Milan Richter- Slovakia

Milan Richter- Slovakia


Milan Richter (*1948)
Slovak poet, dramatist, essayist, translator and publisher.

Richter worked as editor in Slovak publishing houses in 1970’s, then he was free-lance writer for 10 years and in 1993 he became first head of the Slovak Embassy in Norway. Later he was chairman of the Slovak Literary Translators Society and vice-president of the Slovak PEN Centre. Since 2001 he runs his own publishing house, MilaniuM. Currently he is chairman of the Club of Independent Writers in Slovakia, member of the Bjornstjerne Bjornson Academy in Norway and member of the Austrian writers’ organisation Grazer Autorenversammlung.
Richter has published 9 books of poetry in Slovak (Pollen, 1976; Roots in the Air, 1992; From Behind the Velvet Curtains, 1997; An Angel with Black Feathers, 2000; Secrets Wide Open, 2008 etc.), 10 books of his selected poems in translation into German, Norwegian, Bulgarian, French, Czech, Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, Macedonian, and 2 books of his selected poems in 7 languages. His poems were translated into 34 languages and widely published in about 75 anthologies and literary reviews in Europe, USA, Mexico, India, China, Taiwan, Japan, Mongolia, etc.
Richter wrote 2 theatre plays on Franz Kafka (they were translated into 8 languages and published in Spain, Serbia, Bulgaria and Turkey) a theatre play on Marilyn Monroe and her tragical death (translated into English and Turkish and published in Istanbul).
Richter has translated 76 books and theatre plays into Slovak (collected poems of Tomas Transtromer, selected poems of Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, Ernesto Cardenal, Harry Martinson, Artur Lundkvist, Knut Odegard, Pia Tafdrup, R. M. Rilke, Ernst Jandl, Goethe´s Faust, Franz Kafka’s aphorisms and short prose, Khalil Gibran‘s The Prophet and The Garden of the Prophet, theatre plays of P.O. Enquist, Elias Canetti, Elfriede Jelinek etc., as well as fairy-tales of Oscar Wilde and H.C. Andersen, etc.
Richter received the Bjornson Prize 2010 in Norway and the Swedish Academy Transla-tion Prize in 1999. He was awarded the Norwegian Royal Order of Merit – knight of the 1st class in 2008 and the Golden Order of Merit for the Republic of Austria in 2002.

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Spoilt Poem

Back there at the beginning you spoilt something,
a syllable, a word, a vowel,
and now the poem is inedible
like preserved strawberries
with a cap of mould.

Back there at the beginning someone spoilt something,
the Lord, the twenty-fourth pair of chromosomes,
and now the poem is buried
like a prayer shawl
in a mass grave.

Back there at the beginning you spoilt something,
you got married, were divorced,
and now the poem is stolen
like the son from his father
and the father from his son.

Back there at the beginning someone spoilt you,
didn’t give you sharp elbows, or a dulled conscience,
and now the poem is in trouble
like a jester
who told the king the truth.

The poem is spoilt,
there is something missing,
too late to put it right,
like your life, your ancestors, history,
it remains as it is.

A strawberry in fermenting sugar. From the Slovak by Ewald Osers
Spoiled Poem

You spoiled something back there at the beginning,
a vowel, a syllable, a word,
and the poem’s inedible now,
like strawberry jam
capped with mold.

Someone spoiled something back there at the beginning,
the Lord, the twenty-fourth pair of chromosomes,
and the poem’s buried now
like a tallith
in a mass grave.

You spoiled something back there at the beginning,
married, got divorced,
and the poem’s torn away now
like a son from the father,
the father from a son.

Someone spoiled you back there at the beginning,
forgot to give you sharp elbows, a dull conscience,
and the poem’s in trouble now,
like a fool
who told the king the truth.

The poem is spoiled,
something’s missing,
too late to set it straight,
like your life, your ancestors, like history:
it’s what it is.

A strawberry in spoiled sugar.

From the Slovak by Jascha Kessler and Milan Richter

Frozen March

My father had come through all horrors
that evening he took two chocolates
from his jacket’s ratty pocket
and stroked our heads.
Perhaps he meant to tell me and my little sister,
You’ll be better off, someday, you’ll breathe easy…
Gasping all night long,
choking, rales.
By morning, dead.

That frozen March remains.

I have not passed through every horror
as I caress my pair of girls at bedtime,
wishing them air they may freely breathe,
wishing them a summer day
without a rent in the ozone layer
and a life without a ratty history,
a world without a black hole in its future.

In frozen March all that’s good
is yet to come.

And death, too.

September 1989

A Universe Transfers Warmth to Another Universe

The midnight is here, the fever rises to forty.

Child’s forehead witnesses to the body’s defeat…

Cringing in the corner of a universe, the light that reaches it
comes only from the dead stars.

In one of your first lives you were an argonaut,
sailing towards the glare of the collapsing Ram.

To touch the fleece, to be charged with energy that lasts
entire lives down there in the underground…

In one of your last lives you were an astronaut,
looking God in the eyes that resemble black holes.

Stretched amid Europe that keeps unstoppably
approaching the African coast.

The morning arrived, the sun is combing the child’s hair,
mercury is afraid to shoot up, it cringes in the corner.


You radiate and quickly forget
that you are depleting yourself
by what keeps in motion
your tiny universe.

Seen in the Snow

For Tomas Tranströmer

It stopped snowing. The branches of the firs

release the extra load.
In front of you a fresh ski track
that vanishes in the valley.

Nameless terrain: Geilo, Tatras,
Västerås region, Moon?
Not a living soul around.
Your breath keeps you on track.

Cosmic silence. The swoosh of the skis,
heart’s thumping in your temples… Then
behind the clouds, an outline of the blue planet,
the one you know from the maps.

And you realize in horror: This track,
on which you´re running ever so easier
was left by the narrow skis
of your earthly life.

At the Moment of Departing

that anguish in the vastness of your pupils:
“How will we recognise each other at Resurrection?”

Snatched from my dream by that cry like a lament
I ask what still reverberates in the room:
“In what shape will you appear to me?”
My love, we don’t know anything of this departing
and shortly afterwards we’ll know even less.

Come as the chalice of a Californian lily,
I’ll be the beak of a humming bird.
Come as the inlet in a Nordic forest,
I’ll be the surf that every morning
smoothes out the tracks of reindeer.
Come with your breasts like two fawns,
I’ll be your king on a throne of Lebanese cedar.”

“Come, embrace me!
I am your dove, you’re my pigeon.”

There is a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.

There is a time… to depart together.

Stray Dogs In Granada

stroll through the square, where the poems’ staccato
gives way to the rhythms of trumpets, harmonicas, drums,
Mejía Godoy and costumed beauties, barefoot dances,
dog after dog passes before us, lithe
and unhurried, his narrow face glides into dark
as into a dream, yes, these dogs are our dreamed dead,
eyeing us sidelong, while they silently
pass about us, they do not halt, they disappear,
and as soon as rhythms, dances, beauties overwhelm us,
straight they are here, by the same route returning
in front of us, fur and sex glittering
as if in the darkness they’d been dipped in dew, proudly
they move bare-footed over the square’s warm flags, here ment: stones
in their narrow faces you’d guess the secret whispered
in the dark, in another world, yes, these are the souls
of our dead, who for the instant have found living shape,
straying beings, not close-clinging, not at all, faces
without tears, mutely I whisper Helena… mummy, Peter… Mother
Gerhard… Eta… Rick… I know they will not stay,
for if they stayed, the secret whispered in the dark
I would understand instantly, agape,
I, amidst them straying, a stray dog
somewhere at that other end of being.

Granada, Nicaragua, February 2008,
Dunajská Luzná, May 18, 2008

The Death Spread its Snowy Veil

over a crepuscular cemetery. You searched
for a grave dug out for a funeral.
A heat wave brought along an icy rain
that shook the pine trees. Bits of snow

like dead grey birds fell down from them.
The footprints before you changed their shape
like a man in a studio of death.
You heard the wailing of the women, and followed it.

You heard the whisper of the souls, they did not find rest
and remained desperate in the needles of the trees.
They warned you against something, you failed to
understand. Return and redeem your guilt!

You slipped on a long and wet footprint
leading to the dug-out grave with a coffin in it.
And on the gravestone: your name with the date
of your death – letters and numbers marked by time.

What remained was to fill in, stand awhile, remember…
You did not even have to leave.