Visitors invisible through treetops: the poetry of Katerina Rudcenkova

Katerina Rudcenkova is one of the two Czech poets featured in a new book published by Arc publications, called "A Fine Line: New Poetry from Eastern and Central Europe". It has a preface written by former President Vaclav Havel and it has had excellent reviews. Katerina talks to Bernie Higgins.

Katerina RudcenkovaKaterina Rudcenkova Can you tell me when you first started to write poetry?

"Yes. I started as a teenager. I used to write a diary and stories and poems. I tried also to write theatre plays, but I was maybe most successful in poetry."

You studied screenplay-writing and songwriting in Prague as well as economics and management. How did those two go together?

"[Laughs] That's what people always ask me. My parents are both economists, so I was following them. At the same time I tried to do what I wished to do.

Nowhere

Covered by purple leaves
I'll leave my roots under water.

You will open the window, and from a distance hear the blows from the time when
They killed carp by the vats in winter.

You will immerse yourself in reading,
pondering things
so as not to think about yourself.

You will feel good inside those voices
with two sentences left
the first made of my rib,
the second of yours.

(tr. Alexandra Büchler)

Clearly from your early years you have been multi-talented, and even now you don't only write poetry. You take photographs and you've recently also written a theatre-play. Could you say something about the range of your work?

"Well, I try to do what I can. This play was commissioned by the Vienna Theatre Group. They wanted me to write a play about Oskar Kokoschka, the Austrian painter, and I wrote about his relationship to Alma Mahler, the widow of Gustav Mahler. In photography I work especially in black-and-white."

Have you had exhibitions of your photography - or used your photographs in relation to your poetry?

"No, I don't use them in relation to poetry, but I only had one exhibition in Plzen."

So it's developing relatively slowly in relation to your poetry, which I think has developed really quite rapidly in the last two years. I know you've now been translated into Romanian, Slovenian, German, Italian, French, as well as English, so you've started to travel outside the Czech Republic.

"Yes, I did. So poetry is now my main field."

So how would you say the Czech literary scene is at the moment for a young poet like yourself? Is it a very vital and rich environment?

"I think there is a lot going on on the Czech literary scene. A lot of poetry books are published and there are a lot of competitions. So I think it's very lively."

Would you say it's a more difficult environment for a female writer?

"I think that generally for a female in any field it's more difficult, because men are understood as the basis and women as decoration. So I think it takes much more effort for women to get ahead in any field - also in literature - than for men."

I look forward to sleep
as if it allowed us to back out of life.

Evening is reserved for women
A tight, stifling embrace

Bear it a little longer, they promise
as if there were something to wait for.

(tr. Alexandra Büchler)

Could you say a little about the themes of your poetry?

"I'm inspired by my life, then by other poets, theatre plays. It's about life, about feelings, about relationships to other people. Czech poets who have inspired me included Vladimir Holan or Jiri Orten. Current poets would include Zbynek Hejda or Viola Fischerova, and among foreign writers, Gottfried Benn and Thomas Bernhard, although he is not a poet."

And as a Czech poet who is reaching out and making many international connections, how do you feel that other European countries relate to the Czech Republic? How much of an understanding do you think they have?

"German and Austrian publishers are more interested in Eastern European writers than - for example - in England or America."

But I know that a year or so ago you attended the Dublin writers' festival. What sort of reception did you get in Ireland?

"I loved Dublin. It's beautiful there - especially the countryside. As for the reception - I was there for only three days, but I think people were interested, but I'm not sure about the interest of publishers."

Lunyi svet

Heads like anglepoise lamps
A face the same colour in the background
A luminescent forest
In it a white-walled
cemetery
Covered with noon shadows
none of which reaches
as far as the church
And windows, evening-like windows

All that in a single turn of the head
Anglepoise, anglepolise
How does it feel
to be devoured
in the jaws of a beast?

(tr. Alexandra Büchler)

You are currently focusing, I think, mainly on your poetry. Have you any idea over the next years what your future literary career might look like?

"At the moment I don't write poetry at all. I've just published a new book, my third book of poetry, and now I am trying to write a new play for a Czech theatre - Cinoherni studio, Usti nad Labem."

What is this play about?

"Now I am really interested in feminist topics, so it will be about women and how hard it is for women to get ahead in life."

"I think it will be received negatively, because I think this topic is not very popular here."

Well I'll certainly buy a ticket! [Both laugh]. I think this is very interesting that a young outstanding writer like yourself is turning to this theme, because I feared that it was one that had become a bit unfashionable. I know that you recently had a reading here at the Gender Studies Centre in Prague, so I should imagine that you had a positive response there.

"No. It was very interesting reading there, because there were very few people in the audience - only four men. No women [laughs]!"

Nights

Mostly warm nights with windows open wide
are filled with cries and sobs.

Visitors invisible through treetops.
This is where the year draws to an end.

A student who is a pedestrian in the street
and a drowning man in the sea
becomes a tiny saint
in some family alcove.

There, the night has come. You'll know me
by my footsteps and by the shape of my shadow.

(tr. Alexandra Büchler)

The book "A Fine Line: New Poetry from Eastern and Central Europe" is published by Arc Publications www.arcpublications.co.uk.