Publication Date: 2 October 2023
Also available digitally as an eBook on Kindle, from Amazon.
Petr Hruška is one of the Czech Republic’s leading contemporary poets. Everything Indicates: Selected Poems represents an invaluable introduction to his work for English-speaking readers, gathered in a translation of verve and poignancy by Jonathan Bolton. Hruška’s poems uncover realities we may have sensed but have never before found as precisely and unsettlingly articulated.
A Room for the Night
the big trucks roared like ravenous
beasts of the night
you called out the price to me
a room for two people
the guy from the gas station
angular with lack of sleep
led us up a steep staircase
Berlin Krakow Trieste all of it
was in the past now
I had never seen
such a narrow room
when we wanted to turn around
we had to embrace
In Everything Indicates, a gentle surrealism quietly disarms the reader and slips off with her defenses. Hruška’s poems, mostly describing the small moments of daily life, seem straightforward at fi rst. One begins by reading about laundry on a line, or spilled paint, or a flower shop, but by the poem’s close is brought up short by a profound encounter with God, or the secret interiority of those we love and have believed we’ve known, or one’s “own precise unimportance.” Petr Hruška’s poems are like cunningly assembled boxes—they seem compact and unadorned, but somehow, all the terrible, magnifi cent world fits inside them.
This selection of one of the Czech Republic’s most highly regarded living poets is excellently rendered into English by Jonathan Bolton. Petr Hruška’s poems are often sardonic and terse portrayals of the quotidian, yet almost imperceptibly, they unveil startling avenues of thought that tremble with unsettled feeling.
Everything Indicates by Petr Hruška
Food in a sour outpouring of light.
It was already like this under the communists.
Just two types of everything,
the dialectic of beans, wine, chocolate,
except for vodka.
The bottles and cans are pressed together
like a wall
over which tomorrow slowly crawls.
And there was always
a woman in the storeroom in back.
She was arranging or carrying something,
something simple and important
was stirring back there,
as if she were balancing out
the depths of the night,
while a person in line
watched the Baltic sardines
vanish irreversibly into someone else’s hands.
you wipe off the tabletop in vain
that’s not a spill
from inside the household
it’s the malevolent bush
of mock orange in spring
casting its shadow from the garden
Reinforced concrete is reinforced concrete.
The pale pillar aims callously
breaking through lowness.
At its base there is an undergrowth
of wildly blooming graffiti,
the nervousness of leaves.
But the pillar rises higher,
disappears from sight,
amidst murky scraps of fog.
The trunk of reinforced concrete
as befits our age
is larger than the embrace of five men.
There must be something up there.
There has to be,
when a pillar like this
is standing here.
Jonathan Bolton is Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University, where he teaches Czech and Central European literature, history, and culture. He is the author of Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, The Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture under Communism, and he edited and translated In the Puppet Gardens: Selected Poems, 1963-2005, a book-length collection by Czech poet Ivan Wernisch. His translations of Czech poetry and fiction have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation, B O D Y, Apofenie, Circumference, Best European Fiction 2018, and elsewhere. He has been translating the work of Petr Hruška for almost twenty years, and selected the poems for this edition in consultation with the poet.
Petr Hruška (b. 1964) is a poet and literary historian who lives in Ostrava. With its environmental devastation and myriad social problems, this industrial city, located above enormous reserves of black coal, has played a major role in Hruška’s poetics. His poetry has won a number of state and international awards, including the Czech State Award for Literature in recognition of his collection Darmata (To No Travail, 2012), and the Magnesia Litera, the most prestigious annual literary award in the Czech Republic, for his newest collection, Spatřil jsem svou tvář (I Caught Sight of My Face, 2022), an extended meditation on Magellan’s voyage around the world. He writes screenplays, publishes a literary magazine, co-organizes literary events and festivals, and participates in civic initiatives for environmental causes and the preservation of cultural monuments in his region. Hruška also writes short stories, columns, and essays, many of which are collected in V závalu (Cave-In, 2020). He works at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague, specializing in poetry from the twentieth century to the present, and is the author of scholarly articles and books on Czech poetry.
In his restrained lyrics, Hruška captures moments of anger and conflict as well as love and revelation. He has said that poetry lets us perceive a world that doesn’t belong to us; in this experience of transcendence, his poems find both frustration and wonder. He often asks readers to focus on sensory details even as he lets us fill in the larger emotional context ourselves. The co-ordinates of a Hruška poem are the intensity of suppressed or inarticulate emotion, the sense of limited information in a scene coalescing before our eyes, and the uncertainty that arises among friends and family when rivalry, conflict, and frustration become entangled with intimacy and love.
Collections of Hruška’s poetry have been published in French, German, Polish, Italian, Hungarian, Romanian, and Croatian translation.