On my plate there’s a golden standard,
I cover and cajole myself with it,
as my ɒksɪdʒ(ə)n runs out.
I write because no-one listens to me
when I’m silent.
Heya hey, friends, you’re snacking?
Should I be bored, I put on amusing programmes
on the dishwasher,
I shut no-one into the dishwasher, the grimy one,
I put a tablet into the dishwasher,
no-one is blissfully circumfused inside the dishwasher.
When I’m bored, I read in my eyes.
When I’m bored I force myself
into golden activities,
Notes on this poem
The poems presented here come from Olga Stehlíková’s third collection, Exclamation Mark High as a Pole, also (and originally) titled Portraits. Although perhaps less evocative, this second title is descriptive of the collection as a whole: a survey of intimately captured voices, individually uprooted and yearning for togetherness or at least connection.
With strong personal stylisation, Olga’s poems takes up a panoply of expressive means from quotidian language (well-worn phrases, mental shortcuts, journalistic clichés) in order to ‘make them new’, orchestrating them into unexpected metaphorical melodies. Her themes concern drab domesticity (‘should I be bored, I put on amusing programmes | on the dishwasher’), the straightjacket of the mundane (‘when you sit over a soup as over a ditch | with me a whole universe of a table-desk away’), the ordeals of (un)faithfulness in a partnership (‘remember you wanted it all | when, my list in hand, leaning over a silver trolley, | you’re watching that tight ass in jeans | in the drugstore department’).
What makes Olga’s ordinary themes extra is the lyrical subject’s desire to revert the irreversible, warning against all the alienations creeping into the most intimate of our cohabitations, as well as a subdued undercurrent of restricted femininity: ‘I want to identify all dangerous elements in your kitchen […] | I want to be a horse, a seahorse of all | unplanned pregnancies.’ What makes Olga’s intimate microcosms macrocosmic is her keen eye for the sociological detail (‘in front of the workers’ dorm, | out of whose open dirty windows waft beans, fat meat, | unfiltered cigarettes, radio and wife-beaters, | the injustice of life’) and her sensitive ear for a dramatic tone whose urgency never dissipates into pathos. Hers is a poetry ‘as insatiable as a fatty acid’.