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PREFACE In 1922. during a campaign of surveys on the meaning of modern poetry, at a time when factions for or against so-called proletarian poetry confronted one another, a time when it seemed possible to revive poetry through new content, I tried to reaet against the ideological approach. I decided to reject any theme whatsoever, and chose the most abstract poetic object—the letter—as the pretext for the gymnastics of the mind. From the letters shape, sound or function I associatively created a subconstruct to serve as the base on which my fantasy embroidered. The result was twenty-lour poems, which emerged from the marriage of this constructive base with reality and imagination. They were autonomous, not demonstrating content of any theme, and realistic, replacing the usual abstract ideology with the materiality of concrete images. I was not concerned with a physiological approximation of the color of sounds and their poetic reconstruction, as is the case in Rimbaud’s well-known “Sonnet on Vowels.” Rather than a subject, the letter was for me a motif, a stone that stirred the waters surface, a pretext for a poem. Milča Mayerová, whose understanding of dance is equally distant from ideological objectives, grasped this poetic cycle as an impulse whose general outline asserted the absence of limits in non-formalist dance. With poetic invention she organized autonomous dance compositions, drawing upon the thematic and formal intent of the poems. She was thus the poems’ poetic medium, just as Karel Teige was the author of pictoral compositions — not in the sense of themes, but in the sense of motifs rooted in the typographic symbols of the alphabet. Alphabet is the image, in book form, of a meeting of autonomous arts solving a common task in parallel and within the bounds of their functions. Vítězslav Nezval

The book Abeceda (Alphabet) is a composite of experimental poetry, modern dance, graphic design and photomontaged typography, based on a poem by Vitĕzslav Nezval in the order of the letters of the Latin alphabet. Each double page features a set of quatrains facing a sometimes abstracted letter composed of typographic elements and a photograph of the dancer Milca Mayerova. Nezval wrote the poem in the late 1922, inspired by ‘the intellectual gymnastics afforded by poetry’s most immediate object: letters’. He concentrated on letters primarily for their visual suggestiveness. Thus, the opening line to many quatrains focuses on an image from which he then develops his themes and associations. ‘A’, for example, is introduced as a ‘simple hut’, ‘C’ as the moon. Mayerova based her choreography, consisting of about three to four poses per quatrain, on Nezval’s verses rather than conceiving an independent interpretation. For ‘H’, she figures the simple act of respiration described in the text. Her pose has also been read as a ‘triumphant step of an emancipated “modern woman” in the parlance of the time’. Mayerova’s outfit, a dark, sleeveless top and shorts with a stripe on both sides, topped by a tightly fitted cap of the same design, furthers heightens this emphasis. The photographs by Karel Paspa record one pose each, matching with the line of the poem that provides the visual association for each letter. In his seminal credo Moderní Typo (Modern Typography), Karel Teige remarks, ‘In Nezval’s Abeceda, a cycle of rhymes based on the shapes of letters, I tried to create a “typofoto” of a purely abstract and poetic nature, setting into graphic poetry what Nezval set into verbal poetry in his verse, both being poems evoking the magic signs of the alphabet’. In his layout Teige respects the integrity of the text, but also plays with it, as well as with photographs of the dancer and the letters themselves. He was not trying to illustrate the words through images or typography, but instead to foster a similarly poetic dialogue between text and images. The entire project thereby explored the relationships between verbal and visual art, industrial technology and mass media in a new way.

A let us call you a simple hut Transport your tropics to the Moldau, o palms A snail has its simple home with feelers sticking up while people don’t know where to turn for alms

A A nazváno buď prostou chatrčí Ó palmy přeneste svůj rovník nad Vltavu Šnek má svůj prostý dům z nějž růžky vystrčí a člověk neví kam by složil hlavu

B orange fruit a lantern with milky glimmer intoxicating stream from a mothers chest B second letter of a children’s primer and image of a lover’s breast

B oranžový plod lampion mléčné záře jímž matka poprvé opojí v kolébce syna B druhé písmenko dětského slabikáře a obrázek prsa milenčina

C glows like the moon over water Don’t shine great crescent go dark instead gondolier romances are dead and gone To America, captain! Full speed ahead!

C září jako měsíc nad vodou Don’t shine great crescent go dark instead gondolier romances are dead and gone To America, captain! Full speed ahead!

D From the West is bent the bow An Indian finds footpaths overgrown His last friends perished long ago The moon waxes The prairie turns to stone

D luk jenž od západu napíná se Indián shlédl stopu na zemi Poslední druhové zhynuli v dávném čase a měsíc dorůstá prérie kamení

E For you I can think of no comparison Three lines your trilling tone rings through Did someone lead the operator on? Three lines each equally true

E nevím k čemu bych tě přirovnal Tři linky táhlý tón tvůj zaznívá Telegrafistce někdo lásku lhal? Tři linky každá stejně pravdivá

F In Assisi the holy birds sit pecking F’s in the tree bark above the lover chosen by grace 0 picture! Franciscan censers swinging in a faded shop with ribbons and lace

F klovou svatí ptáci v Assisi do kůry stromů nad milencem božím Obrázku! františky vonné čadící v omšelém krámě s galantérním zboží

G With g I’m sure we’ll all agree come thoughts of the lasso and saddle Over the pampas the cowboys roam free while I eat sirloin from Argentine cattle

G Teď vzpomínat mi každý dovolí při g na pohotovost cowboyského lasa Na zemi říjí stádo buvolí a já jím argentinský řízek z jejich masa

H we breathe out and then we gasp The clown tumbles The music stops on In a corner we only hear the jester clap Wonderful—1 am the audience too!

H člověk vydechne a nedýchá pak již Clown skočil z hrazdy Hudba mlčí Drum! Jen v koutě šaška tleskat uslyšíš Výborně já jsem také publikum!

I a limber dancer’s body flares A red fan flutters in the breeze The bandmaster’s flaming hair Indianola The highest keys

I pružné tělo tanečnice nad hlavou červený vějíř plápolá Kapelníkova rudá kštice nejvyšší tóny! Indianola

JQ Through Germany and down to France bagpipes drifting by wind’s chance And its owner apropos keeps on piping westward ho

JQ Přes Německo do Francie dudák se svým měchem větry pluje Chodské písně pomalu hvízdá na svou píšťalu

K in an optician’s window I saw it A ray bounced off the pane in a thrice A mirror My portrait? To be a poet is to be like the sun to be like ice

K v optikově skříni viděl jsem Paprsek letí tam a zase zpět Zrcadlo Moje podobizna? Býti básníkem je být jak slunce býti jako led

L horizontal L vertical line The engineer knows you as a lyre that never fails Students mistake you for a T-square fine For the worker you shine like a lamp on the rails

L horizontála L vertikální směr Inženýr ví žes vzácná lýra jejich Studenti říkají ti chybně úhloměr Dělníku svítíš jak lampička na kolejích

M you’re the palm reader’s bright star Success and love cross here and meet Two mighty lines life and heart at death they’ll close your hand in sleep

M jasná hvězdo chiromantie Úspěch se s hlavní čárou kříží Život a srdce dvě mocné linie ve smrti dlaň tvou navždy k spánku sklíží

N From head to foot the lover to his beloved is drawn Yet love is unstable like the crossbar of the letter N

N Od hlavy až k patě milenec k milé je láskou přitažen Láska je vratká však jak spojovací linka hlásky N

O Call it a comet’s orbit a stargazer’s sign An ellipsis in an infinite zone But eternity? Ahasvérus? After Einstein? Oh yes every equation has its unknown

O dráha komety znamení astronomovo Elipso nekonečnosti též zvou Zas věčnost? po Einsteinovi? Tajemství Ahasverovo Ó ano každá rovnice má svoji neznámou

P like a sign at a crossing P as in prudence an everyday guide but sometimes you see such pain and suffering Panhandlers: entry denied

P jako tabulka na rozcestí V lidové mluvě P symbol každé ctnosti a někdy mluví tebou všecka lidská bída žebrákům vstup se přísně zapovídá

R The drummers cast off their hats over seven bridges they march and rivers nine Vrroom—Devetsil acrobats set up their stand where the Nile flows divine

R bubínky daly se na pochod přes sedm mostů přes devět vod RRR komedianti z Devětsilu rozbili stánek na březích božského Nilu

S On the plains of darkest India lived John a charmer of snakes He loved the snake-dancer Alice She bit him He died of syphilis

S V planinách Černé Indie žil krotitel hadů jménem John Miloval Elis hadí tanečnici a ta ho uštkla Zemřel na příjici

T gallows multiplied by two A sad song a song about death On this spot have died more than a few Josef Kolinsky here drew his last breath

T dvojnásobná šibenice Popěvek smutný popěvek o smrti zahynulo jich pod ní na tisíce zahynul pod ní Josef Kolinský

U you recall our childhood calm lowing cow s in a quiet stream messiahs in linen nightshirts a pastoral psal and fruits of emerald green

U připomínáš tiché dětství naše bučení kravek v zátoce v plátěných košilkách pastýřské mesiáše a smaragdovou zeleň ovoce

V a pyramid reflected in the sand red hot V constructhist poem Disk would print on the spot

V odraz pyramidy v žhoucím písku V konstruktivní báseň hodná Disku

W blameless Cassiopeia like a pilot’s thread circles high above the mighty pharaoh’s head

W kasiopea jak letec bezúhonná kroužící nad hlavou mocného faraona

X on a viper’s head the mark of Cain a spot X eternity X poisonous blend X bones arc crossed Time in blossom In rot X at the beginning X at the end

X latinovo znamení na hlavě zmije X věčnost X jed X kosti jsou sklízeny Čas v květu Hnije X na počátku X naposled

Y You’re just a children’s toy today It’s from machine guns that our fairy tales spring yet in a century now far away David killed Goliath with a sling

Y Dnes jsi jen hračkou pro děti Za strojních pušek vyrostly pohádky naše a přece v dávném století zabil prakem David Goliáše

Z Farewell then it’s time to say adieu Remember the tenth muse Zany fops This final hour Must all partings leave their mark? Well they do Let’s zig-zag up the Eiffel Tower!

Z na rozloučenou Muž tedy sbohem již Desáté ni usy vzpomeneš Zubatých gigrlat Střelec Každé loučení má zuby? Nu ano však ty víš Zubatá dráho vzhůru po Eifelee!

Thank you for your attention / Děkuji za pozornost


alphabet