While reading your biography, I came across the fact that you are called an artistic autodidact. Can you explain what this means?
An artistic autodidact means someone who is self-taught. I have never studied at an art school, I cannot paint at all, but from about the age of twenty I have been gluing collages and art frottages which I combine with letters. It often happens that my collections are then accompanied by just such small illustrations.
A general recipe for writing a good poem? It doesn’t exist.
And if it existed, I would immediately destroy it.
You teach at secondary school but also at the Faculty of Education at the university in Ústí. Can you describe exactly how a teacher of today can take twenty-year-old students and cause them to become more interested in books and poetry?
There is no universal model for that. I think that it is possible to attract students by your own example, with the fact that you believe in literature, that you love it, that you live it. It’s much worse with poetry; it requires a more active reader who wants to go beyond the text, and for the recipient that is a big effort. However, we are talking here only about a school environment where active literature doesn’t indicate much. I often recite at festivals, in tearooms, in clubs and in parks, and there are spectators there, so I think that although we are part of a minority genre, poetry will always have an audience.
Which guaranteed methods do you use in your teaching?
I am a pretty spontaneous person, so I don’t have many guaranteed methods. However, for years it has always paid to have discussions of texts with students and to work with handouts. It is also important to keep constantly up-to-date by making comparisons with film work.
Is there any general recipe for how to write a good poem?
It doesn’t exist, and if it did exist, I would immediately destroy it.
What ingredients do you use while you are writing poems?
I use what is called mental scans, that is, images, sensations, and smells that often and for a long time take shape in me which are then impulses to poems. Then I decide whether the poem is good or not. The other method for coming up with epic texts is inspiration from the landscape – for example, epitaphs on gravestones, year inscriptions on door jambs, pulp thrillers, entries in chronicles, or old photographs.
In 2008, your book Modroret was published and it contained almost a hundred tales from Děčín. Do you believe any of those tales?
It’s not important whether I believe them. It’s more important what people believed at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries when these tales were orally transmitted and then graphically fixed. What fascinates me about a lot of these stories is the possibility of linking two worlds (the human and the fairy tale), which worked and created some kind of magical suspense, and further, that the Elbe sandstone region was not at all understood romantically, but rather as a daily struggle for bread. And which stories do I believe the most? Well, after all, those that I invented myself.
In 2012 you won the Magnesia Litera Prize for your collection of poetry entitled Krooa Krooa. What inspired you to write that work?
While wandering around in the Tisa rocks I discovered a quite ordinary signboard with a description of a raven where someone had written that we can hear the krooa krooa somewhere above the rocks. So the title was found, but two years later I first discovered that the signboard was created by my friend, the great conservationist Karel Stein from Děčín. The circle had been closed.
Your work is influenced by the history of the Sudetenland. In your opinion, how is that historical experience manifested today, specifically in Ústí?
In the last few years in has been quite a lot. The Činoherní Theater does a Sudeten festival, a series of plays that deal with this theme, and people in the north, after the revolution of 1989, have started to discover another identity of their towns. It’s great when it is uncoated by political proclamations and cheap phrases.
In today’s fast-paced society isn’t poetry becoming lost in your opinion?
The question is what we want to express when we use the word poetry. If we are talking about a poem, then it seems to be unnecessary, redundant, out of the game, but it can then more urgently testify about the times when it stands outside of the mainstream. For me, though, poetry means a way of life. I am basically always in poetry because I think in it.
Photo: Eli Lori