Martina Strakova

Slovakia

Martina Straková studied cultural sciences and graduated from the Faculty of Arts at the Charles University in Bratislava. Later she received scholarships at leading German universities and her PhD title in Philosophy. Since 2013, she has been co-organizing the International Poetry Festival Ars Poetica, where she holds a free creative writing workshop Bring Your Poem offered to the wide public as a stable part of the festival program. She is dedicated to writing poetry, fairy tales for children, painting and artistic translation from/to German and English language. She debuted with her poetry collection called Postcards from Invisible Places (Pohľadnice z neviditeľných miest, Ars Poetica, 2019). She lives and works in Bratislava.


Martina Straková’s first collection, Postcards from Invisible Places, was published in 2019. The opening poem, river of murmurs, begins:

 

into    this    river    I     go    up    to    my    eyes

and here I glimpse 

my    flowing

 

and the collection may be thought of like this: a report on a flow of life, not in conventional reportage but in an original language of water, plants, moths, and other natural things.

There are four sections, entitled Cabinet PhotosHerbariaLepidoptera, and Roman Pines. The first section is much concerned with the sea and marine creatures. The sea is exotic, experienced in tourism; it is unknown, or insufficiently known, as the speaker of the poems feels. Devoting herself sometimes to a relationship, at others to her own heights and depths, the speaker alternates between mental planes. This section has at least two very striking poems (I have yet to decipherI’m a wrinkly / whale from the endlessly flowing sea). 

In the second section, dedicated to the memory of her country’s great botanist Izabela Textorisová, the speaker is more in her element. Slovakia’s immensely rich culture of healing plants, which astonished me when I encountered it, is drawn upon here, but unfailingly with a light touch – non-botanists need not worry! Let’s take, for example, Melissa officinalis/lemon balm

 

radiant

 

music of the spheres

 

my dearest

 

                  river pearl

 

act so

 

that no arrhythmia

 

may disturb your healing harmony

 

The publisher’s material tells us that Martina Straková studied at German universities and has a doctorate in the history of philosophy. Here and there one may find echoes of great philosophical thoughts in these poems, but they’re subtle and unobtrusive. Martina Straková wears her learning lightly. Her discipline in thinking no doubt helps her to write very purely and starkly in the single printed poem of the crucial third section – but then she also has the discipline simply to let those echoes die out:

 

                                    ~ Samia Cynthia

Ailanthus Silkmoth

 

 

an undeveloped mouth opening

 

 

                  so that

 

                                    she cannot

 

                                                      speak and receive food

 

and lives precisely

 

                                    always

 

                                                      only

 

 

                                                                        seven days

 

Cynthia has at least one larger significance, which half of the readers will grasp instantly and many of the others fairly quickly. But she may send the mind in other directions also. Some may think of a great biologist reflecting on another small creature, a certain wasp, whose fate, as terrible as Cynthia’s, made him think disturbing thoughts about theology. Anyhow, the reader must make of this poem whatever she or he will. All the author wants to add, in  the small, pleasing handwriting that sometimes appears in the book, is an enigmatic three-line poem: 

 

I  want  to  say  to  you

better one hears     better

from a height        down

 

The echoes of Cynthia die out (though one hears them again in the final section), and her image fades out also in a series of sketches by Lívia Kožušková, whose illustrations accompany these poems well.

The fourth section is planned as a piece of music, with tempo indications: Adagio, Andante, etc. This conclusion is piercingly sad: Allegro is the tempo obviously missing there. To end such a sequence is certainly very difficult. But although the collection has a story which has an ending, to my mind the destination is less important than what one meets along the way. 

The speaker of the poems has a gift for thinking sympathetically about the growing of plants, in parallel to her own growing. This goes for even such a humble, not-much-admired variety as Portulaca oleraca ~ dog-grass. Or Arnica montana ~ mountain arnica, another plant not wont to live luxuriously, which inspires a fine miniature:

 

 

there

 

where the press of bricks is

 

indivisible

 

as the hierarchy of the heavenly angels

 

there let’s be joined

 

 

(but here my English falls short of the last word in the Slovak version, napojení, which also evokes suggestions of being enabled to drink – ordinary water, or perhaps even a love potion).  

 

Both the animate and inanimate make bracing contact, as in the rock clasped me, where memory takes the speaker back to her plants:

 

I enter a memory

of the healing aroma

of camelias

 

I roam through fields

of dandelion, bramble and chicory...

 

The plants are known and trusted, they will do their work of healing as far as they can. But the unknown hangs over this collection. While drawing freely on the heritage of natural and other science, the speaker does not feel it is everything. At her boldest, the root-seeking speaker ponders the flow of the mysterious sea:

 

I have still to decipher

the frequency of flow

of moving waters

oceans

inner ear

conches and scrolls

of the submarine realm

 

where all is signalled

sonarly

 

and finished with fins

 

I repose in deepest concentration

where neither sound nor light

will reach unless

 

by the casts of telepathy

 

 

Essay by John Minahane