- Czech Republic -
Marie Iljašenko (1983) was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, into a family of Czech-Polish descent. Her family moved to the Czech Republic in 1992. She graduated from the Charles University, Prague in Comparative literature and East-European Studies. Her collection of poems Osip míří na jih (Osip is Heading to the South) was published in 2015 and won critical acclaim. It was nominated for the Magnesia Litera Prize in the category Discovery of the Year. She has also been nominated for the Dresdener Literature Prize (2015) and Václav Burian Prize (2016). Her second book of poetry Sv. Outdoor (St. Outdoor), was published in 2019. Among others, her poems were featured in the anthology Nejlepší české básně (Best Czech Poetry) 2013, 2014 and 2017, Polish anthology Sąsiadki (2020), Spanish anthology Antología de poesía checa contemporánea (2021). Her writings were translated into English, German, French, Polish, Spanish, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Romanian and Japanese. Her poetry was set to music by French composer Philippe Manoury. Occasionally, she writes short stories, essays and columns. In addition, Marie translates from Polish and Ukrainian (Jury Andruchovych, Olena Huseinova, Dmytro Lazutkin, Halyna Kruk, Iya Kiva, Taras Prokhasko, etc; Anna Adamowicz, Zofia Bałdyga, Urzsula Honek, Agata Jabłońska, Iwona Witkowska, Urszula Zajączkowska, etc) and works as an editor in the publishing house and art gallery. She lives in Prague with her husband and a cat.
Through Marie Iljašenko's poetry, which she writes in the Czech language, resonates a rich interplay of influences from different languages, experiences and cultures that are part of her multicultural identity. Her poetic output began in 2015, with her debut poetry collection Osip míří na jih (Osip is Heading to the South), which was nominated for the Magnesia Litera Award in the Discovery of the Year category. Her second collection of poetry, Sv. Outdoor (St. Outdoor), also published by the Czech publishing house Host, which received an outstanding response from readers and Czech literary critics, was published in 2019. The cultural, historical and social aspects of the author's dispersion between different cultures and languages, as well as her sovereign and distinctive poetics won her several Czech and international awards – such as nominations for the prestigious Dresden Poetry Prize (2014) and the Václav Burian Prize (2016) – as well as numerous translations that have put her writing in touch with the breadth of European and world literature.
The Central European "cultural mix" established in her early childhood through Ukrainian and Russian culture, the later influence of Czech literature and literature studies resonate strongly in her debut poetry Osip míří na jih (Osip is Heading to the South), which is introduced by verses of the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam about memories of his years in Armenia, confronting the reader with the gap between the dreamlike, distant land of childhood and the grim reality of the present. Similar contrasts occur in the migrations within the poetic space and time of Iljašenko's poetry collection, as it takes us on an ambiguous journey between the narrative and the lyrical, between the external and the internal habitus, where a seemingly pleasant but also sometimes oppressive home alternates with real and imaginary journeys between European places and cities around the world, as well as spaces of the soul, emotion, and memory. The opposition of staying in one place and moving around is presented by way of many intertextual references and allusions, within which the author skilfully incorporates mythology, religion, and old beliefs while contrasting them with the everyday challenges of human existence, so that the whole can resonate together in a seeming timelessness. Through the eyes of a lyrical observer who, across centuries of cultural affinities, differences and distances of time, carefully searches for her place in the world, to be in motion, to change one's (geo)position, always means to transform one's destiny. In this respect, the collection, with its many contrasts, conceptually proves to be a well-organised whole, thought-out in detail, visible also at the very beginnings of the poems, where the author narratively throws the reader into the action and then leads them into the poetic dynamics, visible both within the individual chapters, which are concluded by a long poem with reference to the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, and on the level of symbolism of the longing to fly away into the liberating distance. Even on a line-by-line basis, with sensitivity to language and form, the variety of lyrical motifs and themes ranges from the questioning of human existence and pressing social issues to themes of love and meditative dreams, that suggest, on the one hand, the promise of the journey and, on the other, melancholic farewells and poetic halts. The latter are rounded off by elements of movement as the leitmotif of the collection, which the author, a perceptive observer of the external world, intertwines with the interior and leads the reader on a journey of introspection, even more visibly addressed by the closing poems of her debut.
The author's second collection of poetry, Sv. Outdoor (St. Outdoor, 2019), again offers a unique poetic world in which we are greeted by wanderings, on the one hand a search for lost time, and on the other, reflections on the contemporary world. This can be traced in the very title of the work, as the title character is the patron saint of those who think it is better to be "outside" than "inside", and similarly to Iljašenko's previous work, we can again see the alternation of these two opposites and their combination, as the division into indoor and outdoor space is also a formal feature of the collection. The motto of the collection itself, "Now you can get up and go / where your heart and soul lead you", launches a journey that this time builds or centres around the "self" and explores its depths, together with different emotional states that take place in relation to places, objects and people, resulting in a longing for the lost or the distant, woven together with melancholic states, but at the same time with the inner dynamics of the subject, which guides us through the work with a melodic flowing verse. The lyrical subject is a transfixed observer of the outside world, silently internalising it, but also opening it up for otherness and distance, so she can reach out for freedom, even though in doing so she may risk pain and obstacles. In doing so, alongside mental and emotional states the author subtly suggests some of the social problems of today, with the foreground prominently inhabited by the thematization of the woman, whom she urges to move from stasis to dynamism, in order to confront herself and the world. The fragile, somewhat blurred poetic landscape leaves open ends and ambiguity regarding who the title patron may or may not be, what is home and what is the outside world, which, with simultaneous playfulness, existential distress and social observation, also work at the level of verses, where the collection proves to be carefully considered and, given its frequent absence of punctuation and otherwise minimalist approach, feels airy, open and moves smoothly from poem to poem. With its varied motifs, the whole does not lose its strength, but emphasises above all the moment of action, activity and rebellion, which the author implies very calmly and slowly at the otherwise open ending. The latter can be observed both in the mental and emotional landscape within the lyrical subject, as well as in the poems’s other characters, whom the lyrical voice either observes or, like the author, leads to transcend their own limits – from a hard stare into their own interiority toward a reach-out into the space of the external, perhaps as yet unknown, in order to take their own destiny in their hands.
With her distinctive lyrical language, interweaving diverse cultural traditions and searching for a poetic (and personal) space, Marie Iljašenko is a uniquely fresh wind in the Czech literary landscape, an already refined and strongly recognised voice of her poetic generation, with a message to be listened to.
Essay written by Aljaž Koprivnikar
invisible animals / neviditelná zvířata
we live like this: she sees invisible animals in the bathroom
I keep stumbling over her during my night walks across the flat
we dream our shallow dreams I of fast japanese cars
she of the ringing of keys signalling his arrival
every now and then she leaps up her tail shaking with excitement
then she lies down dejectedly: the mats crumpling the silent whistling
we both have grown a lot recently: through fire and smoke
through the flames of kitchen hotplates the mercies of lockdown
we wash only in low current no-one can take us aback
except for the bathroom invisibles
living their days underneath the high pile
it’s because of them our beards twitch at night
everest / everest
the life of a pheasant in the middle of a city:
how much more mysterious than people’s lives? what bothers the pheasant?
does his nervous system recognise solitude
or do his nerves resemble weed tissue?
he looks forsaken in the middle of the construction site
does he too desire the everyday?
the little subtle things
that can be repeated but not described repeatedly:
taking care of feathers taking baths in dusty pits
constantly distracted by the city
I see him from high above
the perspective has sent a street behind him into another district
broken by the trade fair palace as unwieldy as a kaaba
the grey inverse plane in front of him as deserted
as our next days
he too is colourless and yet I recognise him
perhaps due to his walk or posture:
legs like sticks measuring the building estate
without knowing it is a building estate
the scaffolding for a high-rise construction lying around
he knows not what will come but I do
as I watch him from high above
in the weeks to come he’ll live in a shadow
in the weeks to come he’ll live with the workers
under the wings of the everest scaffolding system
hunting season / lovecká sezóna
for Gary Snyder
once a year pheasants hunt human beings doing things
irresistibly attractive for humans: everyone picks one
the pheasant shoots a human who then is forced to pluck him carry home and eat it
that’s how a pheasant gets inside a human lives on in him
waits in him hiding but the human has no idea
when a lot of pheasants get inside a lot of humans suddenly they’ll attack
humans without a pheasant inside them will also be surprised
and everything will change ever so slightly: what’s called an intrinsic revolution
a night in henry’s pocket / noc v henryho kapsičce
where does love leave for when it ceases to be love?
what does it do in that kingdom? like a walnut
under the membrane of the milky wave does it last does it last?
like a lizard in the sun catching its own tail
became a stone in its malachite kingdom
where everything’s green time has ceased to be
it has left and now in henry’s pocket in a cat’s ear
still it lasts still it lasts still it lasts
delta / delta
he says he’d like to stand in ice river, walk towards ice river,
dipping his ankles in it, he doesn’t want to be called philodendron xanadu anymore.
he repeats it patiently to me like to an idiot,
as I sprinkle him with still water and he shivers all over with cold –
I don’t want to be called philodendron xanadu anymore.
the tepid water seeping into the peat, a few drops shining in the mossy substrate,
I love him, the stubborn plant who doesn’t care he lives on a shelf with books,
who doesn’t care he’s sensitive to cold, who knows what he wants and wants it in vain –
all things considered, in vain –
we need to go and discover the river, I tell him, one day we’ll discover a river,
with our apartment lying in its delta.
lake / jezero
cats hissing at you like snakes
we leave them alone at the apartment and head out to the lake
but it turns out it’s impossibly far away
its impossibility was at the germ of this idea:
the evening approaches and we’re still underway:
the sky today is like teflon tablecloth
an air column presses down the head
I feel the pain in the legs subside
but fever is drawing near
I feel everything but desire
in a snake of cars we wait for a place to park
turnstiles give cold feet: will you know where to stick it in?
a forest of mildews and pine trees growing in-between the fingers
and there’s no more room for us in the lake
there’re so many people here: two cocoa girls,
coming out of a czech blonde and a senegalese
a rachitic youth carrying his adult sister in his arms
(contorted legs and a diaper soaking with lake water weigh her down)
the air is full of their laughter
the smell of garlic frisbees beer sausages sweat and pine trees
the air is full of everything except for desire
come closer / pojď blíž
at the swimming-pool you encounter bodies marked by birth,
bearded vaginas, a viral rash on the thighs (one’s own),
golden chains, shame. the swimming-pool knows inclusion, not epiphany:
you can sharpen your claws all day, but you won’t wash away
the fatigue and city dust (there’re showers for that)
chlorinated water has lost all its might.
in the summer the city’s different than in the rest of the seasons
as if undergoing the hardest test.
I say to it: I’ll tie you round my neck like a noose,
lay you on the tongue like a pea, for a whole decade
you’ve been so foreign, until I entered into your river
down steps made of grass and chalk minerals.
a slow current carried me from hradčany to libeň,
exposing me to carnivorous angels,
on the other bank at the market-hall a biennale was coming to a close,
to which they’d invited me as a foreigner – the posters said, come closer!
but I couldn’t come any closer, I was just in the city centre,
in the neighbourhood of nutrias and conches, of river vermin,
in the city district of underwater plants.