Jozef Urban – a Poet

 “Mesto všetkého, Čo za niečo stálo”

Urban_JozefBefore the start of the Global Citizenship Project I knew little about Slovakia other than that it had nice castles and looked good on Google images. However, a couple of weeks later I
find myself writing an article on one of Slovakia’s most influential poets Jozef Urban. I stumbled across Urban’s work when our Slovak language teacher greeted us one morning with a Slovak ballad blaring from the speakers. It was a dramatic song that felt it needed to be accompanied by a woman standing on stage being blowed by a wind machine. At first I thought it was something from Eurovision (don’t worry we did get treated to some of that at a later date) but instead it turned out be a song performed by the band ‘Elan’ in 2000 – you can find it here on youtube if you fancy checking out some raw Slovak emotion about ripping away clothes and something about water. BUT the most interesting part was the lyric are not Elan’s; they were in fact written by Jozef Urban a young poet who had died the year before.

Jozef Urban was a poet, writer, journalist and lyricist. He was born in Košice in former Czechoslovakia in 1964 and went on to study foreign trade economic17237050s at the Higher School of Economics in Bratislava. However his career veered away from economics when he became the editor of Literary Weekly in 1988. Urban’s debut collection of poems entitled “Malý zúrivý Robinson” which roughly translates in English to “Little Raging (or mad) Robinson” was published in 1985 when people were becoming to become less afraid of censoring by the “Soviet perestroika”. This marked a new generation of Slovak literature. Urban’s poetry is rhythmical, humorous and often ironic. He was regarded as rebellious but a visionary. He saw a better way of life for the people of Slovakia and this is found in his poetry through ‘the lyrical promotion of the protagonist gritting his teeth in a crowd, the vision and sculpture of foggy days in late November.’[1]

His collection of poems, ‘Little Raging Robinson’ lent its name to the 2009 film about Urban’s life directed by Martina Diosi in 2009. The full-length documentary was premiered at the International Film Festival Bratislava in 2009 where it dominated the event. The film follows three of Jozef Urban’s friends taking a road trip in memory of his life and through their jokes and stories the film is able to build a picture of what Urban was like as a person. Urban’s tragic death in a car accident in November 1999 is symbolised through the film’s setting on the road. Tina Diosi said of her documentary, “This is an unusual portrait of [a] tragically deceased poet, who during his short life was able to influence the social and cultural events in Slovakia.”[2] You can find the trailer for the documentary here, it is of course all in Slovak language but the clip does give you a sense of how the personal way in which the film was shot.

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Finding Urban’s poetry online proved to be somewhat difficult and finding an English translation of the poetry pretty much impossible. But I have included one my favourite of his poems down below (complete with a dodgy Google translation). From the poem it is clear to see that Urban’s poetry had political
significance and was full of feeling. Enjoy!

Košice

City fall and puddles and smoke
In Sochi

Which we sent kisses

In winters treskúcich

City Ryšavého Madon

Mysterious and Beauty

City night pedestrians

Robbed of a warm family radiator

And yet happy

City search and shelters

City early first alcohols cigarettes

A first real girl’s breasts

City morbid poems

Whirled around disavowed geniuses

City television and quarrels

And all I really loved

City returns stubble on his chin

City all

What stood for something

Košice

Mesto jesení a kaluží a dymu

Mesto sôch

Ktorým sme posielali bozky

V treskúcich zimách

Mesto ryšavých madon

Tajuplných až krása

Mesto nočných chodcov

Okradnutých o teplo rodinného radiátora

A predsa šťastných

Mesto hľadani a úkrytov

Mesto prvých alkoholov prvých cigariet

A prvých naozajstných dievčenských pŕs

Mesto morbídnych básní

Rozvírených okolo zneuznávaných géniov

Mesto televízorov a hádok

A všetkého čo som vskutku miloval

Mesto návratov so strniskom na brade

Mesto všetkého

Čo za niečo stálo

By Olivia Marshall

[1] http://www.litcentrum.sk/en/slovenski-spisovatelia/jozef-urban

[2] http://www.litcentrum.sk/49065

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