Interview with the poet Pavol Hudák (Touches 2006/1)

It is said that everything relates to everything. We have known for a long time that if it were the truth, universe would be broken down by destroying a grain of sand in desert. Science would be meaningless and philosophy would be purely speculative, if we were not able to base it on strong foundations. In spite of it, I'm fascinated that in poetry, you are able to give absolute meaning of universe to a grain in desert dunes. Such literary vision, as though believing in other worlds does not disrupt the art, but on the contrary, in contrast to science it puts the art on a pedestal of creative spirit, because it reminds of strange situation: when the man is leaving, with regard to eternity, his death means nothing, but with regard to an essential instant, the whole world is dying with him. How do you perceive your position in society and in this chaotic world?

You are talking about literary vision as though believing in other worlds. I have the feeling that there is a great number of those worlds, they are literally buzzing around us like electrical wires. I have lost the children's innocence a long time ago, when I didn't even realize that the Earth is round. Everything was easy, clear, united. Of course, some kind of disillusionment followed after that, everybody knows it. Earth was rounded; suddenly it was no endless flat land with waving fields of corn or wheat somewhere in the native region of Zemplín. It is the same with universe and worlds around us. Is this world the only one? Does God have so weak fantasy? I don't think so. Does only this world exist, with blood running through the streams and children dying with swarms of insects on the face? I have various periods with feelings and images which don't want to leave me, until they leave themselves and remain, for example, in the form of a poem. Recently I have been often coming out from myself and climbing somewhere into the universe. At any day or night moment, in a car or in a grocery store. I'm climbing up, into that blue space darkness. But not as a pseudoromantic versifier or a moaning teenage girl. I'm fine there, I'm far away, I feel that pleasant coolness and calming light of stars, clusters, whole galaxies. And I'm looking at Earth. At that miniature piece of rock, where some microbes with two legs have been trying to destroy and prey each other for ages. Sometimes I have the feeling that all this is a mistake, abortive experiment. There are some divine things – love, friendship, beauty of women, innocent children's face, music, poetry. And there are devilish, bad things – wars, hunger, hatred, unceasing torture of people during whole millenniums. Very interesting combination and taste. So all this is a mistake or an intention. However, God is not playing dice, as the classic says. Those drops of henbane in the glass with honey are really some contrastive matter. In order to know how to distinguish the good and evil, the beauty and ugliness. But – does it have to be so? Couldn't the "Boss" as God was once called by Dušan Mitana arrange it differently? Who would like to suffer in order to find the good and beauty afterward? There is no answer. We absolutely don't know anything definitive. We don't know who we are, where we came from and where we are walking to. It's a feeling that one can go crazy from that. There are only some expected answers. In good music, poetry, art. And then you are glad that this art exists. That it is a gift by the help of which you nevertheless feel and understand something. Thanks to that, your head won't explode, you won't drink yourself to death, you won't go crazy. Maybe other worlds exist. Maybe one day we will also find there ourselves. Debussy or something like that is heard from there, beautiful women don't go there, but float or fly, there are colours and images which can't be found on Earth. There is no suffering or death. But I'm often thankful also for this imperfect earthly life. In the morning, there is a cigarette end lying next to dandelion on the pavement. Pub at the station in Poprad smells of night cigarettes and beer. In the near park, ravens are madly croaking in the sunny morning. They don't have other voices. Only those black and hoarse ones. We underestimate them, but maybe they are talking with God. And they thank for this morning also on behalf of us.

Childhood may be cruel but also carefree. Its nature predicts what the adulthood will be like. What are your youth memories, pleasant or unpleasant ones, connected with? What were your poetic beginnings like? Did you know in childhood that you will be a poet?

Childhood is a kind of root for everybody of us. My childhood was beautiful and also cruel. It gave me sensibility, ability to feel and even feel deeply. It wasn't the childhood of grey panel houses and nameless housing estates. However, such childhood can also be beautiful. As somebody said – childhood will make the bed even on the rock. My childhood had mainly the colours and smells. Winter smells of clean snow, but also of straw in a barn. And somewhere in the early evening, goose is talking nostalgically. Spring was white. Lilac smells of eternity, blooming apple, pear and plum trees witness the trial dealing with the existence of God, Creator, Designer. Those trees say – yes. Look at us, take at least one branch, look into its blossoms. And you will understand everything. Summer, it means rocks jingling at the bottom of a hot river. When you go out from it, yellow fields of corn, cornflowers and poplars next to the river Topľa will swallow you up. In autumn, the saws sound mournfully and fields resound with sounds of knives cutting off the beet leaves... In German schools children are taught what the hay smells like, what a cow or horse look like. They have to do it because those children don't know it. And they are loosing something. Today, many people return to live in the village. It is not wrong. Their children will know how beautiful are the goslings in the spring. How wonderful is a little lamb or puppy. I'm not idealizing, but these children's souls will get the equipment which will protect them from heartlessness and hatred. Whether I knew in childhood that I will be a poet? I knew nothing. But I knew that the swallows fly away in autumn. I took my old bicycle and went to the river in order to say goodbye to them. It was sad but a little bit hopeful, too. I talked to those swallows. Were these my first verses? This was my whole childhood. Beauty was replaced by cruelty; nobody handled me with kid gloves. My mother gave me love, but village street was cruel and bad, too. Everything was closer. Work and fun, life and death. We were rather as an ambulance service standing near to dead old man who died on the field. However, in a moment, people from the field went on a village wedding. Village knows this all; it shivers a soul for the whole life. I will recall my mother once more. She gave me love, sensitivity. I won't forget her cool palms on the forehead when a fever troubled me. She bought me a first short poems book. It was Eeny Meeny Tulip (En ten tulipán) from Mária Rázusová Martáková. I was writing the imitations of poems from this fascinating book for a long time. One day in school, we were given a task of writing a poem. It was the first time I stood before the entrance into the magic world of poetry. I didn't know how to begin. My mother dictated me the first verse. And I wrote the rest by myself. Therefore, in whole my production, that one verse is always from my mother.

When you are observing the situation around us, you will get into the state in which you don't have a fancy for pathetically criticizing the politics like an old man, you will simply resign, because you will realize that individual can't change certain things. Apathy is, to a certain degree, natural. Mainly after absorbing the important experience. From this point of view, I'm not surprised to see a dead child on the street that was some time before begging from hunger. But indifference, with which people avoid him on the pavement, takes my breath away. How do you stand on negative phenomena of society?

How do I perceive the negative phenomena of present days? Slovakia and world are in a deep crisis. But the question is when the human civilization wasn't in crisis? I think it was maybe a period of 15 years when there was no war conflict in the world. But let's return to Slovakia. Revolution delighted me; it gave me new chances and horizons. However, I'm absolutely astonished when I see those orgies of egoism, greed, cynicism and indifference which broke out only few days after November. As the pope John Paul II, from whom I have this quotation, said: "When one regime replaces another, it doesn't mean that it is more equitable than the previous one." I'm extremely angry about Slovakia showing all signs of early capitalism, but maybe of feudalism and slave state, too. In the nearby street I see a building of an insurance company. It is really pretentious, its construction cost hundreds of millions of crowns. Not far from it is a kindergarten. It looks very shabby; plaster had fallen off, so every day I only shake my head in disbelief. Every day I see the families living hand-to-mouth. I see how these families are corroded by poverty. Talented children are changed into outsiders. In the evening I turn on the TV and I see the cream of society having a good time. The biggest thieves and criminals are often called celebrities, newspapers, magazines, television are interested in human monsters with billion accounts. And the cream of society is running further. In the morning, only tons of excrements are left of it and at the same moment a woman with two children in the region of Zamagurie is unable to pay for gas. But today, the whole world is like this. Oscars are awarded on one side of the ocean. Dubious movies, dubious ideas, dubious personalities. And again, caviar, prawns, precious drinks and again, it all ends in perfumed Hollywood toilet bowls. On other side of the ocean, maybe two hours of flight, children are starved to death; mad soldiers of other tribes are chopping off their hands and legs. Somewhere, a child is born into the royal family or to some "star" couple. Newspapers are writing about it, child is materially secured forever, only its dummy costs perhaps thousands of dollars. It surely has also the rich godparents. On the other hand, somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, a child is born into poverty, hunger and suffering. Poor mother can only helplessly hold its emaciated small hand. I'm asking with amazement, what kind of world is it? And all this on one planet, in world which can be today gone across only for few hours. Humanity is a bastard. Or as Jožo Urban said: Epoch is ripe for new Christ. But in my opinion not for the one with hectoliters of ketchup as in Mel Gibson's movie. But for angry Christ who drove out the merchants from temple, who got into fury, who tore off the tablecloths from tables, who knocked their stands and bars over. As in impressive version of this theme and scene sometime in the sixties. Such Christ should invade the state parliaments, the UN conference room, luxurious offices of exploiting companies, banks and various monopolies.

Many people swear at bestseller literature, at small stars coming out from the show business world. And it is also because they are not successful themselves. Of course, it is also about opportunity, about contacts, fraternization where one is patted on the shoulder. I don't think we should pause at artificial making of authors, because it is natural consequence of market mechanism of economy in all spheres. If there is a demand for something, it is always possible to find people who will enable the purchase, no matter what's going on. Quality artistic literature will win recognition "itself" sooner or later. Your books are not published in reputable publishing houses, too, although they would deserve in order to be noticed by top-ranking managers. Do you think it's tragic for you, as for the author? What publisher would meet your expectations?

I will continue in the previous question. Slovakia is in a crisis and it reminds me of ancient Rome. You are talking about small stars of show business. If they are worth something, let them come out. However, I'm watching with horror mainly the television production with endless reality shows which are like mobile or static madhouses. More exactly, it's about some medieval tawdry atrocities where one was able to see a woman with beard, two-headed people and other deformed creatures. Today, people disturbed in many different ways are driven into so called villas and amusement for nation is made of it. First I compared it to gladiatorial contests where the slaves are fighting for their life and death and they are in this way amusing the audience. But it would be very noble comparison. Therefore I rather see it as above mentioned atrocities or maybe as madmen ships which floated through European rivers in the Middle Ages. However, modern manipulators need such kind of "culture". They need a stupefied crowd which sees the problems in what happened in villa during the night, but not in what real Big Brother is doing with him. And the crowd is stupefied and besotted with him and is even prepared for the serfdom of third millennium. Of course if the stupefied one doesn't pull itself together and doesn't resist. It is never too late. As though modern manipulators didn't suppress the poetry and good quality culture. Thinking people are dangerous. What if some nests of protest are created and who will be then obediently walking in endless queues of goods consumers and stupid television programs? That my books are not published in reputable publishing houses? Modrý Peter is a reputable publishing house, I made my debut there. And other publishing houses are not from amateurs' zone, too. However, these are not important things for me. Good poem is good even if it is written on paper from a bag of cement. What the first books of Chinese poets looked like? After Rimbaud, poems were only collected in the pubs. I don't compare myself to these giants, I only want to say that I don't see the problem in publishing house. Important thing is what the poetry is like. What royalty got François Villon for his books? Did he ever come in suit and tie on some meeting of some writers' association in order to be honoured there? Were some creative stays paid for him? Did he go with pyjamas and toothbrush in a briefcase into some French town similar to Slovak Budmerice? No. He was starving, organizing the parties and if he had some money, he was rebelling and writing. And maybe he was hanged somewhere. However, his verses are living even today. Edgar Allan Poe died in front of the pub. They were no polished poets and poetic officials as we have hundreds of them today. Anyway, there were authentic, emphatic, they had own goals, they wrote by own blood like Yesenin. And I could give more examples. But the reactions of readers are sufficient for me. I distribute my books myself or my friends help me. I usually loose also a receipt that I gave some books somewhere. Traders are strict and consistent and so I can't buy even a beer for my royalty. However, sometimes I get a reaction from an unknown reader. And I feel that my work is not useless.

I know that poetry belongs to a limited circle of fans. Publishers also realize its non-commercial background; therefore they dislike being involved in publishing the poetic projects. In spite of it, they enable to win recognition to authors whose verses are far from real poetry. I think that their strange behaviour is more related to human stupidity than to commercial thinking. What opinion do you have on such suppression of real talents who are not given the space? Moreover, you personally knew Pavol Suržin, one of my most favourite poets. He is a blamefully underestimated poet in Slovakia and I believe that one day he will be resurrected by critics with a common sense. How well did you know him and what do you know about him?

Real talent will win recognition. This is a gospel truth. Who says that poet has to "publish" something? Poet should write something. The rest is a technical matter. Let it be published on his 47th birthday, on a day of his death or one hundred years after his death. Emily Dickinson let her poems in a drawer. And she was not the only one. But if it is possible for a talented poet to publish his works during the life and without various tortures, it is not bad, too. However, also in time of Baudelaire below-average and average poets were published. Therefore it is not so tragic for me that in today's bookshops I can find anything. Let the time judge it. It would be worse if someone was convinced he has the divine right to determine what is good and bad, in this case what is good and bad poetry. We have already experienced it. But you are right that it is a negative when stupidity suppresses the real talents. There is a lot of that stupidity even today. Anyway, real poet, writer, creator can't give up. He should express himself. He should search for the truth and form. You are asking me about Pavol Suržin. This is an illustrative example. He was writing his poems in one of flats near the Levoča square. Out of main literary crossroads, without fanfares and honours. Last time I saw him on the balcony of a ward in Levoča hospital. He was sitting there and smoking one of last cigarettes. He talked me about severe pain, about morphine which they have to give him. Then he left forever. And, you see, this "unknown" poet is one of your most favourite.

Once you have admitted that you are writing the poems during the march. It is not surprising; in these fast-moving times there is not a lot of time for reading. First of all, people have to satisfy their basic needs and after that they can devote themselves to art. Poems are recommended into a pocket because they can be read anywhere, but in spite of it, they are read only by several erudite supporters. Only a few people enjoy a novel, although the novel is more closely to crowd. From time point of view, we can say that a short story is a kind of compromise; it is quite successful in our country. I think that short stories, which I can observe at the contemporary literary scene, are all very similar. What is in your opinion the orientation of poetry in Slovakia, and of prose in particular?

I'm really writing the poems during the march. I have always written them in trains, buses, pubs, restaurants and streets. I hate literary rubbish, poem should explode like a meteor and it should tell something for that short life. In Slovak poetry, I miss the intensity, strength, verses written by own blood, as I have already mentioned. It is often about nothing, these verses are only the poor imitations of something. Nobody is searching for the truth, meaning, substance; nobody is asking important questions, many poets are banal. Maybe something better could be found, too, but it is not a lot. Poem should be like an electrical wire, it should be charged with energy. When you read a good poem, you must remain stunned for a moment in order to return to it during the whole life. Such poem is made of a core, not of a skin. Today, there is only a few real creators and poems. And even if there are some of them, they can have problems. Some literary papers are for example guarded by so called literary "bodyguards" who have already chased several quality poets down. They simply won't publish your poem. But I have already mentioned that there is no need to be defeated by such things.

Poet must be absolutely responsible and critical towards himself, modesty is natural, too. Do not take notice of rebellious types now, in these cases it's usually only a play on poets. Only a few of them are not playing on bohemians and not hiding own problems by poetry. You are creating as when a gypsy is playing the violin. What feelings do you have when others take off and you have to fly alone, high as an eagle above the crows? Are you not afraid of swimming your head from a headfirst fall?

You are talking about rebellious poser-like types. There is really enough of them. They are rebelling, e.g., against the fact that grandmother gave them a pudding in a red mug, instead of white one. These are the problems of some poets, said in a figurative way. However, they don't come across the real problems, they escape from them. Or they purposely avoid them. In a similar way as the majority of Slovak media avoids the real life. Poorness of contemporary literature results from this. People don't read it, because the truth disappeared from it long time ago. As for those gypsies and violin, I was really playing with gypsies some time before, and I was even playing the violin. But it is not important. I'm really trying to write from inside. My poem has to attract primarily me. It's my dialogue with poem; it really has to tell me something, we won't forgive anything to each other. If my own poem doesn't affect and attract me, its place is in a bin. Anyway, there is a lot of people today bothering others with empty words. Why to extend their rows? Eagle and crows have been mentioned, too. If I understand well, I'm that eagle in your opinion. It's a matter of taste; somebody else may have a completely different opinion. And the time will decide everything.

You have published several poetic books. What are you preparing in the near future? My humble self is looking forward to your latest book. Or reveal, what can the readers expect, what other difficulties do you plan to solve artistically, because if there is no theme and if there is nothing to solve, writing is meaningless. Maybe also for this, author can have stagnant, as well as fully creative periods.

You are asking about my new book. I'm writing and storing my poems, ideas and thoughts. Then I will return to it. But maybe I won't. Nothing is certain. In poetry, I tried to go with a man as deep as possible. Until to the bottom, behind his death. But the resurrection, too. Is it possible to go further? I'm asking myself and thinking about my poems. I'm asking my poem: Will we try to dig under grave and under hell? Will we strike the clouds with baroque childhood angels in half and will we look what is in heaven? Will we not be persuaded that universe is finite and will we make a dive into that transparent pane behind which is the Unknown? I'm asking my poem. And it will answer.

Radovan Brenkus thanked for the interview