Ondřej Macl

- Czech Republic -

Born in 1989 in Hradec Králové, Czech writer and performer Ondřej Macl currently lives in Prague. He graduated in comparative literature at the Charles University, in authorial acting at the Academy of Performing Arts and in social work and journalism at the Masaryk University.  

He also spent some time at the European House Bordeaux-Aquitaine (an year), Paris-Sorbonne IV (a half year), Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema in Lisbon (a half year), Visegrad Literary Residency in Budapest (three months) or TAKT Artist Residency Berlin (a month).

His experimental book “Miluji svou babičku víc než mladé dívky” (I Love My Grandma More Than I Love Young Women, 2017) won Jiří Orten Award 2018 organised by the Association of Czech Booksellers and Publishers. The book develops his diploma thesis on the variances of Eros in the history of European literature. His second book “K čemu jste na světě” (What You Were Born For, 2018) includes feminist conceptual poetry. The following novel “Výprava na ohňostroj” (The Fireworks Expedition, 2019) is dedicated to European Union and young people. 

As a performer, he co-founded the artistic platform “Nothing Is A Problem Here” focused on the searching of “new relations instead of new works” (inspired by long tradition of cabarets, rituals, happenings...). Directed by Anna Luňáková, they performed in several international theatre festivals in France, Portugal or Morocco (prize for the interaction).  

His experience includes also art criticism, poetry slam or work with the mentally-exceptional people.

Ondřej Macl’s collection, What You Were Born For, is rooted in the media storm brought about by a poem about a woman, Jiří Žáček’s “Mommy,” included in primary-school textbooks. It tackled the answer to the question, “What were girls born for?”, and its solution was very simple: “In order to become mommies.” Žáček faced deserved criticism for endorsing gender stereotypes and clumsy poetic flattening of a complex ontological issue. The poet called his critics gender female jihadists. Meaning diehard warriors. Ondřej Macl, too, challenged this classical figure of Czech poetry to a duel of sorts. He did so by means other than yet another media skirmish. Macl picks up a wanderer’s staff and sets out to collect life-stories of femmes fatales across millennia,  sailing like Sandman on dreams from one mythology to another, and never losing his breath, he keeps singing anew again and again: “This, too, is what you were born for!” Jiří Žáček defines women solely on the basis of their biological function. In a poetic sense, he strips them of any reason to live unless they fulfil their reproductive role. Macl, on the other hand, sets out on a tour around pantheons, bringing us stories of goddesses. 


From the onset, the air is heavy with conflict, a rebellion against textbooks and all dogmatic life-projects. What is most interesting about schooling for Macl is “the pleasure from the forbidden.” What is at stake is a certain tension between disciple and master, an ageing literary star and a young, budding poet still at the start of his career. Macl toys with this symbolism. His texts resound with the rhythm of Žáček’s poem, using it as a stave on which to hang his own words. The firmly established world order invites new variations and endless refutations. The logic of “mommies” is challenged here by Lesbia and all non-hetero girls, there by dancer-agent Mata Hari, born perhaps in order to blow a last air kiss in the face of her murderers. The Author himself sits Žáček down at a school-desk, serving him the fates of women who did not make it into his little poem. (Macl toyed with this symbolism at the launch of his collection, turning all the attendees into his pupils, providing everyone with a reason to live written by someone else.) 


Macl summons us to create our own world, just as he has done in his performance. In order to break through the blackboard and get to its other side, like Alice through the looking-glass or Lucy through the magic wardrobe“Create your own universe!” he calls on his readers. Isn’t every child one such universe? Does Macl realise that his polemic with Žáček’s poem launches a fight with the entire genetic-biological interpretation of the world? Doesn’t Ondřej defy the third commandment: Honour thy father and mother? Does the poet of Macl’s calibre dare defy his own mommy? 


He does, and few poets are in a better position for such a sally than author of the collection, I Love My Grandmother More Than Young Girls. His respect for women, including his relatives, is indisputable. In the collection, a poem dedicated to the author’s mother can be found, called “The Older She Gets the Nicer She Smells.” The mother character pervades the entire collection. Relation with her is far from simple however, let alone fake-courteous. She, too, is a woman with her own scent, feelings and face. Macl expresses his sympathy for the Madonna who has turned into a pieta, reproaching Jesus for leaving his mother in hell on earth. The sympathy and solidarity naturally felt with a loss of a child become more than just the lavish Marian cult. Mother also features in a poem on fairy-tales, “What the Little Red Riding-Hood Was Born For”, in which the author advises her not to read but wait for the father instead. All of Macl’s poems that feature mother as character are marked by an odd mixture of slightly cheeky intimacy and the striving for a deep understanding of the personal troubles of the other. Macl doesn’t fall for denominating his mother shallowly as the formal midpoint of the universe but allows the reader inside his tangibly loving relationship with her. 


One of the climaxes of Macl’s rebellion against the stereotype according to which the female lot is merely to breed, is a poem in which he sets himself the task of “fertilising himself”. Macl’s femininity and masculinity are no mere biological facts, no clear givens, but stories of inner states. In his poetic diction he takes his own half-a-step beyond the conception of gender according to Butler, defeating the cruelty of social stereotypes in his own idiosyncratic fashion. “I’m a woman,” declares Ondřej Macl, “and I demand no surgery.”


The only poem with an abstract theme, “What Love is Here For” is devoted to love. Could this abstract notion be the real key to gender theory? Isn’t the way we form our masculine and feminine roles also the way we pre-establish a certain romantic communication? Macl may not be writing only about what individual women are here for but also about how to get to them, appreciate and love them. Are we faced here with a more subtle form of love poetry? Isn’t the destruction of firm social orders the only way to really reach the other? Are the non-hetero girls the only ones suffering from stereotypes? Can anyone be satisfied by the limitations of this world when faced with a love that makes it go around?


No, we all suffer from love. Especially when it catches us naked underneath the armour of our genders. Macl’s medicine serves to cure men of their oedipal dreams of mothers. It convicts men fighting feminism of forgetting the very history and deepest roots of their own culture.


The images of goddesses are informed by a deep ability to sympathise with and perceive the other in their complexity, however tortuous their fate. In an interview about his Berlin stay, Ondřej Macl’s reward for winning the Orten Prize, the author revealed he was writing down his experiences of the night services at sheltered housing. Once again, his bold erotic speech enters into spheres of thorny social issues. Macl’s words pierce through the grey carapace of unsociality like an arrow through the red heart, but thanks to his familiarity with the European cultural heritage – which Macl also expects from his readers – his poems are traditional in the best sense of the word. “What were you, mother, born for? / We grew up and quitted, / with dad barely buried. / And our book of fairy-tales / is up for second-hand sales. / If only you took after the book... / The older it grows, the nicer it looks.”


Essay written by Magdaléna Šipka