Olga Stehlíková

- Czech Republic -

Olga Stehlíková works as a freelance writer, editor and critic with a focus on contemporary Czech literature. She has founded the Ravt on-line magazine (www.itvar.cz/ravt), she moderates literary programmes in Czech Broadcasting and works as book editor. She has put together dozens of books of poetry and prose for various Czech publishing houses and her poetry has appeared in many Czech and foreign literary magazines. 

Her debut book of poetry, Týdny (Weeks, Dauphin 2014), won the Magnesia Litera Book Prize for poetry. Her second collection of short poems, Vejce/Eggs (Couplets), was released in a unique arrangement in November 2017, along with an LP with Tomas Braun’s music. Her third book of poetry is Vykřičník jak stožár (Exclamation Mark High as a Pole, Perplex 2018). Her poems have been translated into nine languages.


David Vichnar

The first of the ten poems presented here Olga Stehlíková wrote especially for Alienist magazine’s quasi-surrealist enquiry, “Schizophrenia, is it a Solution?” Her playful response addresses the fine line between artistic creation and madness, as well as her staple satirical pastiche of (pseudo-)scientific discourses surrounding the issues of mental health.

The other nine poems come from Olga’s third collection, Exclamation Mark High as a Pole, also (and originally) titled Portraits. Although perhaps less evocative, this second title is quite faithfully descriptive of the collection as a whole: a survey of intimately captured voices, individually uprooted and yearning for togetherness or at least connection. 

With strong personal stylisation, Olga’s poems takes up a panoply of expressive means from quotidian language (well-worn phrases, mental shortcuts, journalistic clichés) in order to “make them new”, orchestrating them into unexpected metaphorical melodies. Her themes concern drab domesticity (“should I be bored, I put on amusing programmes / on the dishwasher”), the straightjacket of the mundane (“when you sit over a soup as over a ditch / with me a whole universe of a table-desk away”), gender imbalance and masculine braggadocio (“I could’ve easily been a minister of something by now. / Easily a minister, a jockey, a husband, or a surgeon. / I could’ve if you would’ve”), and ordeals of un/faithfulness in a partnership (“remember you wanted it all / when, my list in hand, leaning over a silver trolley, / you’re watching that tight ass in jeans / in the drugstore department”). 

What makes Olga’s ordinary themes extra- is the lyrical subject’s desire to revert the irreversible, warning against all the alienations creeping into the most intimate of our cohabitations, as well as a subdued undercurrent of restricted femininity: “I want to identify all dangerous elements in your kitchen […] / I want to be a horse, a seahorse of all / unplanned pregnancies.” Connected to this is her concern with what point there might be in writing poetry in the 21st century (“in poetry there’s no more experience / not even those who write it like it anymore”), and her satire on the conceitedness of some of what passes for official “poetry”: “like all good poets do he always came up with / metaphors, images and unusual phrases / he came with a plastic-bagful of them / like all good poets do.”

What makes Olga’s intimate microcosms macrocosmic is her keen eye for the socio-economic detail (“in front of the workers’ dorm, / out of whose open dirty windows waft beans, fat meat, / unfiltered cigarettes, radio and wife-beaters, / the injustice of life”) and her sensitive ear for a dramatic tone whose urgency never dissipates into pathos. Hers is a poetry “as insatiable as a fatty acid”.