Bára Hladík is a Czech-Canadian writer, editor and multimedia artist. Born in Ktunaxa Territory, she received her Bachelor of Arts in Literature from the University of British Columbia in 2016. Her work can be found in THIS Magazine, Contemporary Verse 2, Carte Blanche, EVENT Mag, Hamilton Arts and Letters, Bed Zine, Empty Mirror, Cosmonauts Avenue and elsewhere. Bára’s microchapbook Book of Mirrors was selected for the 2019 Ghost City Press Summer Micro-Chap Series and her collaborative artist book Behind the Curtain (Publication Studio, 2018) was an honourable mention for the Scorpion and Felix Prize (2017). Bára’s first book New Infinity appeared this spring with Metatron Press (2022).
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first publication was a microchapbook called Book of Mirrors published by Ghost city Press. It was in many ways the beginning of New Infinity, and the microbook perseveres in the pages of New Infinity.
It was life changing to have people read and resonate with my work. I still sometimes get snippets of someone sharing or commenting on it. It gave me the validation and confidence to continue to compile my work, as I began to see that it was needed.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
My first encounters with poetry was lyrics written in the sleeves of records, tapes and CDs. Analogue style. In those days, those words were the only glimpse you could get of the artist. As an immigrant, it was a way for me to learn English and better understand the new world I was growing up in. My parents fled Soviet occupation in former Czechoslovakia, so they grew up in a media-controlled society. Having access to western music was a big deal. I grew up on everything from Pink Floyd to Nirvana to Muddy Waters. I was writing lyrics from a young age and I still write a lot of songs.
I didn’t come to poetry in more of a literary sense until I went to college in the city and began to be exposed to more writing and arts than I could access in the rural setting I grew up in. I read a lot. The first poets that really turned me upside down into the world of poetry to never return at that time were constraint and found poets. I found this approach to language very liberating, as it challenges a linear reality. At the time I was dealing with undiagnosed severe pain and struggling to put my story to words. Constraint and found poetry allowed me to express my existence from a vantage beyond the constraint of a linear body or narrative.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
My writing process can be incredibly slow. The majority of my writing process is done in my head. As a chronically ill person, I spend a lot of time in a waking dream state allowing my body to recover. This is when I dream of images, themes, narratives, characters, or when I receive insight as to what is necessary to be said. Often by the time I reach the page, the shapes of the dream are formed. I dream up solutions to details and questions and problems, and update the document. I have several formed stories I have not yet managed to put to the document that exist in my head as holographic universes.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
For me, a poem usually begins with a few words in my notebook or notes app. An idea, contrast, emotion, image. Sometimes I consider the larger project thematically, and develop a series of poems. Other times I’m just vibing. I grew up writing notes and lyrics to myself, instead of writing publicly, so it’s been a practice that has always been with me. Eventually I mash everything together and see what it’s really saying, beyond my own experience. I have several rituals I practice to distance my narrative voice and draw divinatory information from the words, often using found words in practices such as cutting up words from medical texts into a mini deck of cards and drawing them into a sort of healing divinatory reading. I wrote much of my book using these practices.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do enjoy readings. I am a shy person and I often find the seating at readings is difficult for my spinal condition, but when the vibe is right I love the practice of sharing and reading with friends and strangers.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
In the tradition of Czechoslovakian writers, I tend to ask philosophical questions about existence, inspired by surrealism and existentialism. Like my uncles (how I like to refer to Czechoslovakian writers), I grapple with the logic of contradictory truths, the manipulation of language, and the meaning of freedom amongst oppressive forces.
In New Infinity, my questions are related to the metaphysical symphony of the body. I ask about the philosophical implications of autoimmune disease, a sickness of fighting the self on a cellular level. I try to approach story and language in the book as a reclamation and interrogation of the narrative that was put on me by the medical system and society due to my rare disease, and instead create a narrative that becomes an expression of liberation and deep healing. The story is many stories and fragments arranged in a way that can be picked up and read in any order. You can read one page or several chapters, or jump around. It is not linear. Just as healing asks us to visit pockets of time, the stories move like dreams and memories, asking us to revisit ourselves (our cells).
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I feel that writers have a very big responsibility. That is, to be a worker for the people. Whoever “the people” are for you, we as writers (and artists) are responsible to offer our gifts back to our communities. Our work as writers and artists is to archive, reflect, express, research and put a mirror to ourselves. Writers have incredible skill and privilege to communicate on a level that resonates the heart, a powerful technology that should not be underestimated or under utilized. I feel our society creates a lot of shame around creative expression. I think this is because western society has defined “the writer” or “the artist” as a figure of prestige, instead of honouring the act of creation as something that belongs to everyone as a human right. Writers have a very big responsibility to use their time and work to address deep important topics in a way that directly benefits their communities and society at large, whatever that means for them specifically.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I love working with an editor, especially since I grew up bilingual and often miss spelling things. I prefer to workshop pieces later on in the writing process, if at all. But working with a good copy editor is very satisfying.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Allow your seeds to grow in their own time.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to multimedia works)? What do you see as the appeal?
I find it intuitive to work with many forms. As someone with a complex body, I often have to adjust my creative process based on my ability. I am not always able to write, so sometimes I just listen to music, hum or sing, doodle, slowly dance or whatever. I don’t see these forms as separate, but another language with which to express creativity. They inform and revolve into each other. They are embodied poems.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Routine has been a shifting and challenging thing for me over the years, but lately I have been finding a rhythm. My writing routine tends to be folded between periods of rest and spurts of inspiration. I don’t have a specific time dedicated to writing. Everyday is different, depending on where my body is at and what I have to accomplish despite it. I write in my mind waiting at the blood lab, at the crack of dawn when my spinal pain is keeping me awake, or when I have to lay down for several hours until my spine recovers from over exertion. It is a form of release and self-healing, a way to be heard in some distant echo of time.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I turn to my bookshelf, and I turn to my plants. I turn to the wind, the water, the sky.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Chopped wood, a wood stove, cooked plums
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I am definitely influenced by music and sound. I am also inspired by science and research, I draw poetry from scientific journals and books on space and physics.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Karel Čapek, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
As well as disabled writers such as Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha, Mia Mingus, Johanna Hedva,
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would like to write a film.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I would be a musician or an actor :)
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing is one of the most accessible art forms. I am able to write when I cannot move or open my eyes. I am still able to transform myself and others through distilled thought and creation. Writing is only one of my practices, but it is a nucleus of many forms of creation for me.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Parable of the Sower - Octavia E. Butler
20 - What are you currently working on?
I have several dreams / projects on the go. My next priority is to write a collection of short stories set in Prague based on family stories of Nazi and Soviet occupation and beyond. I am also outlining a sci-fi trilogy. I won't say much, but it involves a garden on the moon. I am also collaborating with Malek Robbana on a monthly dreamspells event that involves a guided nidra dream, presence and eye exercises, followed by community chats about dreaming. We eventually hope to publish some of our dream findings.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;