Poet Blatný honoured in UK: “One of the most improbable heroes has got his own street”

Photo: Czech Television

A street in the UK town of Ipswich was officially named Ivan Blatný Close on Thursday, in honour of the great Czech poet. Blatný, who defected from Czechoslovakia after the Communist takeover, spent decades in a mental hospital that stood in the same location. I asked Martin Reiner, author of the late poet’s biography, about Blatný’s relationship to Ipswich, where he spent time in different institutions.  

“I think from 1964 Ivan Blatný was an Ipswicher.

“First he stayed at a place called House of Hope and later he moved to St. Clement’s Hospital, which was on the same street.

“And he spent more than 20 years there, actually.”

This new street Ivan Blatný Close is on the site of the former St. Clement’s Hospital. He had a breakdown because he was paranoid that the StB would kidnap him in the UK and take him back to Czechoslovakia. I’ve heard that he said that the only place he felt safe was in the mental hospital – is that true?

“I think so. I actually heard the same thing from Ivan Blatný and I believe it.

“He actually couldn’t live outside. There were too many concerns and too many things to do, to think about.

“And in these hospitals he had a roof over his head. He had regular meals.

Ivan Blatný, photo: archive of Martin Reiner

“He had everything he needed.”

So was he genuinely mentally ill or just taking advantage of this “opportunity”?

“I think he was more a social case, which one of the doctors at St. Clement’s Hospital actually said.

“Even then, the same doctor didn’t want to make Ivan Blatný leave.

“He was kind of protecting him – because he knew that the moment Ivan Blatný would have to live outside he could become a mentally ill patient.”

Do you think he was justified in fearing that the StB could kidnap him in England?

“It’s hard to say. I don’t know.

“There were cases, and he knew how badly he had been treated in Czechoslovakia after his escape.

“Probably he was afraid, but who knows what the reality was in those days?”

Isn’t it the case that one of his carers at St. Clement’s kind of revived his literary career?

Ivan Blatný, photo: Czech Television

“There were a couple of things that revived him as a poet.

“It was not only the environment of the hospital, which played a role actually.

“Because it was sort of a new hospital, light and nice. It was nice to be there for Ivan Blatný.

“That was one thing. And of course the second thing was the sudden presence of his guardian angel, Frances Meacham, who helped this process so much.”

She sent his poems to ‘68 Publishers in Canada?

“Yes, that’s true.”

And you weren’t able to go to the naming ceremony on Thursday because of the Covid situation?

“Yes, I was supposed to be there but quarantine changed my plans.

“It’s a pity. I would have liked to have been there, but it’s a great thing even without my presence there [laughs].

“I like it – one of the most improbable heroes has got his own street.

“It’s another great chapter in this glorious story of Ivan Blatný.

“I love it [laughs].”