Poet, author of prose poems, translator, journalist. As an editor he has compiled a number of anthologies. Winner of the Jaroslav Seifert Prize (1992), the State Prize for Literature (2012) and the Magnesia Litera (2013). His work has been published in many languages including English, French and Polish. He himself translates from German, French, Italian, Flemish, Russian and Latin. He was born on 18 June 1942.
Over the course of his career he has written thousands of texts, and it is not easy to get a handle on his work, although the search for possible ways into it is satisfying and even adventurous. The author does not make it easy for his readers – Wernisch sometimes deliberately fudges the origin or authorship of individual works. His most famous hoaxes include the creation of Václav Rozehnal, under whose name an entire collection of his was published, and who was also listed as a poet in the Dictionary of Banned Writers.
Under the totalitarian regime he had a series of manual jobs, and during Normalization he published only in samizdat form. He began publishing in magazines in the late fifties, and in book form in the early sixties with the collection Kam letí nebe (Where the Sky Flies To, Mladá fronta, 1961), followed by Těšení (Enjoyment, Mladá fronta, 1993), Zimohrádek (Winter Palace, Československý spisovatel, 1965), Dutý břeh (Hollow Bank, Mladá fronta, 1967) and Loutky (Puppets, Čs. spisovatel, 1970). “A poem is something which cannot be understood just like that, using reason alone. And it takes more than reason alone to create it,” said the author in an interview with the journalist and author Karel Hvížďala.
During Normalization Wernisch worked for Czech Radio, and in 1989 he officially published his first “post-revolution” collection – Včerejší den (Yesterday, Mladá fronta, 1989) is an anthology of poems from the years 1957 – 1987. His other major works include Frc – překlady a překrady (Pawn Shop, Čs. spisovatel, 1991), Doupě latinářů (The Latin Scholar’s Den, Petrov, 1992), Pekařova noční nůše (The Baker’s Night Hamper, Petrov, 1994), Cesta do Ašchabadu neboli Pumpke a dalajlámové (Journey to Ashkhabad or Pumpke and the Dalai Lamas, Petrov, 1997), Bez kufru se tak pěkně skáče po stromech neboli Nún (It’s So Easy to Jump Around the Trees Without a Suitcase, Petrov, 2001), Blbecká poezie (Idiotic Poetry, Petrov, 2002) and Růžovejch květů sladká vůně – Virtuos na prdel (The Sweet Smell of Pink Roses – Virtuos on its Arse, Petrov, 2003). His recent works include Kominické lodě (Chimney Boats, Druhé město, 2009) and S brokovnicí pod kabátem (With a Shotgun Under this Coat, Druhé město, 2014). This last-named work is described by Markéta Kittlová on iLiteratura.cz thus: “What characterizes the poetry of Ivan Wernisch most aptly is perhaps its unreliability. The author dons all sorts of masks – playful, wistful, deceptive, earthy, deferential, derisive. However, this unreliability is also connected with uncertainty and a lack of culmination, thanks to which the collection is open, attracts repeat reading and awakens a desire to let oneself be carried up once again to the heights of Wernisch’s poems and jump, even in the knowledge that someone might maliciously cut the cord of one’s parachute again.”
Also worthy of attention are Wernisch’s editorial activities – he has put together several collections of poetry, especially that which is marginal, neglected or even scorned, one example of which is the anthology Živ jsem byl! (I was Alive!, Druhé město, 2012), for which the author and publisher were awarded the Magnesia Litera for achievements in publishing.