You write on your website that you are a researcher – does your research influence your poetry or does your poetry feed into your research?
Yes, I’m a full-time academic researcher, working in the area of educational psychology. I like to keep my research and my poetry lives separate from one another. The creation process is very different: rigorous research is based on objective inferences, a thorough peer-review process and systematic observations. In contrast, poetry is an open-ended process, with random and subjective interpretations. I find that art created for research (or poetry created on the back of scientific research) often lacks depth. But to me personally, separate identities allow me to experience an artistic freedom without having to justify my choices. In academia, lots of things keep me awake at night – the pressure to be abreast of new developments, produce more articles, bring in more research income. I have no deadlines or money- or performance-related things keeping me awake in poetry and I don’t want to introduce them.
So which are you more, the poet or the researcher?
To paraphrase Maximilian Kolbe, I seek truth in both practices, but serve it differently in poetry and science. I think we are all a mosaic of many pieces and it is their unique combination that makes us who we are. Both poetry and research validate me – I would feel incomplete without one or the other.
What would be your advice for poets starting out – where would you recommend they begin?
I think it depends on what you want to accomplish with your poetry. Like many poets, I started writing with a therapeutic need to deal with emotions that were too suffocating to keep inside me. Some poets like to keep their poems at this personal level, some like to use poetry as a vehicle to communicate their views and some simply enjoy its creative energy. So the first thing to decide is whether you want to write to be closer to others, or to some higher dimensions of consciousness, or to your own core perhaps. Regardless of who your audience is, remember to write with your heart. Visionary and transformative poems emerge with a deep dedication and commitment to look beyond the surface of the mundane; they need a lot of personal investment, not expensive writing workshops.
Can you tell us more about your writing process?
I like writing in pencil and on small scraps of paper, backs envelopes, Post-It notes. Over the years, my friends have given me lots of nice notebooks but I can’t get myself to write my poems in them. Perhaps it’s because notebooks remind me of the research process. My poetry writing is very serendipitous. I often get an image in my head and try to give it justice in words. Sometimes I get a “crush” on a particular word, like “tarn” the other day (British equivalent for the Slovak “pleso”), and it keeps on haunting me until I find a place for it in a poem.
Do you have a special place to write?
I can write anywhere but I need to be on my own and in silence. I don’t need a big desk, in fact I prefer no desk, just me, with a piece of paper and a pencil in hand, somewhere outdoors or a small empty room.
The preference for small rather than the big and ostentatious is something that you mention in your blog about Japan. Is this why you are so interested in Japanese culture?
Yes, that’s a nice way of putting it. If I was born again, I would like to be a haiku poet, living in the lush green forests of Japanese mountains, drinking sencha and floating through life like an elegant feather. I like the Japanese sense of simplicity, collective wisdom and humbleness.
You write a lot about love. Is there a man in your life?
I’m a human, what else could I write about if not love? I’m very fortunate to be in love but that’s all I can tell you, my private life is very private.
How would you describe your poetry?
I like to think that I write accessible, but not banal, poetry. Just like with my favourite dishes, I like simple words but unusual combinations.
Do you have a favourite poet?
Milan Rufus, definitely – my admiration for him amounts to reverence. His work exemplifies that a few words can capture authenticity and urgency. He wrote from the deep realms of the human heart and yet did not lose sharpness of thought in the service of the emotional. He never called himself a poet with a capital P or attended a bespoke writing retreat to pen his verses. Perhaps because he had so little (in terms of material possessions and personal happiness), he could produce an incredibly rich corpus of work.
What is it about Rufus’ poetry that attracts you?
Rufus’ poems follow patterned language; he did not want his work to remain locked away in school libraries. In Anglo-American poetry, perfect rhyme is often perceived as amateurish or nursery rhyme-like, but in Rufus’ case full rhymes and assonance (which is sometimes considered as exact rhyme in English poetry) have meant that his verses now live in the collective Slovak memory. Children recite his Modlitbicky (Little Prayers) when they are in pre-school, and they stay in their minds, allowing for layers of meaning to be discovered over time. I think it’s important that poetry keeps this depth if it is to survive generations and speak to wider communities.
Speaking of wider communities, some of your poems have taken the forms of film-poems and videopoetry. Was accessibility the main reason for you to experiment with these formats?
Yes, I suppose, as long as we are not talking about a simple audiofile added to a piece of digital text. Multimedia can accommodate many layers of poetry and make it more accessible, often without the time-space and knowledge restrictions imposed by traditional poetry formats. The polyphonic and democratic nature of the digital medium excites me. Having said that, I never aspired to speak to the masses. Quite the opposite: I think I would be horrified if my poems reached the number of views of the likes of today’s “superstars”. The digital format allows me to open more doors to the reader-viewer-listener, to let them respond to and choose their own path to a poem.