Ars Poetica – In my eyes, the festival is a true feast

An interview with Martin Solotruk, the festival's director, by Diana Mašlejová

Ars Poetica opens up new horizons of poetry, bringing world-class guests and artists to Bratislava. It connects, it elucidates, it experiments. This year it takes place between November 13 and 23 in several cultural spaces around Bratislava.

The program starts on November 13 at the Slovak National Theatre with a performance called Šmátranie v širočine (Fumbling in the Vastness). On November 14, it continues in the same venue with a performance titled Korene (Roots), a collaboration between Martin Geišberg and Táňa Pauhofová. The following three nights, November 15-17, will revolve around multimedia evenings of world poetry followed by concerts, all at V-klub or Café Berlinka SNG. On November 18, the audiences can participate in a cycle of creative workshops, while between November 19 and 23, the festival will present its film section filled with true cinematic treats, pre-premieres and Slovak premieres. We spoke about the rich program with poet, translator and festival director Martin Solotruk.

Which guests are among the biggest highlights of the program this year?
We tried to expand the performance aspect of the festival. In this regard, this year's festival is historically the strongest, most extensive and most representative one yet. We are bringing in a wide spectrum of performers, maybe even the widest that has ever appeared in Slovakia. I consider this trend to be one of the natural developments of our festival.

Ars Poetica 2018 offers a wide range of performance, sound poetry and spoken word poetry, bringing in one of the most prominent representatives of spoken word poetry in the world, the Flemish-speaking Carmien Michels from Belgium. Another pride of the festival is surely Noam Partom, an amazing performer born in Israel and based in Paris. Hungary will be represented by the seasoned poet Endre Szkarósi and Kinga Tóth, who is considered a star of contemporary experimental poetry all around Europe. We will also welcome a huge personality of contemporary Finnish poetry, Risto Ahti, and an esteemed British poet and scenic performer Hannah Silva, who is regularly written about in the most prestigious of British press. She will perform at our festival both solo and in cooperation with one of the most important representatives of sound poetry in the world – Tomomi Adachi, who was born in Japan, lives in Germany and has a record of collaborating with the best artists around the world. This author is regularly invited to perform for cultural institutions in the likes of the Guggenheim museum in New York or Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris.

Where do you see the connection between written poetry and live performance?
Poetry performance is, naturally, a separate cultural phenomenon that builds on the foundation of poetry itself. It's an open set of options offering inspiration and creative growth to a whole array of artists. We have recently witnessed an expansion and development of performance in different cultural spaces all around the world, and it is very interesting to watch and observe this map of creativity. Today, many artists regard performance as their primary medium, while written text remains but a part of the whole concept. Text-based poetry and performance are two separate categories, two artistic disciplines, and the latter connects several interdependent levels of art.

A snapshot from the festival
A snapshot from the festival

Ars Poetica is a multi-genre event. How is that reflected in the current makeup of the program?
Genres blend together in written poetry, visual and sound poetry, and that is a deliberate dramaturgical decision rather than a one-time occurrence. It has become a tradition that every year we try to premiere a new performance that is largely produced thanks to Ars Poetica. This year, we're premiering a performance titled Šmátranie v širočine (Fumbling in the Vastness) on November 13 at 7:30pm at the Slovak National Theatre and it acts as the opening night of the festival. It's a unique poetic performance directed by Soňa Ferancová, who adapted the poetry of one of the geniuses of 20th century Slovak poetry, Ján Stacho. It is by no means a scenic reading, but rather a performance of poetry starring the SND actor Ján Gallovič and the world-class opera singer Štefan Kocán. Šmátranie v širočine develops and expands Stacho's work into new artistic dimensions and connections. I can honestly say that it will be one of the highlights of this year's program and I am incredibly excited to see it.

Each year, the festival is enriched by concerts, film section and creative workshops. What can we look forward to this year?
We can't wait to see the Prague-based band Kieslowski, a solo performance by Tomomi Adachi and also a concert of the trio Pospiš – Sillay – Nikitin, who will present their new album titled Spev tebe (Singing to You). As always, the film program assembled by Martin Palúch will take place in the Lumière Film Theatre. Our workshops will include one focused on the creation of a book from start to finish, including the illustrations and book binding, taking place at the Liszt Pavillon of the University Library in Bratislava. This spot will also host several creative sit-downs and workshops with world-class experts as part of the European Poetry Forum platform – including a workshop with the British artist and professor Zoe Skoulding focused on the link between perception and writing. Another dance workshop led by Roberta Štěpánková will take place at V-klub on Saturday, November 17, or you can visit the one by British artist Camilla Nelson, who will lead the visitors on a journey between the scenic, artistic and literary perception of reality.

Should contemporary poetry speak to the layman as well? Should it open up to the wider public?
Poetry is not an art form for the masses, but at the same time, we have been observing a sphere of people that are ready to open their minds to poetry. The base of the festival's sympathizers is growing year by year, and that is one of the things that gives us the most satisfaction. Given the fact that the local publication of translations of contemporary world poetry is quite restricted, I consider our festival to be exceptionally important in terms of broadening horizons of Slovak poetry and literary translation. For 16 years the festival has been the biggest gallery and display of the original voices and poetics of contemporary European and international poets – all of that in Slovakia and in Slovak. As each year creates a different mish-mash of international and Slovak artists, it is a sort of alchemy of relationships and attraction. We don't only see interactions between the stage and the audience, but also between the artists themselves – they naturally have a lot to say to each other and inspire each other. As a result, there is this amazing energy that uplifts and enriches everyone, visitor or performer. That is just one of the many reasons why I consider the festival to be a true feast.

Written for InBa by Diana Mašlejová
Translated into English by Martina Tomašovičová

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More about the festival
More about the festival