Poetry and Bratislava
— A Conversation with Moment Poetry Founder Ivan Mistrík
Poetry is something that lives and breathes, which is why we were excited to learn about Moment Poetry, a new initiative coming out of Bratislava, Slovakia by a long-time friend of Panel Magazine, Ivan Mistrík, who used to run the now (sadly) closed down Eleven Books & Coffee. Ivan launched the new project in the Spring of 2020, which takes each poem and gives it a unique form blending the poem with art and is published individually in print. Jennifer Walker talked to Ivan about Moment Poetry, how you can submit, and the Bratislava literary scene.
[Ivan Mistrík - photo by Karol Smec]
I really love the fresh, new medium you're offering with Moment Poetry, rather than it being a collection of poems, you single one out and make it a piece of tangible art you can take home with you. Could you tell us a little bit about Moment Poetry in your own words?
Thank you. We wanted to make poetry more accessible even to people who don't buy poetry books or follow poetry magazines. Poetry is often unjustly perceived as something too complicated that requires expert knowledge in order to be enjoyed and understood. We would like to help break down this misconception and show how powerful poetry can be. Poetry captures those unique moments that reveal the essence of life, that is why we chose the name Moment Poetry.
How did the idea come about and how did you start it?
The idea of a poetry project has been on our minds for some time but we weren't able to find the right format. Hearing Gabrielle Clover reading one of her poems during a poetry evening at our small bookstore in Bratislava provided the decisive spark. It still took over two years for everything to fall into place but we're glad that we were able to turn this idea into reality.
[The first poem published in Moment Poetry series - Last Tuesday by Gabrielle Clover]
Do you feel publishing poetry in this kind of medium—as a single, stand alone poem—helps the reader comprehend the poem in a different context?
We feel it helps the reader explore the poem in several ways and offers more time to appreciate the ideas, the power of the written word and the emotions it can stir. For us the magic of poetry consists in communicating in words what often cannot be expressed in words. A good poem doesn't need to be analyzed or understood but it should create an emotion and make you look at life in a different way at least for a moment.
How do you get the art work to accompany the poem? Is it something that is created especially to fit the poem?
Yes, the art work is created for each individual poem. As of now we are cooperating with a couple of talented friends who provide the illustrations. The ideas and sketches are consulted with the poets and they have the final say as to what art work will accompany their poem. In the next few months we plan to invite more artists who could be interested in contributing with an illustration for a specific poem.
When it comes to picking a poem to publish, what are you looking for?
The general requirements are: previously unpublished poems in the English language, up to 32 lines in length. We are open to all forms, subjects and styles.
More importantly, we are looking for poems containing those hard-to-define moments that make them stand out, make people remember them or think about them. We are looking for poems that are not easily forgotten...
Are the poems you're picking in English or are you also publishing them in Slovak or other languages?
We only consider poems in English and we aren't planning to include other languages.
How can poets get in touch with you to submit?
Through our website or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The submission period is open. We were positively surprised by the initial interest as we have received over a hundred submissions over the past two months. We're currently working on two poems which will be published in August or September - one by a poet from Ireland, the other one from Canada.
We don't have a fixed publication plan but we would like to release approximately one new poem per month until the end of this year.
[Gabrielle Clover reading her poetry at Eleven Books & Coffee]
I want to talk a little bit now about the Bratislava literary scene. I am really interested in the landscape of local literary communities, so I've been curious about what it's like in Bratislava. Could you tell me a little about the scene there? Is there an English speaking writer's scene at all or is it all Slovak?
The local literary scene is quite lively although all events and activities were on hold during the past couple of months.
We can mention the local bookish festival (BRAK) which presents contemporary literature from the region as well as the latest publications of local smaller presses. This year's edition is scheduled for September.
Another great project which deserves a mention is Medziriadky - they focus on young aspiring writers (but only in Slovak language), provide mentoring, workshops as well as readings where young writers are paired with published and experienced writers.
Compared to other Central European countries, works by local writers translated into English are very hard to come by. However, it has improved slightly over the last few years and to anyone looking for English translations of Slovak writers we recommend Julia Sherwood as the best source. Her website is a good starting point.
The Centre for Information on Literature (LIC) is also a good source of information regarding any local literary activities or events.
Fountain Poetry organizes poetry slams in English and also German with great atmosphere and international attendance. Hopefully they'll be able to organize their next event soon.
If someone were to come to Bratislava, do you have any favourite literary hangouts you'd recommend?
We'd gladly invite them to our own little bookstore cafe Eleven Books & Coffee but after four and half fun and adventurous years we closed it down a month ago.
Our favorite local bookstore is Artforum which carries the best selection of quality literature and also has a decent English language section. Ben Pascoe, originally from Canada, runs a nice bookstore pub called Next Apache with English second-hand books that serves as a meeting place for many expats.