Petr Borkovec

Czech Republic

Petr Borkovec was born in 1970 in Louňovice pod Blaníkem, Central Bohemia. The poet and translator lives in Černošice, close to Prague. Since 1990 Petr Borkovec continuously publishes books of poetry. Edition Korrespondenzen, for instance, published several of Borkovec’s books in a beautiful bibliophile bilingual (Czech/German) layout and design: Liebesgedichte (2014), Fünfter November und andere Tage (2006), Nadelbuch (2004) and Feldarbeit (2001) (translated by Christa Rothmeier). Two other collections, Aus drei Büchern (1995) and Überfuhr (1996) were published by Edition Thanhäuser. In addition to his work as a poet, Petr Borkovec translates Russian 20th century poetry and antique plays for, above others, the national theatre in Prague.

 

From 1992 to 2016 he worked as an editor for the literary magazine Souvislosti; from 2005 to 2015 he taught at the private academy for literature, Josef-Škvorecky-Literaturakademie, in Prague. Petr Borkovec won various renowned awards – the Jirí-Orten-prize for poetry, the Hermann Lenz-award, the Norbert C. Kaser-award etc. 


Petr Borkovec is an outstanding poet. Seemingly without effort he creates images, atmospheres and intense moments. Readers cannot help but come back to his poetry again and again – and each time they are charmed as for the first time – due to his special skill of presenting enormous precision in his writing while at the same time offering lots of space for the reader‘s own ideas.

What he did for the Austrian publishers’scene is a great deal. In 2001, Alfred Dunshirn states in „Literarisches Kabinett“:

„For all of you who are poetry fans I may present to you a young publishing house in Vienna called Korrespondenzen. This Austrian publishing house is inspired by the idea of editing contemporary European poetry.

One of their authors is Petr Borkovec, who was born in the Czech Republic. Franz Hammerbacher – one of the editors – assured that Borkovec‘ volume Feldarbeit was essential for founding the publishing house at all. This young Czech writer, who was raised in the middle of Bohemia, a young guy of 31, is living in Prague. It’s not the very touristic and magical old town of Prague, though – we are talking about outskirts and panel buildings, about suburban cinemas and grey suburban trains.

The bilingual volume Feldarbeit is some sort of diary of Prague, telling about the second half of the 1990ies.“

German speaking readers are lucky for having Petr Borkovec‘ translator (from Czech into German) - the wonderful Christa Rothmeier who is able to transform this excellent poetry in a more than fitting way. Ilma Rakusa states in NZZ (2001): „We have to emphasize the tasteful, beautifully done layout of the volume and even more the incisive and unpretentious translation by Christa Rothmeier.“

The translator herself (in better words: sensitive follower of verses) writes in her epilogue of Feldarbeit:

„In the 1990ies he published five volumes of poetry: Prostírání do tichého (Ausbreitung ins Stille), 1990; Poustevna, věstírna, loutkárna (Eremitage, Orakelstätte, Puppenremise), 1991; Ochoz (Umgang), 1994; Mezi oknem, stolem a postelí (Zwischen Fenster, Tisch und Bett), 1996 und Polní práce (Feldarbeit), 1998. In 1995 Ochoz was awarded the Jiří-Orten-Price. Even in his first book Borkovec already presented himself as a writer of incisively handled imagery and poetics which he developed consistently throughout the subsequent collections. Yet he still manages to sound out depths in wilfully produced interiors and sketches of landscape. He is offering tangible sights to reality; nexus in biography. He creates sensitivity, detects ruptures in the atmosphere. He excessively exaggerates banalities and unsightliness, hence transforming his poems into polished artefacts. The longing for inner freedom and harmony is counteracted by feelings of strangeness and being unhouse. This motive can be regarded as an encoded reference to the lives of emigrated Russian writers. This sort of intertextuality is not only used for exposing the poet’s ego. It also creates a context within which poetry is not only placed in superficial but also in imaginary circumstances, where they then get defamiliarized.“

And so it all began with this Czech-born writer in Austria and a win-win-situation: The well-defined programme of the publishing house, the wonderful poet and his congenial translator, both still holding on to Korrespondenzen, are able to proudly present: Feldarbeit is also available on CD (texts read by Otto Sander and Petr Borkovec) by now as well as three more volumes of poetry by Petr Borkovec in bilingual editions: Nadelbuch, Fünfter November und andere Tage and Liebesgedichte (2014).

Petr Borkovec is repeatedly awared (e.g. Hubert Burda Award 2002, norbert c. kaser Award 2002) and can be seen as a steadily brilliant writer. No matter who is doing a review, who is giving a laudation, which broadcasting line is presenting him – there is always a very touching moment, respect by the audience in facing the poet ‘s unsophisticated duct and even an idea of humility.

If Petr Borkovec‘ poems were river pebbles – imagine that – they‘d be stored in jacket pockets for keeping them close.

The very skilful way of choosing his topics is another secret of Borkovec‘ irresistibility. The validity of his work – never having a glance on misunderstandings à la state of the art-writing is settled near by the silent banks of river time, resting there charmingly.

In Nadelbuch he is referring to his female ancestors; Fünfter November und andere Tage is clearly refusing a world of self-esteem and soul-destroying ring tones, all of it imploding on it‘s own arrogance – it is a book about „the nearly nothing of tiny movements“ (as the publishing house describes it). In the author‘s own words: „ I can hear, how it lasts.“

In Love Poems (Liebesgedichte) the publishers see:

„poetry that is not dedicated to love like an anthem. Not love itself is made the focus of the volume but a way of looking at the world together, which then probably allows balance. Still a bit raw, sharp edged, soft and fulfilled with subtle irony these poems are moving towards the reader. They are painted as still life, fables, dialogues, dreams and registers; shimmering miniatures of attentiveness.“

„Sometimes I get the impression he is looking for the ultimate balance, for spare rooms you can hardly describe – and I think he is able to express exactly that…“ (Christa Rothmeier about Petr Borkovec)