Mária Ridzoňová Ferenčuhová was born in Bratislava. She graduated in film Screenwriting and Dramaturgy from the Film and TV Faculty of the School of Dramatic Arts in Bratislava (FTF VŠMU). She completed her postgraduate studies in film history and theory and Sciences du Langage at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences sociales in Paris. Currently, she lectures on the history of world film at FTF VŠMU. She is the editor of the film journal KINO-IKON and translates from French (Paul Virilio, Amélie Nothomb, Philippe Brenot). She published three books of poems Skryté titulky (Hidden Subtitles, Bratislava: Drewo a srd, 2003), Princíp neistoty (The Uncertainty Principle, Bratislava: Ars Poetica, 2008) and Ohrozený druh (Jeopardised Species, Bratislava: Ars Poetica, 2013). Her stories, poetry and translations were published in multiple periodicals and anthologies. Her poems were translated into French and English.
In Mária Ferenčuhová’s debut collection Skryté titulky/Hidden Subtitles, the method of the ‘eye of the camera’ has been modified to being that of the ‘eye of the camerawoman’. Ferenčuhová recognises spaces and objects around her and within the self in their detail, yet she also has an emotional distance. Openness (psychologisation and honesty) is carefully placed, and before the coherent object, preference is given to the fragment, perspective, sensual/sensory impulse and experiential reflection; there is a micro-story which speaks adequately but does not reveal everything. The defining framework is space: the urban and public exterior of the big city, which interweaves with one’s private space: ‘In two countries there lives one who is silent and one who is screaming / The reality: the right and left profile of banality: / And between them is a face belonging to no one.’ The thematic preoccupation of the collection is extensive; its driving element is seen and experienced even though this is done through partial accounts. Emotionality emerges as a possible result of what has been written. It is an indication of the subject’s secret, which is hidden (in words and verbs without an agent – in infinitives and participles). Unexpectedly, it irregularly appears in the reflection of a ‘face in the mirror’.
The accessibility between these spaces is caught in the motifs of contact and communication. The subject reads from the faces and bodies of others and notices the non-verbal information presented in discourse, which paradoxically is transformed into a verbalised poetic record. The authorial method is based upon observation ‘as a complete act’ (Franz Kafka) and is a starting point for Ferenčuhová’s two subsequent collections of poems and poetic cycles Princíp neistoty/The Principle of Insecurity and Ohrozený druh /Endangered Species.
Along with The Principle of Insecurity’s precise thematic focus, the fragmentary nature of expression gives way to a broad focus (an exact macro-composition divided into cycles of the same length) as well as on a more specific scale; perspectives are lengthened, the micro-stories are more complex and the experiential reflections are more direct (with the standard polarisation of subject vs. object). The theme of the collection remains that of a person’s lived experience in four dimensions of time and space, which pass by gradually just like life itself. Banality, something which is interrupted only occasionally by exceptional events (e.g. pregnancy, significant encounters and so on), is not avoided by Ferenčuhová in this collection. She does not wait for some opportunity but rather thematically discusses that what really takes place. In this endeavour, she uses an impressionistic method of selecting spaces and objects which carry individual associations. For the sensitive subject, she presents the ordinariness of a lot of impulses; these are strengthened by an existential ‘principle of insecurity’, which is formulated as an experience transcending the individual. In an analytically classified and evaluated activity of thought – as the basis of the poetic record – the thing most highly appreciated here is that which aids the subject to overcome insecurity and through regular rituals and supporting points in space to cross ‘in small steps across the whole land’ (the poem Princíp neistoty, I./The Principle of Insecurity I).
For Ferenčuhová, poetry is a sort of diary. She consistently dates her travels, her pregnancy, and, in the collection Endangered Species, also her motherhood. This broadens the originally singular theme into binary considerations regarding herself and her son. This form of description reaches a new level of specificity and concentration, and allows the subject to once more outwardly fade away, allowing the poetic records to speak on his behalf. With a new intensity, Ferenčuhová’s ‘anaesthetic precision’ (Derek Rebro) is updated with a guiding characteristic of accuracy in description and emotional distance. This appears as something untypically cold on certain occasions, particularly in the description of the mother’s relationship with her child. Ferenčuhová sometimes surprises the reader with flashes of nihilism, and with regularity she selects images which evoke the demise of civilisation. Alongside Ferenčuhová’s poetic dispositions, the concluding multi-part eponymous poem in Endangered Species creates a very convincing anti-utopia, and a description for children of the future full of pictures of destruction for which we at the present time are responsible: ‘We have destroyed almost everything./ Moved, deflected, smashed, worn out, / Filled up, dirtied - / And now we are sealing it, / Quickly, the trigger / We are pouring concrete over it.’ Among other things, this collection clearly shows that Ferenčuhová is concerned about the ethical dimension in her writing (she uses the first-person plural ‘we’) and the confrontation of good and evil, wherein the victor is not known beforehand.
in the city of dogs /
the crystals have grown too fast: to crush
between one’s teeth, to scratch the neck. to
copy the curves on canvas silently with slender
the water here by the roadside: perhaps to
preserve sludge by the process of sewage
disposal, according to an old secret formula.
the smell — the will to survive, the smell of
cheese and fish.
and small stains on the surface: none other
than yesterday’s delicious dogfood.
mice are fast, too:
underground. in colours. under the seat. they
seek food. in between two trains.
they went completely deaf: guided — like you
— by the trembling of wheels and legs.
the last shells. of previous days. (to preserve
sludge by the process of sewage disposal).
another of your faces in the darkened mirror.
each time belonging to a race that is enchanted.
you feel sorry for the slow ones, for all those
who stopped to show their palm and bare
forearm, all those who let their private skin
slip out from the sleeve exposed to full view.
and if a casual smile stops on you, it will
what you wear under your hair
here too is mostly called by one of the
common first names.© Mária Ferenčuhová, translated by Marián Andričík
hidden subtitles /
× × ×
I didn’t say what I expected to: what I’d lifted
the receiver for. I just laughed. between one cold
finger and the next — between thumb and index
— I twisted the glass stem. looked at my feet
dipped into water. a green reflection: an excessive
movement: towel. room. lamp. darkness.
in two countries live a silent and a screaming
reality: right and left profiles of banality. and
between them a face that belongs to no one.
emails and letters are written without flourish.
the radio is switched on, by turns silently and
loud. I disconnect the phone. the noise does not
subside: more and more windows light up in the
× × ×
a/ with the same pen, with the same blue colour:
I even recognise the writing. the slowness of the
typewriter, in extending the leg, in the slope of
the instep, in the quality of silence. the sound of
a carefully turned page: paper snagged on the
edge of the sleeve.
b/ I can’t explore other people’s balconies
endlessly. to compare blue with grey and to
squander each new sleep in a disquieting
investigation, wanting to know if the distant
foot of the hill has vanished too. if I am deeper
and deeper within.
c/ to put in the envelope, after signing. to clean
the shoe first on the kerb, then on the lawn.
to check the nameplate on the door. to lock it.
possibly to air the room again.
× × ×
if they tell you: she left tragically,
you picture at least a dull explosion, scattered
inanimate parts of furniture, smudged pavements,
or at least shreds of a weathered cardboard box
stuck on the windscreen,
if they tell you: fish were the first to stop looking,
you don’t know what to imagine,
they have no idea what to tell you,
they have no idea what effect it can have on you
× × ×
shake me. pass through me.
on the bark, on the light. turn me over on my
stomach. still walking. insert me between two
sides. sew me up.
drink me down with water. make me cosy.
vertical. pre-prepare. jump over in the reflection.
tell anyone about me. disperse. set words on
me, silence me. soothe me. draw me in the
waiting room. make good use of what you’ve
speech slips out from behind both of us. I am
pasting you in. … to follow the linear story of
the lived first at the place where it passively
succumbs: country after cataclysm, volcano…© Mária Ferenčuhová, translated by Marián Andričík
in a literary tearoom /
1/ in a literary tearoom where coldness gathers
close above the floor: oppression.
over the glasses and next to the humming
voices of retired grammar school teachers: it’s
impossible to move one’s shoulders.
I read the proper way: I read.
you already know that in big cities speech
permeates the posture and willy-nilly implies
2/ exact dimensions of anxiety: how not to be
scared of the determination of one’s time?
certain women in photos of their youth,
ingeborg bachmann, say, cannot look foreign:
with no more smell, you’ll apprehend another
loss: the one whose shoulder yesterday you
pressed your nose to in the dark, he too has
passed away. Even so, it’s all right: movement
disappears from the past and the pressure on
your skin would be uselessly painful.
3/ but you also feel faint: is there anything
you haven’t been through! thus you admit to
calloused knees and a feeble smile, a bitter taste
of coffee; the smell of it clings to your palate.
we remain sitting. it’s still necessary to discuss
why somewhere the top of the oral cavity is
called a roof and elsewhere a palate. and also to
name the fatigue of the dragging day, of slowed
gestures, of a stiff back. finally we agree that any
short dog-name will do.© Mária Ferenčuhová, translated by Marián Andričík
le dépays /
(1982 — 2002)
you say that being on first name terms
has no other meaning than to indicate the gap
between one who has travelled and the one
who is writing now.
I am presuming on a basis of affinity with
the one who is just now reading in the distance:
you say that where the person is with
whom you are on first name terms, time is
a river that runs only at night.
foreign words are here now and they are yours:
an arrow, it’s said, has no clearer aim than life:
what matters is the politeness shown to the bow.
a twisted bough is accepted by the tree just like
a straight one. at least at first sight. you count
the leaves, look for insects.
the empty nest is in the grass, though, and it is
pointless to blame the wind.
you rest your eyes on brown, a dog’s colour,
you remember arnold who jumped under a car
because of a doe.
you can’t lean against a bar stool, even the wall
avoids you. you recall the doe that jumped into
the flooded river because the island was sinking.
To blame the river is pointless too.
× × ×
before you dare to write, you distort the sequence
of breaths: you deny the existence of
the event: you dissolve its boundaries, because
speech will create its own: impose breaths and
firmness of the voice.
what would do is a fragile:
window, moulded glass to which you gradually
add substances with different melting points.
what would do is to line up all first syllables into
then to take over responsibility. to soothe it:
that after the first fall, its shards will become
× × ×
lines began to run out of the frames too often,
allegedly their present demarcation will not
do. colours settle on any surfaces. they dare to
interfere in words. the frames therefore move
to other areas. the only thing that remains
valid is said to be linked neither with speech
the vector: the carrier: the clear direction. a
heavy vehicle, calmly sinking into muddy soil.
× × ×
I’ll speak you. but as if the drawing hand still
to another, and the reclining body to the soil,
I say: jump, and I say: to see you still white,
I don’t know when I write and I don’t know
where — space is random, created by the
coordinates of fingers on keys, multidimensional,
dissociated by movement, being restored.
to the place with no curve sewn by a pen,
connection with no sounds bound by breath,
you still doubt the possibility of speech.
for now, you are still the interior of thinking,
and your skin is the interior here, too.© Mária Ferenčuhová, translated by Marián Andričík
The Principle of Uncertainty /
The summer is not going, it stays like inflammation on stuffy roads,
warm stone, no trace of steps (and yet humidity in the air);
wounds are not healing, the same movement every afternoon — to wipe
the dust from one’s eyes and the oil from hot wheels. October.
Not even return: continuance in crevices — the city doesn’t remember,
nor do you wish to: numb footsoles, chapped hands, why not admit —
a strait, a passage, from behind the corner surfacing instead of (another)
memory, a street. Another one. Identical.
And a madman on the platform, quite desolate
(no one is scared of him any more), change at Réaumur-Sébastopol:
on the very top a man is sleeping in his socks,
a bandage sticking out of one, but hardly anyone dares cover his nose.
Behind the window without blinds someone gets drunk,
quite solitary, behind a window with a blind I change my make-up,
I don’t air the place, I silently invoke the telephone,
till finally I fall asleep.
A finger code, noise, secret entrances, to be angry with oneself
for being (in the first moment) unrestrained, for being (in the second)
reasonable, and resent one’s loneliness — where’s the virtue in that?
From the point of view of eternity, it doesn’t matter whether in this
world, side by side with this body (or some other), from the momentary
point of view: to choose emptiness. And wait.
An old woman, in fact rather mouldered than old, perhaps senile
and possibly bewildered for ages past, takes the lift up and down,
greets at great length, aloud, repeats “yes”, “yes” over and over again,
addresses everyone as “madam”, “sir” with an assiduous smile,
and touches children’s cheeks with her fingers.
A pin in someone’s stomach, a word in someone’s heart:
quarantine, forty days of silence.
A flame, cellophane, a scorched image,
you infect the whole colony with yourself, and you’re surprised
when they condemn you.
There are wooden houses, plastered or just stuck together with cloth,
carpets instead of walls, cables in the corners, dust in the joints
and the wind under the door.
A jug kettle, a microwave oven, a hot plate,
someone who sleeps,
not moving. He who follows meanders, not aware of the riverbanks
bare of green, indifferent to the pavement: who continues on
to where people ride camels
with knapsack on back,
where grey blocks of flats stand in the sand like a suburb,
only they are burning,
with tents below the windows,
a waterless fountain and the sky in flames,
you want to go back to the river, there’s no way,
— not in the dream, and therefore not at all —
you need only to open your eyes, run along the walls,
burning carpets, acrid smoke,
barefoot and apronless:
are still there.© Mária Ferenčuhová, translated by Marián Andričík