems published in the latter part of the 1950s. However, a publishing house refused to release his debut work and his first book was only published some years later, this was the collection Šialený mesiac (Crazy Moon, 1965), considered one of the most remarkable books of the decade (Milan Hamada). Ondrus accentuated crisis in human communication, isolation and necessity of the human touch (literally). Images of human vulnerability, motives of pain and impaired integrity were interpreted in an unchangeable poetic manuscript based on ‘dislocation’ of worlds (inventive word collocations based on new syntactic links) and on subject-vs-object exchange, where the author was the ‘fictitious co-subject’ to himself (F Matejov). His favourite topics were developed in longer poetic works as well, eg Posunok s kvetom (Gesture With a Flower, 1968), V stave žlče (In a State of Gall, 1968) či Kľak (Genuflection, 1970).
Another important poetic figure who attracted attention at the beginning of the 1960s was the poet and concretist Jan Stacho. He brought suggestive metaphor to poetry, derived from a unique human experience rich in sensual impulse or stimulus (the field of erotics and bodiness), which he evoked through lively images and associations understandable in suprasensual (non-verbal) reception. Gradually in his poetry, vertical, almost baroque relationships between man and the world are deepened, man is aware not only of his intense experience on the Earth, but also of the duality of deeds in another, spiritual dimension. Ecstatic poems about corporeal intoxication (the collection Svadobná cesta, Honeymoon, 1961) changed to poems about unfulfilled man and the unfullfillment of man (Dvojramenné čisté telo, Two Arms Of A Clean Body, 1964) and the search for harmony which however is not to be found. Neither does the ‘word’, which used to be a reliable guide in the first books, bring the much sought-after solution to tiredness, depression and the threat of death (the collections Zážehy, Ignition, 1967 and Apokryfy, Apocryphs, 1969). Jozef Mihalkovic was the third concretist poet whose poetry derived from the epic movement of the story, the parable of a human life, in which he often links the present time with the past (topics of childhood and memory). Intensely deep experience overtakes the words and can only be described by a fitting metaphor rich in associations (Ľútosť, Pity, 1962 and Zimoviská, Winter Dwellings, 1965). The antithesis to Mihalkovic and his restrained statement is the poetry of Lubomir Feldek, even though both share some topics (the family, the role of the male). Feldek resumes the avante garde playfulness which is a constant part of his poetics. Childrens’ perceptions without limits are regarded by him as the fundamental mode of viewing. Writing books for children becomes for Feldek as important as writing books for adults.
The reaction to the poetry of the Concretists was extremely rich. Several distinguished poetic figures entered into a dialogue with this poetry and accepted some of its motives which were close to them, eg Jan Simonovic, Stefan Strazay and Lydia Vadkerti-Gavornikova. Others, such as Jan Buzassy, tried to stand apart from it. Vadkerti Gavornikova in her poetry managed to link the magic motives of folklore, personal experience and rational judgement in an excellent way. Poems in which often a lyrical pole of a song is interwoven with epic poetry are based on the confrontation of an individual with the role of man or, in the case of Gavorníkova, a woman. Everyday as well as unique situations in which a woman (a mother, a daughter, a wife) is described with precise and expressive language, quite often combined with a functional usage of proverbs and other phrasal expressions (the collections Pohromnice, Candlemasstide, 1965, Totožnosť, Identity, 1970, Kolovrátok, The Spinning Wheel, 1973; Piesočná pieseň, The Sandy Song, 1977 and Víno, Wine, 1982). Active usage of phrasal expressions in poetic language is also found in the poetry of J Buzassy. From his introductory collection Hra s nožmi (Game With Knives, 1965), Buzassy writes poems full of inner contradictions which he tries to align. In his first book we can feel the tension between the individual and society, the search for incorporation into a greater whole (in the background the controversy of the socialist idea of collectivism can be felt), which is in following books substituted by contradictions between body and soul, between those who are and those who live (Škola kynická, School of Cynics, 1966), and between passion and chastity (Nausikaá, Nausicaa, 1970).
At the end of the 1960s another influential group of poets entered Slovak literature. The name of the group was derived from a famous story by A Sillitoe, Lonely Runners (‘Osamelí bežci’). Three authors Ivan Strpka, Ivan Laucik and Peter Repka presented their poetry as common manifestoes in journals, where they refused poetry stripped of ethics as well as political orders in creative writing. All three of them managed to publish two books in the free atmosphere of the 1960s and after the political change in 1970 the group became unwanted (Ivan Strpka published the collections Krátke detstvo kopijníkov, The Short Childhood, 1969 and Trista tára, ‘Trista Tells Lies, 1971; the Ivan Laucik collections Pohybliví v pohyblivom, Moving in Movement, 1968 and Sme príbuzní na začiatku, We Are Relatives, 1970; and the Peter Repka collection Sliepka v katedrále, Hen In the Cathedral, 1969 and book of reports Vstaň a choď, Stand Up and Go, 1970, censorsed, banned and ordered to be destroyed).
Interest in the group revived at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, when new directions in Post-Communist Czechoslovakia (since 1993 an independent Slovakia) were being sought.
Despite new trends and the rise in the Slovak poetry during the 1960s, official literature was still represented by authors who, with more or less alterations, resumed the traditions of socialist realism. A look back at the 1950s brought certain reflections and it was admitted that ‘in the process of seeking some mistakes were made”, but at the same time it was added that ‘for the main direction of development these were not vital in any way’ (statement from 1962). The picture of Slovak poetry in the 1960s was very rich, one pole being represented by authors following some rules of modernised socialist realism, together with a group of authors who brought several innovations in this area (V Mihalik, J Kostra, P Horov). Slovak poetry was further enriched by a great number of other authors who entered poetry with a special programme. A great contribution was made by Mikulas Kovac and his absence of conventionalism (the collections Obrana stavebnice, Defence of Building Set, 1963, O modrej labuti, The Blue Swan, 1966), by Ivan Kupec and his anti-utopia (Mahonai, 1964 and Vyzliekanie z hnevov, Taking Off Anger, 1965), by Jozef Mokos and his ability to describe the anxiety of an individual in the world of the atomic threat (Praskanie krvi, Blood Switch, 1962), by Stefan Moravcik and his chasing the word, creating puns, world play and ubiquitous erotic inspiration (Slávnosti baránkov, The Festivals of Lambs, 1969 and O veľkej zmyselnosti bielych ovečiek, On the Great Sensuality of White Sheep, 1970), by Stefan Strazay and his minimalist poetry with great suggestive power (Veciam na stole, Things on the Table, 1966), by Kamil Peteraj and his new objective concept of thought (Sad zimných vtákov, Orchard of Winter Birds, 1965, and Čas violy, The Time of Violin, 1966), by Marian Kovacik and his sagacity (Súradnice, Co-ordinates, 1963), and by Tomas Janovic in his gnomic anecdotes (Epigramatika, Epigrammar, 1962).
The 1960s were also years of returning poets who were not allowed to publish because of strict party bans, or whose silence may be attributed to other reasons. Among the most prominent returns was Laco Novomesky who he published three collections – Vila Tereza (Villa Theresa, 1963), Do mesta tridsať minút (Thirty Minutes to Town, also 1963) and especially the book of verse Stamodtiaľ a iné (From There and Others, 1964), based on the author´s personal experience of communist imprisonment in the years 1951-1955. Other leading figures of interwar literature, such as Jan Smrek, Janko Silan, Emil Boleslav Lukac, Masa Halamova, Pavel Buncak and Rudolf Fabry, also made a positive return during this period.
Books of everlasting value which were written in this period by Miroslav Valek, Jan Ondrus and other concretists, and especially by Milan Rufus, whose collections Zvony (The Bells, 1968) and Triptych (1969) offered a pressing analysis of the crisis in human values. Rufus depicts human hypocracy and often useless cruelty in an uncompromising way.
The rich variety of the 1960s, though not yet a plurality, was brought to a close by political events. The invasion by Warsaw Pact troops in August 1968 meant the beginning of the end for the eased cultural and political atmosphere in the country, followed by a gradual takeover of initiatives by anti-reform communist politicians, supported by the Soviet government. In April 1969 at the Communist Party Congress a final decision was adopted that further development in Czechoslovakia would not lead to democratisation, but rather to the strengthening of party principles and totalitarianism. This marked a return to a situation similar to that in the 1950s, in which periodicals and progressive newspapers were banned, all the leading posts in state administration and culture had to undergo a revision of loyalty and those who in the preceding years had taken an active part in reforming society were removed from their posts or intimidated.
The stormy takeover also meant that work on some books to be published was interrupted or even that books already printed had to be destroyed. After 1972, when ‘order was newly restored’ (M Simečka), only those books approved by appointed cultural-political staff could be published. No major changes occurred in the literature on the outside, since the authors sympathising with socialist art methods could always be sure of positive acceptance by communist critics. There was always room for poster poetry or panegyric poetry commemorating communist events or extolling the Soviet Union and socialism at home and abroad (Andrej Plavka, Pavol Koys, G Hupka, Milan Lajciak, S Partosova, Vladimir Reisel and others). The most striking talents did not have equal chances in the new conditions. Many authors were banned from being published and tried to escape the situation through a substitute creative programme, writing for children, translating or other cultural activity.
Strong interest has been aroused by the poetic composition Slovo (The Word, 1976) by Miroslav Valek, the incumbent Minister of Culture, which he dedicated to the Communist Party. The significance of this conforming gesture by a leading poet has not yet been explained satisfactorily, since this book of verse retains many elements of exploration in Valek´s understanding of man’s ambiguity. A completely different kind of verse can be found in his following collection of lyric verse with a private and erotic tone, Z vody (From Water, 1977). Another leading poet, Milan Rufus, continued his analysis of values in his collection Stôl chudobných (The Table of the Poor, 1972), however in the unfavourable conditions of the 1970s he himself resorted to writing for children and to collaboration with creative artists, designers and photographers, adding his lyrical verse to their books of pictures or photographs.
The poets who had their debuts in the 1960s slowly returned to poetry in the 1970s. Jan Buzassy influenced by disillusionment with the social situation, writes a dateless allegory in his short poem-similitudes Krása vedie kameň (The Beauty Leads the Stone, 1972), in which he combines analytic preciseness of thought with a free, almost teleological aspect of verse. In the mid-1970s he released further books, firstly the rhymed scenic composition Rozprávka (Fairy Tale, 1975) and subsequently two books of sonnets, Rok (The Year, 1975) and Znelec (Phonolite, 1976). In a typical gnomic way he writes in ‘The Year’ about life in the countryside and in ‘Phonolite’ he gets inspired by the world of music, demonstrating again the constancy of human qualities and values (allegiance, morality, consistency). Music is the topic of another collection by Buzassy entitled Bazová duša (Spirit of Elderberry, 1978), in which he meditates about the birth of a song and the task of man in the process of its creation. Throughout his work Buzassy expresses doubts about the ability of man to retain his moral status, man is a complicated creature with one part of him prone to evil.
Along with Buzassy, Lydia Vadkerti-Gavornikova (see above) also resumed her analytical and melodic poetry in the 1970s. A bigger change, however, can be observed in the poetry of another poet of the same generation, Stefan Strazay. His minimalist poetry transformed to a fragmentary whole where scepticism and extremism increased. The feeling culminated in his book of verse Palina (Wormwood, 1979), and resumed in subsequent collections released in the 1980s, especially Dvor, (The Courtyard, 1981), and Malinovského 96, 96 Malinovsky Street, 1985). The inconspicuous verse by Strazay about humdrum everyday situations revealed intense, almost anxious life experience, even though from the outside it looked like nothing much happened. His simplified expression without pathetic elements with a fragmentary picture reflected the entities of the world.
In the 1970s a new impulse was brought by authors who had made their debuts shortly after the ‘consolidation’ crackdown. An important lyrical gesture of protest against the official stream in literature was made by Jan Svantner in his collections O snežnom srdci (About Snowy Heart, 1972) and Hviezdny úder (The Star Attack, 1975). Despite his tendency towards a rather elevated style and pathos, he was far from a false idyllic expression of poetry at that time. Like Buzassy, but with different motives and language, he expressed the necessity of moral consistency and faithfulness to the true human ideals and not to opportunist political conformism. Svantner´s writing continued in the same intensity and same direction in his subsequent collections of the 1980s, Neviditeľná hudba (Invisible Music, 1980) and Lampa (The Lamp, 1986). A strong ethical foundation was developed here in confrontation with human experience and reflection over the place and attitude of man to the ‘everlasting’ truths handed over from one generation to another.
Only a few years later another young, the talented poet Daniel Hevier entered literature. After the first virtuoso books indicating his extraordinary sense of language, he came up with the collections Nonstop (1981) and Elektrónkový klaun (Electronic Clown, 1983). He managed to create an alternative to civilism which in his case was derived from common situations of man living in the ‘grey’ years of communism. He put up a mocking mirror and his refusal culminated in a clownish decadent attitude. The subject in Hevier’s poetry tries to single out from the human mass that behaves blinded, in a low manner and without any aspirations for something beautiful and unique.
From the mid 1970s Anna Ondrejkova also made an appearance in Slovak poetry, attempting to find elements shared by folklore, social sentiment (Kým trvá pieseň, As Long As the Song Lasts, 1975) and a deep personal message (Snežná nevesta, The Snow Bride, 1978, and Plánka, Wild Tree, 1984). In comparison to Hevier her poetry was more moderate and traditional, however in the last two books her verse depicted a sense of rootlessness, schizoid disorder and lack of experience. The conservative expression of Ondrejkova was in line with the poetry of Jan Zambor, an author who revived the basic modernist gestures of symbolism in a most remarkable way, (the collections Zelený večer, The Green Evening, 1977, and Neodkladné, Urgent, 1980). By using minimalist forms, his gesture is enriched with powerful analytical fragments.
The increase in the number of poetry collections of high quality can be observed in the latter part of the 1970s and at the beginning of 1980s when gradually talented poets of preceding decades were returning. Apart from the older authors (V Turcany), these comprised mainly of a strong generation of poets from the 1960s. New books of verse were released by concretist authors J. Stacho and J. Mihalkovic, and new trends were presented by L. Feldek in his collection Poznámky na epos (Notes on the Epos, 1980), a set (in topic and form) of different poems reacting to daily inspirations, and also deepening the relationship of private vs historical and intiminate vs public.
After a period of silence new books were published almost simultaneously by Mikulas Kovac, Ivan Strpka, Stefan Moravcik and Jan Strasser. M. Kovác published the books Zemnica (The Earth House) and Písanie do snehu (Writing In the Snow), both in 1978, and Rodinná pošta (The Family Mail, 1980), in which we can see the poet indignant at the tragic situation of a simple person struck by the blind mechanism of history. New impulse can be found in the books of verse by Ivan Strpka, Teraz a iné ostrovy (Now and Other Islands, 1981), Pred premenou (Before the Metamorphosis, 1982) and Správy z jablka (News From the Apple, 1985). Usage of shortcut and parallel worlds is intertwined with a complex, multi-level consciousness of the lyrical subject facing humdrum as well as peak moments of an individiual. The meticuously-carved word is characteristic of S. Moravcik and his verse (Čerešňový hlad, The Cherry Hunger, 1979), an ecstatic enchantment with eroticism, life and death, all necessarily linked in a natural circle. In his subsequent books which also include some texts from the first stage of his writing, he experiments with how far he can go with word play and the boundless freedom of poetic writing and life. In his poems of this time we can also find awareness of the existence of the reverse side presented by the limits to human chances as well as political reality (Erosnička, The Erotic Frog, Tichá domácnosť, The Silent Household, both 1981, Maľované jarmá, The Painted Yokes, 1984). J. Strasser, after his debut Odriekanie (Self-Denial, 1968), released much later his further collections Podmet (Subject, 1980) and Denne (Daily, 1981), in which he offered an analysis of human existence in boundaries of daily humdrum life. Both Moravcík and Strasser are linked through their sense of satire, which they richly used in their books of the latter part of 1980s. One of the experienced poets who resumed publishing poetry in the 1980s was Kamil Peteraj. Compared with other authors Peteraj set his writing in more particular situations and in reality. Even though Peteraj’s poetry is often based on his own personal experience, he is able to create a precious image of a joint experience, often strictly dialectical or paradoxical (especially the books Minútové básne, One Minute Poems, 1986, and Útechy/maximy/telegramy, Consolations-Maxims-Telegrams, 1987).
Apart from the famous names, some high quality poetic debuts were also made in the 1980s. The beginning of the decade saw the debuts of two women poets, Mila Haugova (Hrdzavá hlina, Rusty Clay, 1980, Premenlivý povrch, Transforming Surface, 1983) and Dana Podracka (Mesačná milenka, The Moon Lover, 1981, Zimní hostia, The Winter Guests, 1984). Whereas the poetry by Haugova was directed towards an intimate utterance based on precise introspection and its symbolical natural expression, Podracka added more literary knowledge, intertextual coherence and intellectual coverage of motives.
A more turbulent response was evoked by Jozef Urban, Ivan Kolenic and Tatjana Lehenova, young poets entering literature in the mid 1980s. Their radical poetry of revolt provoked a negative response from official literary scholars and attracted various accusations of public unsuitability, e.g. Lehenova was accused of pornography for her playful erotic poems. Urban’s book of verse Malý zúrivý Robinzon (The Small Ferrocious Robinson, 1985) reacted in a polemic way to current social and poetic convention and through a youthful revolt to intimate and challenging situations he provoked the reader to overcome hypocritical blindness. Urban’s poetry rose above other poetic writings through its extraordinary language skills and showy way of eased verse intertwined with elements of bound verse.
A gesture of revolt also marked Ivan Kolenic’s poetic debut Prinesené búrkou (Brought By the Storm, 1986) in which he accentuates on the one hand a strong sense of freedom and exuberance, and on the other great sensitivity and sentiment. Further books by Kolenic always brought a distinct change of poetics as well as an overall concept. Even though all three authors entered literature in a rather remarkable way, their potential for innovation stagnated in the following decade and other poets had a more inspiring creative impact.
The political changes of November 1989 brought final liberation from the political diktat in the field of art. The launch of parliamentary democracy created sufficient conditions for all authors without any exceptions. However, the new circumstances brought new restrictions of a different character – economic. Mass support for literature, a broad network of libraries and low book prices ceased to be automatic and soon economic criteria became an unwanted but decisive phenomenon in the field of publishing. Another tendency which had a negative impact on poetry was the growth of media competition, which shifted the book ‘medium’ to the edge of general interest, as a result of which literature was ‘marginalised’ (P. Zajac) and above all poetry became a minority literary genre. The importance of literature in the years of the communist oppression (as well as in preceding centuries when Slovaks had formed as an independent nation) was greater, because it played the role of a broad social tribune, and often as a counterbalance to official political thought.
Paradoxically, the huge social and political change did not cause an equally decisive upheaval in literature. As for the poetic work of previous times, more attention started to be paid to the poetry of Janko Silan and other poets of the Catholic Moderna, who had emigrated in the latter part of the twentieth century (R. Dilong, K. Strmen and M. Sprinc).
After 1989 poetry, like other areas of literature, was marked by strong individualisation, and consequently perhaps the most decisive change compared to the preceding decades was a significant increase in spiritual poetry. A broad spectrum of spiritual poets and their programmes now emerged in the form of a large group of poets who brought spirituality and religion to the fore and openly varied their topics according to Christian (and more often than not Catholic) principles. Another group of poets, large in number and prolific in output, did not treat Christianity as an independent object, but devoted their work to an analysis of man and the world in its natural dependencies, even though religious principles were obvious from the author´s viewpoints and evaluations.
A short retrospective of poetry after 1989 suggests that the greatest contribution to poetry was made by authors who entered literature in the 1960s – the Lonely Runners Group represented by J. Buzassy or Jan Ondrus, who in 1996 released one of the key books of the decade, an updated edition of his preceding works entitled Prehĺtanie vlasu (Swallowing Hair). Milan Rufus (1928-2009), though one generation older, had not lost his position as a cultural and moral authority in Slovak poetry. In the 1990s and at the beginning of a new millennium he released several books of verse and essays. His poetry of unchangeable human values in the world and in front of God formed a narrowly-set circle, which the author had not renewed for several decades, however through his melodic verse he managed to evoke a feeling of anxious, sincere experience. Persisting with traditional values, he showed that ‘faithfulness’ to true values is at the time of their relativisation an expression of a real ‘man´s courage’ (D. Podracka).
The ethical programme of I Strpka, I Laucik and P Repka, also members of the Lonely Runners Group became up-to-date at the beginning of 1990s, when Slovak society and culture were seeking a new direction in a situation which had not yet become clear-cut. The three authors did not linger on their programme of the past, on the contrary they took an active role in seeking and positively influencing other poets of that time. Laucik´s ‘de-humanised’ (F. Matejov) poetry depicting the world of mountains, caves and hostile north created a foundation for presenting different pressing human situations – the matter of morality vs the deaf world of nature and consequently of the human being, – as well as proving the values and strengths of man to acquit himself well in crisis situations (Na prahu počuteľnosti, On the Threshold of Audability, 1988, and Vzdušnou čiarou, On a Flight Path, 1991). In his last collection, Havránok (1998), he adds a geographical and historical link to human consciousness. Despite his dehumanisation Laucik became a poet of a culminating emotionality who points at human frailty endangered by our own ignorance and cowardice. I Strpka took up some elements of the ‘open’ poetry which he had defended in the 1960s and developed it into a new processing poetry. The fragmentary character supported by a rich personal and cultural ‘memory’ is during the creative process transformed into a compact, internally-stratified unit. The poet often accentuates the state of a permanent as well as constant identity and communication crisis which he demonstrates by breaking up the poetic language. Unlike I Strpka, P Repka created a new poetic programme in the 1990s based on confrontation of the present situation (personal and countrywide) with a generally valid message of a carnation which became the composition foundation for his poetic cycles. Repka, author of the famous reports from the 1960s, then resumes his analytical observations of the world (Že-lez-ni-ce, Railways, 1992, Priateľka púšť, The Friend Dessert, 1996, Karneval v kláštore, Carnival in a Monastery, 2002, and Relikvie anjelov, Relics of Angels, 2006).
Even though many leading poets fell silent in the 1990s, others found enough inspiration for a new culmination. J. Buzassy can be ranked among those as he resumed writing his gnomic poetry marked by an inner contradiction between his classicist clarity and romantic predetermination, not succeeding in reaching a final harmony. After his book of verse Náprava vínom (Remedy with Wine, 1993) with reflexive cycles and the book Pani Faustová a iné básne (Mrs Faust and Other Poems, 2001) containing poems of farce and comic character, Buzassy started writing a precise poetic diary in the form of bound quatrains (eg Dni, Days, 1995, Zátišie – krátky pôst, Still Life – A Short Fasting, 2004, Dvojkrídle dvere, Two Wing Door, 2006, and Bystruška, 2008).
The best books written by women poets Dana Podracka and Mila Haugova appeared at this time. In the poetry of Podracka intimate human life gets confronted with the archetypal role of a man and a woman (as well as Man as a universal human being). The poetess makes use of the rich symbolics of myths and literary themes and through an intense immersion (sensual and analytical) she tries to define the substance of man which she finds the most important task (eg the collections Meno, Name, 1999, Kazematy, Cassemates, 2004, and Persona, The Person, 2007). Poetry by Mila Haugova attracted great interest in the 1990s, especially her collections Praláska (Protolove, 1991), Nostalgia (1993), Dáma s jednorožcom (Lady with with Unicorn, 1995) and others, where she writes her ‘deep monolithic message built in a documentary way’ (E Jencikova). In the books by Haugova the particular life experience is linked with the archetype of a ‘proto-woman’ creating a whole about cruelty and strength in the life of a woman.
Erik Jakub Groch also belongs to the sought-after and much discussed poets. He is the author of several poetically different collections linked by his strong accent on values and trust in simplicity, almost naivety, which is important not only in discovering the world, but also in saving man. In his first collections he gets inspired by poetry, philosophy and theology, creating however an imaginative language of his own based on repetitions, modifications and mild hyperbole. In his key book Druhá naivita (‘Second Naivety, 2005), through the selection of older poems and several cycles of new texts, he clearly shows his Christian orientation. The Franciscan simplicity in describing natural phenomena and human situations is balanced by a conscious confrontation with a post-structuralist philosophy and metaphysical character. Apart from Groch, literary scholars often speak about similar Christian orientation and modern intellectual expression in the verse of other poets such as Rudolf Jurolek, Igor Hochel, D Pastircak, Marian Milcak, Peter Milcak, Jan Gavura, Joe Palascak and others. From this line of Slovak poetry R Jurolek is the one who is particularly popular with readers. His poetic minimalism corresponds to the tendencies of looking for the simplicity of human existence. Simplicity is being able to clean and correct the vision of the world and allows us to call things by their real name: the one who is simple touches ‘known things’ so that they will also ‘touch’ him. The original intellectual search (eg in a dramatized verse book Putovanie Jakuba z Rána, Journey of Jacob in the Morning, 1996) changes into the internal vertical-horizontal dynamic throbbing, often accompanied by a painful feeling of beauty of the (natural) world that strikes the poet and gets him into the ecstasy of love, sadness and sudden amazement (e.g. the collections – Smrekový les, Spruce forest, 2009; Poľné vety, Field sentences, 2013).
In the period 1990 – 2015 the middle generation culminated. They brought diverse and divergent poetics to Slovak poetry. The transformation of the society after the political change in 1989, breaking the certainties of life, but also entering into the age of maturity hit this generation on a sensitive spot, and so apart from the whole external and thematic diversity this generation is united by scepticism and disillusionment. Several poets (D Hevier, K Chmel, O Pastier) express this feeling in the form of disappointment from in the world. They try to give full meaning to their lives even after admitting that they are unable to change the world. Despite their great effort invested in life and writing no positive response appeared. Hevier (particularly in the collection of poems Básne z reklamnej kampane na koniec sveta, Poems from the advertising campaign for the end of the world, 1996) and Chmel (O nástrojoch, náradí a iných veciach vypustených z ruky, About tools, utensils and other things dropped from hand, 2004), in their works urgently request our responsibility and they involve current issues (indifference, addiction, emptiness) in their verses and they keep repeating in an non-poetical way and with their personal engagement the fact how important it is not to resign to humanism. Poetic colouring, which was noticeable for the early stage of their creation, is enriched now by self-irony and sarcasm. A certain change can be noticed by K Chmel in his current creation, because he is trying to find some catching forms, eg. in literary conversations with excellent, but dead poets who he used to translate into Slovak.
The same disillusioned perspective can be found in the creation of M Bruck, T Lehenova, S. Chrobakova-Repar and J. Urban. All four come out of the confidence of the private world and give scepticism a more personal face. M. Bruck in his poetry (Nočné ostrovy a iné záchrany, Night islands and other rescues,1997, Hraničná cesta, The border road, 2005 and Podstata rieky, The substance of the River, 2012) provides the authentic experience of a man who fails when he should show strength and unexpectedly finds relief in situations in which he would not expect it. He entered into literature during the politically breakthrough year, in 1989, and gradually joined the group of poets of privacy with traditional interest in topics such as family, the partnership between a husband and a wife, friendship and nature. Even from a formal point of view he prefers standard poetic means striving to achieve a more compact poetic statement that is dominated by breakages and problems of everyday life experience.
T. Lehenová adds to Bruck’s masculine vision a timeless position of a “millennial woman” and the position of its female personal world. In her two books she offers two different approaches; First, she introduces herself as an author of internal monologues with a prosaically wide openness (Pre vybranú spoločnosť, For selected company, 1989) and then, in her last book for adults – Cigánsky tabor, Gypsy camp (1991), she suggests an interest in a formal experiment with the word and its plurality of meanings. In both collections of poems, however, she is able to invoke a critical atmosphere of the deficit of personal love as well as a desire for intellectual and erotic blending with a man that cannot be fulfilled.
A similar painful dichotomy of a woman-intellectual in a ‘spiteful’ world is thematised in the work of a poet and critic Stanislava Chrobakova-Repar. Chrobakova-Repar also struggles with stereotypes of male-female co-existence, while the intensity of mutual repulsion of both sexes from the debut Zo spoločnej zimy – From the common winter (1994) increases. The poet attempts to overcome this difference, but personal and universal female experience (on the background of feminist lectures) does not give her any impetus to hope (Nahá v tŕní, Naked in a thorns, 2006). Chrobáková-Repar belongs to the poets who shift the poetic language to its own ‘ontocreation’ (Na hranici jazyka, On the border of the language, 2000, Tichožitia, Silenced livings, 2011, or Echoechoecho, 2014), which was given a new impetus and dimension after the author had moved to a new, Slovenian environment.
The last of this foursome is the poet and lyricist J Urban. He, in his poetics, combines what Lehenova divided between two books. The resulting expression stabilized at a very productive interface between dispassionate everyday speech and poetic metaphor, which is supplemented by a dynamic rhythm and occasional rhyme, artfully binding and highlighting individual parts of his poems. Compared to the older texts (Malý zúrivý Robinson,The Small Ferocious Robinson, 1985, and Dnes nie je Mikuláša, Today is not Nicholas day, 2000), however, there is still more and more tragicism in Urban’s creation, until death becomes the leitmotiv, once as a determining factor at other times as reconciliation with its necessity (Kniha polomŕtvych, The book of half dead, 1992, and Snežienky & biblie, Snowdrops & bibles, 1996).
In the 1990s there came about an inspiring dispute between the experimentally and traditionally oriented poets in Slovak poetry. One group was using unused spaces of literature and apart from unbalanced artistic results they brought promising indications of “developmental value”. The second group maintained its typical poetic practice and tried to impress the reader by a personalised message from the human inside. The most discussed works in Slovak poetry were works by Peter Macsovszky, whose creation is characterised by a conceptual art approach using text assemblages, collages and experimentation on textcreating, production, reception and pragmatic level. The author himself characterised his artistic method as ‘montage using vocabulary and syntax of scientific and pseudo-scientific texts’ and as ‘an attempt to breaking free from emotions that are in poetry thematised over and over’. Macsovszky’s poems do not thematise ‘the situation of the subject’ but ‘the situation of the text’ and traditional emotion and empathy with the lyrical subject is replaced by emotional distance (poetics of ‘coolness’), by emptying the subjective content, emphasizing the randomness and combinatorics of make-up processes based on repetition, varying and shifting meanings (collections of poems-Strach z utópie, Fear of utopia, 1994, Ambit, 1995, Cvičná pitva, Training autopsy, 1997, Súmračná reč, Twilight speech, 1999, and his last book – Santa Panica 2014).
Peter Sulej was continuously active with P. Macsovszky. In the middle of 1990s he initiated and developed a line of poetry of emotional distance (poetics of ‘coolness’) and metatextually (texts about creating text) oriented creation. Sulej’s poetry, unlike fundamental P. Macsovszky does not attempt to cross the poetic borders; it remains within it, but the traditional model of poetry is deconstructed and through postmodern practices of palimpsest and persiflage it brings parody. Sulej’s collections of poetry follow on freely from each other and create two trilogies. In the first three collections Porno (1994), Kult, Cult (1996) and Pop (1998), known as the ‘First trilogy’, experiments with the word, text and new possibilities of computer text editing are coming to the foreground. The author demonstrates the situation of text after the appearance of a poststructuralist philosophy (J Derrida, M Foucault, R Barthes and others) and after the rise of cybernetic and science-technological ‘evolution’, in which he radically reviews the role of man and the author. The books of the second, so called ‘Blue Trilogy’ (Návrat veľkého romantika, The Return of a great romantic, 2001, Archetypálne leto, Archetypal summer, 2003, and Koniec modrého obdobia, The end of the blue period, 2008), thematically develop cyberpunk and industrial motifs of a ‘posthumanoid’ era, which are brought into confrontation with the nostalgically tuned romantic gesture and kitsch motifs.
Considerations about this kind of writing raised several important questions about the nature of art and some of its extreme positions. Macsovszky’s poetry more or less relates to the creation of other authors, for which the term ‘text generation’ got to be used by literary criticism (J Srank). Michal Habaj and Nora Ruzickova attracted the most attention and later, in 2003, a new generation of female authors joined this disorganized group. These authors productively absorbed stimuli from the first wave of the text generation and at the same time they enriched the original poetics with new impulses: Maria Ferencuhova (Skryté titulky, Closed Captioning, 2003, Princíp neistoty, Principle of uncertainty, 2008) and Katarina Kucbelova (Duály, Duals, 2003, Šport, Sport and 2006; and Malé veľké mesto, Little big city, 2008).
The experimental wing of authors close to textual generation brings the most original suggestions, although each innovation doesn’t always becom a significant shift. The initial awkward writing of M Habaj was typical of an ‘annoyingly ambiguous, indefinite position” (Z Redey). The coding rate and contrast between high and low, between the artistic and commercial did not reveal the intention of the author clearly and made it possible to read this author’s books as a nostalgic confrontation of the present with marginalised art or as a specific parody of a postmodern style. Never before, such as as in the book entitled in a hyponymic way by the author Michal Habaj (2012), was the collection of “textual happening” able to shift a previously not so successful game to the next level and in an artistically convincing way enter into questions about the author’s subject (the use of yogic techniques, stylization into the characters of tabloid stories) and into the possibilities of text as a poststructuralist experimental matter. The author expands the game in the area of pragmatic space (communication of the author and the recipient) where the readers interpret the text stimuli, but also the stimuli of the book perceiving the book as an artefact and scientific experiment.
The collection of Katarina Kucbelova Vie, čo urobí, He knows what he would do (2013) returned to Slovak poetry the topic of the current social situation, trivial everyday events that change in dramatic and crisis breakdowns. The poems from the book arose from concern and the author clearly conveys this emotion: She notices “crash” events but she is also concerned with the trends and tendencies of marketing and media companies striving to win the greatest possible power over man. The memento of the collection is capturing the situation of a man whose primary position is hostility towards others with an attitude of ‘you have to be on the lookout, / Who will protect you if you do not attack in time?’
It is no coincidence that the generation of poets born in the 1970s have taken a leading role in Slovak poetry after 2010. The male and female authors in their forties have taken advantage of their lives and literary experience and bring the greatest number of stimuli for experience reading and professional reflection. For M. Ferencuhova, the poetry is the form of a personal and travel diary. She is gradually recalling her travels, statuses, pregnancy, and in the last collection – Ohrozený druh, Endangered species (2012) – the maternity that changes the perception of responsibility for another human being. Compared to her previous two books the collection Ohrozený druh is written clearly, directly and holistically: she does not hide her attitudes, intentions or tasks that poetry in the book for the author should have, neither is the poetry ‘buck-passingly” broken into fragments that protected Ferencuhova from being too clear compared to the books Skryté titulky, Closed Captioning (2003) and Princíp neistoty, Principle of uncertainty (2008). The emotional distance of the whole generation of female poets is in the case of Ferencuhova achieved rather by selection of language than by the attitude of the subject, because the subject is too intensively involved in dramatic situations to ensure that these events do not influence him from the emotional point of view too much.
Nora Ruzickova tries to constantly enrich the artistic literature by merger with physical dimensions of fine arts (Mikronauti, Osnova a Útok–Outline and attack, but also other collections of the poet) or in the book Pobrežný výskum, Coastal research in combination with possibilities of the audio. The book práce & intimita, work & intimacy (2012) brings experimental prose built up on individual selection of sentences and their lining up (in the part intimacy) and ‘sculpture poems’ (in the part work) built up on the procedures of sculpturing, i.e. decreasing of material that ultimately reveals the shape present in the initial monolith.
Ružičkova is in her poetry obsessively concerned with the definition of the limits of her “I” which is among other things the definition of other objects in the common area of the world. The poet focuses on the visible exterior surfaces, lines and borders of objects and she only indirectly, synecdoche-like way indicates internal connections and emotions. The basic synecdoche of subject is his ‘skin’ and the relationship building up tension is the act or process of ‘penetration’ or, vice versa, ‘intactness’ and internal indivisibility.
A significant achievement among readers in Slovak poetry after 2000 was recorded by a poet Eva Luka who belongs to the sensualists who, despite the abstraction of language, perceive the poem physically. Poems often originate in an intensive emotive experience, where specific experience is richly complemented by dreams, visions and fanciful images with archetypal background. Causality is present, too, but the great influence of emotions and a focus on testimony from the subconscious undermine the logic of poems. The poetry of E. Luka can be well described by the definition of depth psychology; the author usually tries to capture instinctively dynamic relationships in the emotional and volition area. To the reader she stimulates points very deep, at the opposite pole from the rational centre, she reactivates the layers that form a human being but do not have their own language, to present their verbal response. The readers’ reaction is radical, excited in the same way as the author was at the time of poetic ecstasy before and during writing (collections Diabloň, 2005 or Havranjel, 2011).
Lubos Bendzak (Básne pre Soňu Marmeladovovu, Poems for Sona Marmeladovova, 1995, Zápisky z čudného domu, Notes from the strange house, 2005, Vytrvalosť sivej, Endurance of grey, 2010) belongs to the solitary introverted poets. He brings to Slovak literature the topic of social periphery. Bendzak’s poetic diary reveals that the author is very well aware of his position of a human being standing in counterposition to the community. On the one hand we can feel the joy from simplicity and liberation from under liabilities in his poems; on the other hand the price of radical performance against these conventions is the curse of these poets and artists. In Bendzak’s poetry it is also possible to meet with the antithesis of the transcendent pathos, counterbalanced in other texts by the factuality and ordinariness of human life, which is far away from nobleness.
Slovak poetry in the period after 2000 has shown that it is vital, it develops the current global literary trends, but it also continues traditions of various types of national writing. Among the latest trends in poetry we can mention fusion with other kinds of art, especially the visual arts and so called new media (eg. in the creation of Zuzana Husarova, Erik Simsik and others). Jan Zambor intentionally develops techniques of some European models in the wider context as he implements colourful genre forms so that a complex potential of poetry would come out in the meaning and shape symbiosis. The younger generation is represented by Peter Bily, a successor in the Baudelaire-Apollinaire line also with an aristocratic distance, a feeling of exclusivity and a wish to provoke public opinion; or Marian Grupač who with the method of impression creates an emotional spirit and sensuality, but also the inner dramatic core is based on the confrontation of the subject of the poet-decadent.