The posthumous 80th birthday of Miroslav Válek

The poetry of Miroslav Válek is not difficult to assess, identify with, accept with reservations or, for any reason, to refuse. For what Válek did in poetry can only be compared to the poetical revolution of Janko Kráľ or Ivan Krasko. Before him, all sorts of modernism were used in an attempt to head the Slovak word into the international currents and the buzz of civilization, which took on a fresh new openness towards both skepticism and idealism. Slovak poetry responded often with unintended byproducts, somewhat sleepy and at a loss, with a touch of traditionalism and the usual reluctance. Moreover, Slovak literature was then under the heavy spell of the omnipresent ideology spreading the illusion that enthusiasm and pathetic optimism can cure the illnesses of humanity and society, civilization and universe, both then and to-be. That was not true, and Válek’s poetry entered the scene of kitschy socialism with this very message. Miroslav Válek‘s robust poetical talent captured this in a truly robust manner. He introduced entirely new constellations of the Word, and made it capable of forming reality. Lyrical poetry ceased to be an ornament of feelings and emotions, and poetry became a genuine creative workshop, where the Unreal becomes real, the formless assumes assured proportions and the Unspeakable transforms into a breezy discussion with the most uncrackable mysteries of being. The unique talent gave birth to a tidal wave of poetry that was at odds with the omnipresent Orwellian wailing, but was the more so tied with the reason of an era that, once again, refused to be reasonable. A poetry that found it programmatic not to give a damn about good manners, but the more so to test the conscience of its time. A poetry informing the world, with a confident voice, about the truths the world had hardly known. A poetry tuned to the young, hence, defying aging. In this respect, Válek‘s poetry has not fallen to any significant fluctuations. From the beginning to the end, what was on was a mysterious drumming about the human being who – as a result of too much faith – has misgivings about everything, who – loving too much – does not fantasize love, who does not hope for a cheap mercy – knowing that, in its essence, humanity is a hope redeemed at significant cost.     

That’s why Válek is a poet beyond reasonable doubt. In this, at least, rests the poetical justice clamored for in his poems.

Besides the uncontroversial qualities of his poetry, there is the highly controversial Miroslav Válek as a person. Like Ján Kollár, P.O. Hviezdoslav or Milo Urban, he, too, was the embodiment of his 20th century, his controversial era. Even if he chained himself to the cross, he still could not have unchained himself from its time. But then, he knew too well that man is a project for years, and having no chain in one’s time is a freedom less treasured. At least metaphorically and with a bohemian sense of togetherness, he presided over the Trnava group of Concretists (Konkretisti) that accomplished the seemingly impossible transformation of poetry into a socially moving force, served as editor-in-chief of the cultish journal Mladá tvorba that became the deformer’s nightmare, was president of the Slovak Writers‘ Union that gave birth to the revivalist reformers, ending up as the Minister of Culture that, to say the least, cultivated the political atrocities of the so-called consolidation era. At the time when some were banned, others could not, and the rest were afraid, Válek the man was allowed to, could and was unafraid. An enlightened policymaker in the time chocked by debased politics, he managed to obtain more freedom than any common individual could have hoped for. In the stuffy air of the Normalization Period, his speeches and articles were eagerly awaited. Yet, Válek was usually the first to extend a helping hand before being asked to do so by to those who had been adversely affected by the unfavorable times. He seems to have taken for granted to bring his own creeps on the market of the vanities of Normalization, while not succumbing to vain self-pity, although, amid the fearful, adaptable, ill-treated, irresponsible and powerful, he remained a solitary figure cobwebbed by intrigues. It is his shared merit that Slovakia had less emigrants and dissidents than in the Czech part of the country. And it is also his accomplishment that Slovak culture has built its foundations that can hardly be undermined by any political or ideological storms.

So let those who can prove more brave and useful than him throw their stones. Those fearful and occasional winners would have little right to do so.



In his modest output, Válek produced an extremely ingenious mixture of several poetics. Many of his metaphors are inspired by Jacques Prévert, the former surrealist. Both Touching (Dotyky, 1959) and Attraction (Príťažlivosť, 1961), have their share of the „poetry of common day“, as written and proclaimed, in the early 1960s, when the poetry had finally returned to its roots, by the group of poets around the Prague-based journal Květen. Válek puts things together, connects and mixes what has been seen as contradictory, making use of the difference and creating his poetics of contradictions. We find a Mallarmé-like poem (intimate pure lyricism), fragments of Apollinaire’s Zone (the world’s rushing reality) and a Prévertian story (a history-cum-metaphor); all this transforms into Válek‘s capture of contradictions. Válek does not close his eyes to dream. He keeps them opened, to differentiate, to name things, to make see and understand that there are the invisible truths and that questions do arise. And that these truths are unearthed and these questions addressed by poetry alone.


  Translated by Ľuben Urbánek