Jana Pácalová

- Slovakia -

Jana Pácalová (1979) is a poet and literature scientist. She studied at the University of Trnava and later received a doctorate in history and theory of Slovak literature from the Institute of Slovak Literature of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. Her research is currently primarily dedicated to fairy tales as well as 19th century Slovak literature, particularly in relation to publishing, analysis and literary and historical contextualization of the works of Slovak romantics, which have so far been marginalized in the field of literary history (i.e. the prose of Samo Chalupka. In the monograph titled Metamorphoses of the Fairy Tale (Metamorfózy rozprávky, 2008), she offered an analysis of the fairy-tale editions of Slovak romantics and their romantic paradigm, and she has recently made accessible and commented on two unique hand-written collections from the first half of the 19th century in two works titled The Tisovec Codices (original edition: The Tisovec Codices. Towards the Roots of Slovak Fairy Tales; Codexy tisovské. K prameňom slovenských rozprávok; 2015) and Codex diversorum auctorum A (from the monograph The Tales of Janko Rimavský; Rozprávky Janka Rimavského; 2015). The author also engages in somehow humbler publishing activities as a poet – so far, she has only written two poetry collections, which have been published many years apart – Emotional Education (Citová výchova, 2003) and All About My Mother (Všetko o mojej matke, 2012).


Jana Pácalová (1979) is the author of two poetry collections, Emotional Education (Citová výchova, 2003) and All About My Mother (Všetko o mojej matke, 2012). When compared to the standard in the Slovak literary environment, they were created in an unusually large span of time, 10 years apart from each other.
The first work of poetry is based on a more traditional approach to lyricism with an accent on self-examination and autobiographic elements. At first glance, the title of the debut, Emotional Education, could be a reference to Gustave Flaubert’s novel or Pavel Vilikovský’s short story (an essential work in the Slovak literary context), but in fact it verifies the principles of emotional education as a purposeful cultivation of emotional life through relationships with people and the surrounding world. Education – as an expression denoting purposeful and rational actions, methods and goals – prevails over emotions. Especially when the subject’s default situation can be characterized as loneliness (pain, emptiness, decay, cold) grasped with a distance and indifference. The protagonist raises herself through trial and error. In no way does she want to admit to softness and intimacy; she constantly confesses to inauthenticity and pretense. She mourns her own conformity. She only cries “fictitious tears” in the “play of extinction”.
The author’s evident strategy is an aware and bared (sometimes also as a virtue of necessity) predominance of words, texts and tradition over the matters of her own heart. The young author replaces the missing experience with a play on idioms: “that is a woman crying / over a spilled marriage”, and does that through decomposition and atomization of everyday activities and inconspicuous occurrences. The whole second part of the collection, titled Syntax, is a development of this method. Syntax is a study of connections between words. Jana Pácalová reimagines sentence analysis. In her own words: “I carefully decompose the myth of love / by playing someone else’s naked body”. Articulating means dividing in order for us to hear (see), but also connecting in order for us to understand. Fragmentation should be in reverse proportion to divergence, or else the threads will tear and the form will dissolve. The author decided take on this risk face to face. The world of a household, a sort of family cycle and, in the midst of it, primarily a tragic continuity of women’s fates. Tiny poetic miniatures creating a loop ranging from childhood to old age. Childhood as a place of asylum and at the same time a stream of imagination. An especially prominent motif of play and make-believe, mainly in relation to the painful, complicated and uncertain transformation of “me and you” into “us”.
When compared to the debut, the second collection, All About My Mother, lacks the intergenerational harmonizing tendencies and inspiration from folklore. There is a significant poetic and thematic shift. While the debut is a showcase of the reproduction of gender stereotypes, the second collection is almost a contrary, thematizing a divorce from illusions about life. The poetic expression is based on minimalist indications and a simultaneous finishing of the tale through references and parallel stories.
This function is also fulfilled by the alter ego of the lyrical subject in the form of the poet Sylvie Plath and her tragic fate, which is especially emphasized in relation to motherhood and the ambivalent feeling of mother-artist. The lyrical subject gives an account of its experience on various mirrored levels: the story of motherhood being born; the confrontation of feelings, which spring from it; containing memories and reflections of her own mother; a parallel literary story of Plath.
The poet moves away from the traditional understanding of women towards doubting gender stereotypes. Motherhood becomes a foundation for a relationship triangle (me – you – another man), all the while the second-person address is dispersed in various directions (child, man, mother, Sylvia).
The double name Sylvia P. (referring to the poet – the Gemini Sylvia Plath, but at the same time coincidentally referring to the extratextual mother Sylvia P. as well) becomes a characteristic strategy of the autobiographic modality of the text. We are, then, witnessing the creation of another, this time all-women relationship triangle, coming across as ambivalent, based on the existential affinity of the protagonists.
The collection is unsurprisingly carried in the spirit of confessional poetry; the effect of the verses is emotionally urging, but not bothersome, even despite the therapeutic effect. On the contrary, the message of the poems is believable and the affinities between the two poets are convincing and don’t seem neither voluntary nor shallow. It is as if the lyrical subject is trying to soften her sadness and her feelings through setting them aside into a distant past, alienating them through the fate of another character and dissolving them in a supra-individual cycle of time.