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Miroslav Holub
at the
complete review:

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Name: Miroslav HOLUB
Nationality: Czech
Born: 13 September, 1923
Died: 14 July, 1998

  • M.D., Charles University, Prague, 1953
  • Ph.D., Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, 1958

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Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

All dates refer to the date of the publication of the English translation of each book.

  • Selected Poems - trans. George Theiner and Ian Milner, 1967
  • Although - poems, trans. Ian and Jarmila Milner, 1971
  • Notes of a Clay Pigeon - poems, trans. Ian and Jarmila Milner, 1977
  • Sagittal Section - poems, trans. Stuart Friebert and Dana Hábová, 1980
  • Interferon, or On Theater - poems, trans. Dana Hábová and David Young, 1982
  • On the Contrary - poems, trans. Ewald Osers, 1984
  • The Fly - poems, trans. Ian and Jarmila Milner, Ewald Osers, and George Theiner, 1987
  • Immunolgy of Nude Mice - monograph, 1989
  • Vanishing Lung Syndrome - poems, trans. Dana Hábová and David Young, 1990
  • Poems: Before & After - poems, trans. Ian and Jarmila Milner, Ewald Osers, George Theiner, Stuart Friebert, Dana Hábová, and David Young, 1990
  • The Dimension of the Present Moment - essays, 1990
  • The Jingle Bell Principle - various, trans. James Naughton, 1992
  • Supposed to Fly - various, trans. Ewald Osers, 1996
  • Intensive Care - poems, 1996
  • The Rampage - poems, trans. Dana Hábová, David Young, Rebekah Bloyd, and Miroslav Holub, 1997
  • Shedding Life - essays, trans. David Young, "assisted" by Dana Hábova, Todd Morath, Vera Orac, Catarina Vocadlova and Miroslav Holub, 1997

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.

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What others have to
say about
Miroslav Holub:

  • "Holub's concentration on molecular destiny, perhaps strategically, overlooks the fact that we are storytelling animals dependent on each other, and moving towards a goal in ways that are partially constrained by the way we have already moved. (...) Holub has been called a humanist -- why, I can't say. Perhaps "humanist" is intended to designate someone who finds no human act or discovery or experience too odd. Otherwise, Holub is about as far from the Erasmian ideal as it is possible to be." - Iain Bamforth, Parnassus (2001 ; Vol.25, Issue 1/2)

  • "Holub is an immunologist, and the rigorous logic of the scientist shows in many of the poems, which are almost mathematical in their analogies. But it is a mathematics with blood in it." - Paul Breslin, Poetry (7/1997)

  • "His dislike of "poetical" embellishment, his concern that poetry should be rooted in plain, unadorned fact, is a product of years of Communist propaganda in Stalinist Czechoslovakia. It has also been influenced by the methods of the laboratory, which depend, above all things else, upon clear-headed inquiry." - The Economist (5/8/1995)

  • "This ability to find wonder in the betrayals of DNA and the workings of viruses and cancers is one of Holub's greatest poetic gifts. He is endlessly fascinated by the grotesque, diseased and deformed. Accordingly, for all its talk of genes and genomes, Holub's poetry seems as much imaginatively indebted to Robert Chambers's theory of monstrous birth as to Darwinian natural selection." - Tim Kendall, Times Literary Supplement (15/5/1998)

  • "His wry humour was, paradoxically, eminently serious. He may not have been out to improve the world- he probably did not believe in the perfectibility of man - but he was entirely serious about showing up human frailty and folly." - Ewald Osers, New Statesman (7/8/1998)

  • "Witty, austere, classical, totally without egotism or sentimentality, he was a tireless awakener of the cynical and the servile. Throughout his poems and his prose writings, he insists that we learn a humility that can oppose the corrupt and vicious totalitarian state - the labyrinth in which his favourite symbol the minotaur stalks and stumbles and growls. His poems have a strict, undogmatic openness and wit as well as a heartening strictness and throwaway severity. In them we had that distinctive form of ethical joy we find in Aeschylus." - Tom Paulin, The Guardian (16/7/1998)

  • "Holub has much in common with Auden -- a profound interest in science, a highly developed sense of irony, a strong sense of oneself as a citizen, and not least a distrust of the ego and the ego's sense of its own value, what he describes (...) as "the dubious theatre / of a thousand actors and one spectator". It is not the world which vanishes, in Holub, but ways of coping with it, such as Communism, serum shots, or particular types of humour." - John Redmond, Times Literary Supplement (28/3/1997)

  • "Miroslav Holub seems to expect his readers to act like scientists, who are curious in every direction, take nothing for granted, and are willing to accept any truth, however unexpected." - Matthew Zapruder, Verse (Volume 15, Numbers 1 and 2)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • Varied, clever poetry
  • One of the few authors to tie science and art together well
  • Intelligent and moral vision

  • Some of the verse may be too ponderous for Western ears
  • Nightmarish mess of translations, with many poems included in several collections, little uniformity of translation (and where there is -- under David Young's hand, for example -- of dubious quality).

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the complete review's Opinion

     Miroslav Holub is a major poet of our times. Though he protested that he was a scientist by profession and that poetry was only a pastime his prolific output and the high quality of much of his verse suggest that his claim is not to be taken completely at face value.
     Holub's mixing of science and poetry is certainly one of the more obviously striking aspects of his work. Throughout his work he effectively ties together scientific and medical concepts to shine a different light on age old ideas. His reputation could stand on these works alone, but his poetic reach extended considerably farther. Well-versed in myth and history as well, he also used these in his often very political poetry. He also showed a sense of humour in his verse, though it is often tinged with a scientist's melancholy.
     His essay collections are also of interest, specifically those dealing with scientific issues. Ably presented, from an Eastern European point of view, they also offer the reader a great deal. We are not as big fans of his shorter, journalistic work, but these collections are also of some value.
     Much has not yet been translated, including his very popular account of America in the 1960's, Angels on Wheels and his books about New York (where he lived and worked 1965-7). Even the so-called collected editions of his poems in English (notably Poems: Before & After) in fact leave out large parts of his output.
     Another difficulty is that of translation. As the bibliography shows, many, many people were involved in the translations. For the last few projects Holub himself (who was fairly fluent in English) assisted with the translations. There is little uniformity among the collections.
     The prolific Ewald Osers shows himself to be comfortable and familiar with Holub's literary background, having translated many other poets from the area. His translations seem fairly true to Holub, but they are definitely British-English, and Osers shows a great reluctance to trim any of the poems. (Those which Holub himself co-translated are markedly more paired down.)
     David Young, big wheel at Oberlin, must be thanked for making Holub more widely available (and for helping to arrange the two years Holub got to spend as writer in residence at Oberlin). Apparently a poet in his own right, Young apparently polishes the literal translations of his fellow translators (mainly Dana Hábová) into their final English form. Not our favourite or approved technique (and we imagine Holub himself finally got involved with the translations because he really could not be very pleased by how this was going).
     Hopefully Holub will finally get the translator he deserves -- and a greater effort will be made to bring out more of his work, in a more organized fashion.

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Miroslav Holub: Writing by Miroslav Holub available online: Miroslav Holub's Books at the complete review: Other books of interest under review:

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