Remembering Miroslav Holub

by Martin Jan Stransky

ĘThe world-renowned Czech poet Miroslav Holub died July 14 at the age of 74. Holub was the author of over a dozen books of poetry, and his work has been translated into 38 languages.Holub was also the founding editor-in-chief of the magazine Nova Pritomnost. Dr. Martin JanStransky, founder and publisher of the magazine, knew Holub for last four years of his life.ĘĘBy Martin Jan StranskyĘĘA few years after my arrival in Prague, I decided to give in to our family’s genetic tendency to publish at all costs. Thus, I founded the magazine NovaPritomnost (and its English version, The New Presence). Nova Pritomnost was the rebirth ofCzechoslovakia’s foremost interwar intellectual periodical, Pritomnost, whose publisher was my grandfather Jaroslav Stransky. I needed a chief editor, one who would understand tradition, knew good journalism and, above all else, was willing to put together a magazine written entirely by solicited authors, instead of filling it with his own work. My search led me to Dr.Miroslav Holub, who – after listening to my proposal – accepted the job on the spot. It was a wonderful partnership, full of similarities and inequalities that, like the themes of Holub’spoems, merged to form a cogent whole. We were both physicians. He was an experienced poet and writer of world caliber; I had never published anything other than scientific papers. He was a living symbol of a new style, a new tradition; I was the living heir to an old one. He was a poet whose style influenced poetry the world over – Czech happened to be the language he was most comfortable in; English was mine.ĘHolub was wonderfully nonchalant, yet masterfully organized and incredibly productive. He was both teacher and perpetual student, studying the forces and balances that make up the ether of life. And he was kind, never raising his voice. He possessed a marvelous sense of humor, courtesy and a satirical sense of self and authority. I remember how he would accept the pieces I had written in Czech with diplomatic aplomb, then rehash them to bits, explaining that he’d made “a few minor corrections.” He was one of the very few people I would call a true Renaissance man.ĘAnd so we set about working together. The first issue of Nova Pritomnost was launched in January 1995. Our offices on Narodni trida were full to bursting. There, in the company of ministers, culture officials, the press and public, we reopened a tradition. I can truly say that it was a moment of true joy for both of us – it did us well to be a part of it.ĘAt the beginning, NovaPritomnost was essentially a one-man show, with Holub editing virtually the entire magazine single-handedly while also contributing the occasional satire or poem. This was all the more remarkable in that Holub spent half his time either running off to his immunology lab full of mutant white mice or traveling the globe to writers’ congresses. I believe he cherished the moments when I asked him where he’d been, so that he could answer, “Why, at the international congress of Pacific writers in Papua, of course!”ĘOnce, after Holub returned from a trip to New York City, I went to his office to ask him how the trip went. As I knew that Holubwas aware of my being a native New Yorker, I expected an in-depth analysis. Instead, he leaned back in his chair, cocked his head to one side, thought for a moment and said, “I’m standing on a corner in Times Square, waiting to cross the street. A man comes up and stands next to me. After a few seconds, he turns to me and asks me, in Czech, if I know the correct time. I reply in Czech. He looks at me, thanks me and dashes across the street.”Holub paused, then looked at me with his wonderfully wry smile and said, “Do you know, we Czechs are simply everywhere!”ĘHow very true of Miroslav Holub – and how very good for the rest of us.


The Prague Post29.7.1998

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