Pavel Zajicek - a Czech poet who crosses the line between words and music, reality and dream.

Pavel Zajicek is a contemporary Czech legend. Now in his early fifties, he is a poet, musician and artist, and although he prefers not to use the term, he was at the very heart of Prague's underground scene in the 1970s, when the regime was slowly and systematically paring away at all the reforms of the decade before.

Pavel ZajicekPavel Zajicek It all started by chance during a chat with Mejla Hlavsa - later also to become one of the symbols of the Czech underground of the period.

"It was an accident. A friend of mine, Mejla Hlavsa, founder of the band, 'Plastic People of the Universe' and me were sitting one evening and decided to form a band. So we formed a band, gave it a name, and it existed ever since till the moment we ended up in jail in 1976."

In one of the most notorious incidents of the political clampdown of the 1970s, Pavel Zajicek was among several musicians charged and sentenced for "breaching the peace". As a blatant violation of basic civil liberties, the episode was one of the catalysts for the most famous initiative of the dissident movement, Charter 77.

But Pavel Zajicek's band DG 307 has survived to this day. Its unusual name is a reference to a diagnosis common in the medical profession at the time of the communist regime. To have a DG 307 meant that you were considered clinically insane - although in reality it often meant that you were simply someone who was uncomfortable to the regime. But to obtain a DG 307 also had its advantages - it was just about the only way of avoiding military service.

The backbone of the band is Zajicek's extraordinary poetry, reinforced by his power as a vocalist. His language builds on a rich tradition in 20th century Czech poetry, crossing the line between the real and the surreal, in search of what Zajicek himself has described as the "zivej sen" - the living dream.

It also relishes the interaction between word and music.

"It gives you company somehow, a kind of spontaneity. What you try to express through your words, accompanied by music, pushes it somewhere else. Sometimes I really need it."

Here is "New York - Prague - Paris" from the early 1990s:

New York - Prague - Paris

I wrote a tale of three cities
a tale of death and silence
a tale of chaos
a tale of grief and a tale of celebrations
the morning sun's behind my window
and nothing is as it is...

new york prague paris

I wrote a tale of aimless wandering
a tale about a labyrinth
a tale of "an artist who doesn't give a shit about art"
a tale of the sounds of a city
a tale of light and darkness
the morning sun's behind my window
and nothing is as it is...

prague paris new york

I wrote a tale
that I burnt
a tale of a theatre of cruelty and silence
a tale of night birds
a tale of a terrible dream
a tale of bloody tears
a tale of a foreboding that the end is nigh
the morning sun's behind my window
and nothing is as it is...

new york prague paris

Part of the impulse for this song "New York - Prague - Paris" lies in Pavel Zajicek's experience having left Czechoslovakia in 1980. Until 1986 he was in Sweden, and then he lived in New York for the next ten years, afterwards coming home to Prague. But he does not see himself as a poet of exile - to dwell on exile, he feels, would be to build on negative emotions, at odds with the creative impulse.

"I was always trying to find things that were positive and beautiful and deal with them, not to find things that are negative or ugly or cruel and deal with them. So my way of thinking was for the most part of my life was very positive - to look towards light."

Nothing Extraordinary

she had a snow-white body
reminiscent of fragile angels
that watch over your aimless wanderings
eyes like the ruins of dreams
somewhere an explosion resounded
inside my heart it seems
somewhere someone hung himself
it was me it seems, without knowing
- on the street where I stood
nothing extraordinary was going on...

A collection of Pavel Zajicek's writings - various things that he wrote and published in samizdat between 1973 and 1980 - was recently published as "Zapisky z podzemi" - Notes from Underground. The collection is a chaotic whirlwind of poetry, reflections, diary entries, recounted dreams and extracts from letters, a poetic chronicle from deep within the underground scene of the time. Zajicek has mixed feelings to see all these fragments from his past neatly gathered together in book form:

"It's a double-sided feeling, a very weird feeling. Of course one can be happy that a book is published but those notes were written just on pieces of paper and somehow saved. They survived their time. Of course I'm happy it's out, but at the same time it can be a very strange feeling. They were writings that were very intimate. If it has to be put out or not - those everlasting questions and no answers to it - I don't know. But it's out. It's a different part of my life, that real underground part of my life."

To end the programme we'll come back again closer to the present day, to a song from DG 307's 1998 album "Silhouettes", called "Ukolebavka" - Lullaby - from the time when Pavel Zajicek's daughter was four years old.

Lullaby

sleep child sleep
let yourself be carried off on wings of dream and beauty
I will tell you about three worlds
of which one is beautiful
another is wonderful
and the third is in your dream
sleep child sleep
your angel is with you
sleep child sleep
your eyes like two gemstones
your skin like silk
sleep child sleep
your angel strokes
you leave for the world of dreams
so that you see through the looking-glass
your lips like innocence
your angel will not abandon
you have courage!

(translation: Mark Tomin)

 

Books for this programme supplied by Shakespeare and Sons.