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Martin Solotruk: Overwhelmed by Myriads of Unknown Sentences and Images
Martin Solotruk is a Jack of all trades: a teacher, translator and successful poet. He confessed to us what dreams he had managed to make come true, who inspires him, and what it had been like to be a student.
Pespectives (PP): What does Ars Poetica mean to you?
Martin Solotruk (MS): Ars Poetica means a lot to me, it means all kinds of things. In many ways, it was a dream come true. Especially in the sense that we managed to build from scratch an international poetry festival featuring poetry, but also other artistic genres in a modern, multimedia fashion that long was and still is unparalleled in many ways in Slovakia. At the same time, we managed to bring some of the most important poets of today to the festival, which still remains a small budget thing; incomparable to any major event in Europe where fees are of a different scale. Personally, I am happy I was able to meet and bring to the festival, on the basis of personal contact and understanding, a number of leading US poets of today, including the former Poet Laureate (and a Simpsons series character) Robert Pinsky, Carolyn Forche, Campbell McGrath, or Peter Gizzi. The Ars Poetica festival, to me as its director, means a lot of pleasure, but also a lot of duties and obligations. It is not always easy to manage to create a new edition, year by year, with a highly unpredictable budget well into the year, always struggling to win enough support, then fearing if all goes well in terms of attendance, festival spirit, etc. But if all goes well, indeed, and the festival does its magic to both the audience and the crew of the participating artists, the feeling of joy and satisfaction can be greatly rewarding, however tiring the work.
PP: How did this festival come into being?
MS: The festival came into being in early 2003, when Peter Sulej and myself teamed up to combine our know-how addressing ways of how to reach beyond traditional ways of poetry presentation and communication both on and off stage. We both shared the experience of being active poets of the upcoming generation. At the same time, Peter brought in his experience of an independent publisher, while I was able to offer linguistic and academic background combined with the managerial and communication skills I acquired in advertising business. We both sought to pursue a poetry event that could become attractive to broad audiences, including the youth, and to revive the sense of poetry, as a live modern form of artistic experience by opening up the realm of poetry, traditionally bound to the book form only, to integration with other forms of art; such as VJ sets, music, contemporary dance, film, etc in either one compact artistic form or in terms of programme dramaturgy. To say the least, it takes a real effort and some reasonable budget to create a full-fledged original multimedia performance, so we could not make a habit of making or initiating them every year, as we would have wished.
PP: What was the most powerful experience connected with Ars Poetica?
MS: Every year, there is always some remarkable stuff happening. The spell of concentrated energy that the poets manage to bring together and share with both the audience and amongst themselves, create experiences that can sink deep into the subconsciousness of those who get connected. But to be personal, I can still remember, though that happened some five years ago, the very planetary ping pong Peter Gizzi and myself played and both saw and called it that way, well into the early morning on the ground floor of the Budmerice chateaux. We played ping pong and at the same time enjoyed it as the game of friendly exchange of thoughts enabled us to lift the level of the game to a beautiful, though unexpected, dimension of openness. No drugs used.
PP: It is known that you are also an author of poems. What led you to dedicate your life to poetry?
MS: I did not want to write poetry. Or at least, I did not know I would. As a high school student, I was a keen programmer, a student of the Novohradska Grammar School in Bratislava. But at the age of 16, as I recall, my programming in Pascal or Fortran got extended by my awakening to the possibilities and pleasures of poetry. Suddenly, and in waves, I got overwhelmed by myriads of unknown sentences and images that were invading my mind. So, once, I just decided to take note, run in to sit down and take notes. That’s how it all started. Just started, of course. Ever since, I was happy and keen to pursue and read as much as possible of all and any poetry in either original languages or in translations I could get hold of. Of course, I did not like it all, but felt obliged to know the field as much as possible, to see what can be done with and by the language of poetry.
PP: August: Osage County, a play that you translated, was introduced this year. How would you compare your attitude towards writing your own poems and translations?
MS: I do not think there is all that much similarity in terms of artistic liberty. When translating, you are in the service of equivalence. As much liberty as a translator can have, that does not compare to that of an author. At the same time, there is a lot of liberty a translator is forced to struggle for, or even invent, especially if there is no easy way of finding appropriate equivalence in the target language or culture.
PP: You have gained a lot of experience in various jobs. What did your jobs with an advertising agency and TV give you?
MS: In such jobs, you find yourself not only exposed to, but literally shaped by agendas, language, and a system of meanings and communication that can be quite different to that of the academic soil. Mass media and advertising require and promote ideas of different quality to those encouraged in the academic environment, so that they can be sold to broad audiences. At the same time, the experience in such a business environment can teach one a lot about the effectiveness of multitasking and simplification of thought and language. For better or worse.
PP: You also spent some time studying abroad. Could you compare studies in the USA with studying in Slovakia?
MS: It is difficult to generalise, but I still believe much depends on the personal touch and care of your very tutor. Slovak universities can offer some world class academic leadership too. But let me just say one simple thing. In the US or Britain, academic jobs are highly competitive also because those who enjoy having them are well paid and motivated by any standard of the country. I am not sure that compares to the situation in Slovakia. So, in many ways, many Slovak academics are enthusiasts. And that can have its special touch too. But that touch can prove transient, too, because people might also burn out in time, unfortunately.
PP: What was the most inspiring experience you had as a student?
MS: Meeting Jacques Derrida and being able to talk to him for about half an hour in a post-graduate bar at Warwick University. At Comenius, some of the most precious academic experiences I had include lectures in world literature delivered by Professor Ján Števček in the early nineties. He showed me that a lecture needs to be made into a lecture and that delivering a lecture involves more than just reading a prepared written text. Yes, one needs to have a broad and intimate insight into the field first, of course, but you also have to make a lecture a special kind of discourse. Somewhat an open process, live performance, combining several kinds of logic at the same time, while always trying to establish a true and genuine connection with your audience in real time. His lectures on Kafka, Musil, Rimbaud, Lautreamont, Flaubert, as well as Švantner, and many more are still unforgettable to me.
Zuzana Borová and Veronika Kalnová
Martin Solotruk (1970) studied Slovak and English at Comenius University between 1988 and 1994. After graduation, he worked as an assistant lecturer of American Studies and American Literature at the Department of British and American Studies at Comenius University. In January 2012 he got a Ph.D. for his thesis on poetry translation. He worked part-time in a private television and advertising agency. With P.Sulek he organizes an international festival of poetry called Ars Poetica. He regularly attends literary festivals all over the world. His poems were published in magazines and books in English, Czech, Croatian, Hungarian, German, Slovene and Spanish.
Subject: contact information
Subject: email address
I would like to obtain Martin's email address. He is my cousin. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.