James Sutherland-Smith
James Sutherland-Smith News Original Poetry Translation & Criticism About James Sutherland-Smith Weblog Connect!

Ján Gavura

Portrait of Ján Gavura




  Ján Gavura was born in Slovakia in 1975.A poet and translator from English he is the recipient of the Ivan Krasko prizefor the best debut in Slovak language 2001 and the Literary Fund for his poetryas well as criticism. He is the author of four collections and his poetry hasbeen translated into all the major world languages. The Other Monk is his firstselection in English.

Ján Gavura’s poetry is a lyricalconversation with his readers. It contains both wit and humour suffused with aconsciousness of the lapsed character of humanity where nature’s existence is aconstant reminder of the possibility of redemption. A spiritual andpsychological ambivalence ranges across poems on the family, travel and theextraordinary Slovak landscape. By setting people, nature and divine aspiration inrelation to each other, he makes poetry which is compelling reading.

“These fine translations by JamesSutherland-Smith make available in English for the first time a substantialselection of Slovakian poet Ján Gavura’s best work. Gavura’s vision isessentially religious in character but the poems inhabit and scrutinise uncertain and frequently cruel human and animal worlds. There is nothingcomplacent here, but rather an often startling gift for simile which bringshuman and beast into unexpected and troubling relationship. The bracing air ofirony and, occasionally, humour give these poems an edge that remind us sharplyof our place in the wider scheme of things.”

David Kinloch

Cover of The Other Monk "The central tension in Gavura’s poetry is a sense of individual being in striving to be in harmony with other human beings and with nature and yet being aware that they have an existence and identity where his own is not of paramount importance. In this sense each poem is an act of humil­ity before the otherness of nature and individual personalities even inside his own family. In this light Gavura is not afraid to reveal his own weak­nesses and faults showing a persona naked in the eyes of the world, at the same time seeking points of contact yet fearing isolation. “An Intake of Breath” closes with a shock of recognition of mutual need not only within a family setting, but within humanity: The hand that stretches out unwit­tingly, / is a greeting of welcome, a plea of the drowning. This is offset by an anxiety that a person can be alienated even from members of his own family as in the opening poem “Hell” where the protagonist is surprised to find hell sop eaceful. Then he looks to take the hand of his daughter: I found just the face of a dog / with sad or empty eyes." (from the introduction.)


I expected a southern gale
and lots of red, blood-red colour.
Lava, flames or smoke of a blaze,
at least in something to match
the prophetic words.

It was all quiet.
People we met
were at peace.

Though when I looked at my daughter
and wanted to hold her firmly by the hand,
I found just the face of a dog
with sad or empty eyes.

Jan and James in Milne§s bar

To Kill

I killed my first wolf
when the hair on my temples
had begun to turn grey.

If you know how,
a roe deer can be killed
with patience, with trust.

Look at wasps like living targets
glittering in a hunter’s heart.
They call: try us, our bones are soft.
There’s only one truth.
We’ve never heard of contradictions.

Even a hunter can be killed,
his years counted exactly
as in the homework of a pupil
who secretly loves his teacher.

In this simile
there’s someone who knows the way,
someone who is the way,
who like a grey wolf goes astray.

Powered by WebGuild Solo
This website ©2005-2024 James Sutherland-Smith