Poetry Vandals run riot in Prague

14-08-2005

A few weeks ago we reported on the Prague Fringe Festival, bringing together 150 perfromers from all over the world in the Czech capital. One group with a special relationship to Prague was the performance poetry group "Poetry Vandals" based in Newcastle. Anarchic and entertaining, the group was invited back after their roaring success at last year's festival. During their stay the group's six members - Annie Moir, Karl Thompson, Scott Tyrrell, Aidan Halpin, Kate Fox and Jeff Price - came into the Radio Prague studio, to talk to Martin Mikule and perform some of their poetry. So for the rest of today's Czech Books, over to the Poetry Vandals.

Jeff Price: "We are called performance poets because our poetry isn't just about the words - it's about the way they are performed. It's about doing it live and in front of an audience. We've come to Prague to the Prague Fringe Festival - that we came to last year as well - to do eight shows over this week."

What is your poetry about?

Scott Tyrell: "Anything and everything. A lot of it is very personal, a lot of it comes from our different backgrounds - we all have very varied backgrounds, from different parts of the UK and we also have different status background. So it's anything that jars us, anything that angers us, anything that makes us laugh. There is stuff from penguins to SUVs - four wheel drive vehicles - to sex, drugs and rock-'n'-roll."

In your show, in the Prague Fringe Festival, I have noticed that a number of your poems are even inspired by Prague - or they are about Prague - and I will ask you today to recite some of those poems. We will start with Annie. What is your poem called?

Annie Moir: "The title of it is: 'There's Nothing You Can Do that Can't Be Done' and it's based on lines from Beatles's songs of the '60s set against the history, the situation Prague was in at that time."

There's Nothing You Can Do that Can't Be Done

Dubcek's Prague Spring
Aimed to bring
A more human vision
To communism
Good day sunshine was in the air
Here, there and everywhere

Then Soviet troops in '68
Said Czechoslovakia would have to wait
They said the Prague spring
Should not have been
They couldn't all live
In a yellow big submarine

As the Stalinistic iron boot
Tried to turn the jukebox mute
The paper back writers
Were tossed into jail
Their ticket to ride
Withdrawn from sale

While the rest of the world
Enjoyed a summer of love
The Beatles were banned
By the powers above
Tanks in the street were a common sight
It was going to be a hard day's night

Musicians treated like criminals
Accused of undermining
The morals of young people
The road kept on winding
Then youth whispered
'Wait, we can work it out
If we all come together
If we all twist and shout'

In 1989 students went
To Wenceslas Square
The police met them there
They offered no resistance
Simply passed out flowers
It was a velvet revolution
Perfect people power

All they needed was love
Now their dreams became real
Living is so much easier
In Strawberry Fields

Tell me, how did you actually write this poem? It seems you know a lot about the Czech (Czechoslovak) history. How do you know that?

Annie Moir: "We visited it nine years ago. My husband and I drove here. And then when we came to the festival last year I wanted to write a piece so I used the little bits of history I had."

The next poem is going to be by Aidan. What is it what you're going to tell us?

Aidan Halpin: "It's called 'Losing Yourself in Prague' and it's a poem I wrote after being in Prague last summer in 2004 and I am sure that you and people who were there will remember that at that time there was installation art all over the city center. There were lots of cows - broccoli cows and psychedelic cows and bumblebee cows...."

Jeff Price: "That was a great idea - it really gave an edge to the city."

Scott Tyrrell: "That was the weird thing though. Those cows were designed by a woman in Bolton in north-west England and I was living in Manchester at that time. And there were cows dotted around all of Manchester and then I came here and I came out of the apartment and I was like: There are the cows. I remember getting on plane at some point. What the hell they are doing here?"

Losing Yourself

Losing yourself in Prague
Navigating by cows
In Fantasy and walking and bridges and supplicants
And drunk and raging young men
In breath, concealment and body armour
In the stag parties of the well smashed
Wandering inefficiently
Dreaming of getting away

Losing yourself in Prague
Steering by social contract
In shaping the sparks that fly
And books and beer and statues and shoppers
In poetry and performance in dwelling on the threshold
Wandering ineffectively
Dreaming of getting away with it

Jeff, now it's your term. What is your poem you have prepared for Radio Prague?

Jeff Price: "I visited Prague about thirty years ago and it's a very different city today than it was than. And one of the things that changed about this city - that kind of summed it up for me - are these huge four-wheel-drive vehicles which block up the little streets and alley ways of this beautiful city. And I kind of thought to myself:' why would anybody want to buy one of these horrible monstrosity vehicles that consume all the petrol and all the rest of it. So I come up with ten reasons why a citizen of this city would go out and buy a sport-utility-vehicle:"

One:

You're a farmer who lives in the center of Prague and you need one for work.
The majority of farmers who live in the center of Prague are young, blond, female/ And can barely see over the steering wheel.

Two:

You believe you are superior to all other road users
and you want to look down on them from the comfort of your Mitsubishi Shogun.

Three:

You hate children.
You're aware of the fact that road accidents involving children and four-wheel-drive vehicles result in an increase of the death rate by as much as seven times.
You've had your steel bull-bars sharpened.

Four:

You're selfish.
And you'd rather increase your chances of surviving a motorcar accident at the expense of someone else's life.

Five:

You are an eco-revolutionary, destroying the system from within.
You know that the difference between the standard car and an SUV is the equivalent energy increase of leaving your television switched on for 28 years.

Six:

You got speed bumps in your street and you are worried that your 8-Series BMW will not be able to handle the rough terrain.

Seven:

You want other road users to believe you have a fun outdoor job.
You don't want them to know that you are a solicitor practicing corporate law.

Eight:

You want other road users to believe you have a sporty and healthy life style.
You actually use the SUV to drive the kids the 400 meters to their private school.

Nine:

When the revolution begins and the ungrateful citizens of Prague come to put you up against a wall, you can escape in a vehicle that can take a directed from a rocket-propelled grenade.

Ten:

You can't fit a rifle-rack into a Skoda.
Great. It's very interesting all the things that can inspire you in Prague. It would never come to my mind.

Jeff Price: "One of the nice things about coming this year is that - we only had three days last year - but this time we've come for a whole week. So it's given us a chance to get out and see the city. I went on one of the river cruises down the city today and I've had a chance to explore some of the areas."

Has the city changed within the year? Although a year is not a long time, is it?

Jeff Price: "It's not. I think the only thing I think about is that the weather is much better this time. It was so hot this time! Wonderful weather! And the beer has gone up slightly. The beer was definitely cheaper. You have to be careful where you drink. But it's still beautiful beer."

You told me earlier that you even have a poem that you recite all together as a group performance. What is it?

Scott Tyrrell: "I wrote it years ago. I used to just do it myself. If you ever heard of Rudyard Kipling's 'If' poem - my dad read that to me as a kid and that was a kind of a model - to be a human being, to be a man you've got to do all this. I thought I'm never going to do all that. So that was a kind of a response to that and it's a kind of about: 'I'm going to screw up at some point but I'm still me, I'm still lovable. But I thought it would be a good idea - because it's basically pretty much about everyone - ....So we do it at the end of the show now. So I shall start it."

Who me?

All you people
You don't know me.
You don't know one line
Of my biography
You don't know where I'm from
You don't know if you care
But opinions are forming
As you continue to stare.

As your brains scan the stereotypes
To see which box I belong.
You're becoming intrigued
Cos it's taking too long.
Can you see me yet?
Can you see through?
Tell you what
I'll give you a clue.

I want to be happy.
I'm often sad
I'm jealous, I'm sullen
I'm grateful, I'm glad.
I've failed and succeeded
I've been blessed and betrayed
I've rejoiced and regretted
The choices I've made.

I've kicked a cat
I've hugged a tree
I've been a fascist
And a hippy.
I've fought for peace
I've come to blows
I've stepped back for others
I've stepped on toes
I've held my hand up to many crimes
I've farted and not said a word

I walked straight past the homeless
Their cries for help unheard
I've scrimped and I've saved
And I've invested and I've scrutinized
Every penny I've spent
I've fritted away more money
Than a Tory government

I've demanded privacy
I've craved attention
I've lied more times/
Than I can mention.
I seek truth
In all its guises
I often hide
When it arises.

My morality and intentions
Could outwhite the coat of a lamb

My lust could fill every magazine
In every shop in Amsterdam

My love could build a thousand bridges
My rage could split the atom
Some days I don't get out of bed/
Some days I'm up and at 'em
I've been lost and found
And fixed and broken.
I've scoffed the words
That I have spoken.

I've squandered the gifts
I've been afforded.
I've been abused
I've been applauded.
I've been an altruist, a capitalist
A communist and a bum.
I've called for silence
I've banged the drum.

I've prayed for rain
I've worshipped the sun
I've stood and fought
I've turned and run
I am good, I am bad
And everything in-between.
Just like you/
A human being.

That was a poem written by Scott and performed by the Poetry Vandals. Thank you very much for joining us today. I hope you will keep coming back to Prague.

Poetry Vandals: "Absolutely!"

Jeff Price: "Don't put the beer up next time!"

14-08-2005