Jiří Kolář


Poems from Instruction Manual




Sit down at the table
and clear your mind
Take a pen
and write your beloved’s first name
across a whole sheet of blank paper
Stand up like a shot
run to the door
throw it open
wait with your hand on the door handle
close it
go back silently to the table
read aloud the name on the paper
Write in a zigzag fashion other names across the page
leap to your feet
throw the pen away
run to the front hall
stand on the threshold and say:
“No one again!”

Turn and face into the apartment
Run a tired hand over your cheek and whisper:
“Everyone again!”




Wind a blank sheet of paper into a typewriter
and christen with a first name
everything around you
For example: Charles Table
Mary Book etc.
Provide a date of birth to some items
a place of birth to others
a biography or distinguishing feature to others still
in the middle of work
run in front of the house
carefully survey your surroundings
and ask the heavens
“Wasn’t someone there?”

Wait for a response
Afterwards throw your arms up in disappointment
glance at your watch and say to yourself:
“It’s a quarter to five,
where is she?”




Draw a square on the floor
a circle
a triangle
and a trapezium
Place into each
an everyday item
a book
a gadget
into the last arrange yourself
– test out all sixteen combinations
which can be formed
Afterwards switch on the radio
get undressed
attach to your naked body
the book as well as the gadget
clear your mind of thoughts
remain calm for several seconds and say:
“I loved you since the first moment I saw you…”
Listen attentively and after a while reply:
“I hated you since the first moment I saw you…”
Listen attentively and after a while continue:
“No one has ever love and hated you so much as I have.”




as though your whole life depended on it
Wait a moment for the applause
wait once more
thank them again
wait once more
bore your way through the crowd in disappointment
take a tray
offer food
speak in foreign languages
answer questions
show someone the way to the toilet
greet someone warmly
say farewell to someone else
butt into an discussion
Then take a shammy
or a sheet of newspaper
and put your back into the filthy windows




The moment you hear about infidelity
write a love letter
tear it to pieces
stuff it into a bottle
and place in that the following:
seven match heads
a broken razor
a ring
a tram ticket
a discontinued banknote
a segment of clothes line
a scrap of bandage
a remnant of barbed wire
a cinema ticket
a page from a book
a shard of glass from a compact mirror
a key still with the curlicue of metal from the tin can
chewing gum
a wisp of hair
a tube of toothpaste squeezed dry
a pay-cheque
a baby’s dummy
a car-part
a fragment from a gramophone record
a snippet of audiotape
a piece of a photograph with a heartfelt dedication
and what else you intend until the bottle is full
Then place a cork in it
and bury it at the rubbish dump




Take a novel
which you don’t know
slice off the spine
remove the page numbers
and jumble the pages as much as possible
In that disorder
read the book
and write its contents
in fourteen lines




Arrange two walking sticks in a cross
dress the cross in a shirt
and over the shirt put a coat
Where the head should be place a pot
with two holes for eyes
Where the hands should be hang twigs from a linden
and decorate the whole figure
with tinkling items
In the end fix it to a stand
and set it up in the best spot at home




Board a tram
or bus
and become acutely aware of
the vibration beneath your feet
the sounds inside and out
the life all around
the presence of those others
recall how many times you went somewhere
to and from and with whom
guess what everyone is thinking
what’s his job how he has lived
what he reads what dream he had
somewhere in the memory
keep enough space


what you would like to befall you
what distresses you
what you forget about
and meanwhile keep listening
to the voice in your head asking
what you would do
if you knew
you will never return home again


JIŘÍ KOLÁŘ (1914 – 2002) was a Czech poet, writer and visual artist whose work at times explored the intersection of text and image. Kolář, a contemporary of Václav Havel’s, was part of the literary and artistic world marginalized by the former regime. In the 1980s he was forced to emigrate and spent the decade in Paris, returning home after the Velvet Revolution. Kolář’s literary achievements are numerous from poems, plays, adaptations, translations and journals in verse. The poems published in translation here are from his collection Návod k upotřebení (Instruction Manual), which was published in 1969.


About the Translator:

RYAN SCOTT is a writer whose work has appeared in V+L-A=K, Overland and Fail Better among others. He was drawn to the work of Jiří Kolář for its elegance and playfulness. He says, “Kolář’s poems are tiny machines, operating on subtle mechanics and beguiling us with their effects.”