The page of Chmel, Karol, English Reception
ReceptionHe made his début in 1985 with the collection of poems You Have What You Don’t Have (Maš, čo nemaš). In the deluge of schematic writing under normalisation he attracted the attention of readers especially with his distinctiveness in “rewriting” traditional poetic patterns.
In his next two collections which appeared after quite a long lapse in time, he confirmed his affiliation to the present (postmodern) aesthetics of Central and Western Europe. This is also seen in his prolific translation activities (books by E. Kocbek, D. Zajc, A. Debeljak, D. Kiss, S. Basara, B. Peki, D. Albahari, M. Swietlicki, M. Baran and others) which cannot be separated from his personality and individuality as author.
Chmel’s poetry is a synthesis of intuition and conceptuality, the expression of emotion and rationality, and is based on a constant breaking of conventions - of language, epistemology and civilisation. It is marked by a philosophical basis, partly inspired by deconstruction and partly by Zen Buddhism, and by the contrast of the gnomic and the ambiguous. The exploration of the communicative (im)possibilities of the language is an immanent part of such an approach. Notable is the way Chmel deals with whole cultural and semiotic “blocks” or their signs: from incorporation of Dante through the unknown Bettes to the group of Solitary Runners and other literary alliances; from an advertisement through An English Grammar For Everybody, the Einstein theory of relativity to keeping silent in Tibetan; from the realistic arranging of facts through artistic conceptualism or minimal art to an (Ondruš-like) urgent, in-depth interrupted obsession with speech.
Chmel’s poetry stands on the quaking marshland of never-ending cultural reflection. Quite naturally, it remains in the territory between the illogical and the transcendental, referring to the stratification, cycling and “serial character” of human existence. By its very discreteness (in time) and openness (in space) it is as if it indicates that only those questions to which there exist no responses are eternal. Also new-age “technologies of power” along with “the irony of history” pose an unsaid semantic prerequisite for this poetry. However, the presence of this prerequisite, in confrontation with the authentic experience of various practices of manipulation by the lyrical hero of Chmel’s poems, cannot be unnoticed. (Stanislava Chrobáková)