Poetry News

The Beautiful & Revelatory Work of Bohuslav Reynek

By Harriet Staff
Bohuslav Reynek, The Well at Morning, cover

Michael Tate writes about Czech poet, translator, and artist Bohuslav Reynek, whose work has been collected in The Well at Morning: Selected Poems, 1925–1971 (Karolinum Press, Charles University, 2018), translated by Justin Quinn, "whose lyrical renderings delicately dismantle many preconceptions of how a Central European poet ought to sound. The result is beautiful and revelatory." An excerpt from Tate's piece at Los Angeles Review of Books:

From the three essays at the end of the volume, we learn that Reynek was always a rural farmer but began his creative life contributing translations of contemporary German and French poetry to the Czech Stará Říše publishing house, based near his home in the Czech-Moravian Highlands. He began his career, as did so many of his Eastern and Central European contemporaries, as an epigone of the Symbolists, but he soon found his own voice — a voice that was spare and humble, at times proto-absurdist, and also capable of wielding powerful biblical imagery. It is a voice that, according to Quinn, “insists on broader continuities with the European poetic tradition, which glide easily past temporary glitches like communism.”

Consider “A Fool,” which is wittily self-effacing but also philosophically and spiritually profound, drawing on both the Ancient Greek tradition of cynicism (from kuōn, or “dog”) and the Christian tradition of fools for Christ’s sake:

In my village, I’m the fool.
Sad dogs know me — sad white school
of sleepy dogs that drift away
into the distance. They don’t bay.
They keep me happy from afar —
cloudish dogs is what they are
that run about the sky’s massif.
And we’re all drunk on grief.
Where we wander we don’t know.
Ancient shepherd, as I go,
bless my soul with your great gifts
of moon and these long wakeful shifts,
heavy, gashed time and again
like a bleeding heart. Amen.

Like the poetry of Boris Pasternak’s imaginary Dr. Zhivago, Reynek’s work seems to avoid political realities, focusing instead on living, on bearing witness and celebrating what seems small and inconsequential but, to the poet, reflects deeper and more lasting spiritual truths... 

Read on at LARB.