Prague poetry festival welcomes writers from all corners of the globe

14-11-2007

On Tuesday, poets from all over the world gathered in Prague for the sixth International Poetry Festival to be held in the city. This year, the Czech capital is playing host to poets from sixteen different countries, including Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Portugal. More than ever before, the International Poetry Festival is a melting pot of dozens of different languages, and has translation as one of its key themes. English speakers are by no means left out:

Jiri Dedecek, photo: Stepanka BudkovaJiri Dedecek, photo: Stepanka Budkova Jiri Dedecek is a poet and translator. For the opening of the international poetry festival, he sings a Jacques Brel song in its original French form.

Mr Dedecek is also the head of the Czech PEN club, which set up this International Poetry Festival some six years ago. I asked him about the idea behind the festival:

“In my opinion, poetry is something very private, and the poet is someone very shy, sitting behind a table and writing. And so this festival is something which I don’t understand very well. But the necessity of meeting each other is clear, of course. It is important. So, if there is one idea behind this festival, then it must be the real necessity for us to meet each other, to discuss our problems and our situation, and of course, to translate our ideas.”

Jiri Dedecek has won acclaim for his translations of Jacques Brel’s songs into Czech. But isn’t poetry one of the hardest forms of literature to translate, and how successful can a poetry festival be, when it relies so heavily upon translation? This is the question I put to Alexandra Buchler, one of the festival’s organizers:

“In the Czech Republic, people have always read poetry in translation. I would say that Czech literature has actually developed thanks to translation. When Czech was a language which had to be rebuilt and reconstituted, this happened largely through translation. And this is not just the case with Czech; it is the case with many other languages too. People actually use translation to prove that their language can handle literary works, can handle philosophy and so on. So, translation has always been incredibly important, I can’t imagine anyone reading only books which have been written in his or her language.”

A lot of the events throughout the International Poetry Festival will be at least partly in English. And on Wednesday night, a new anthology of Czech poetry translated into English will be launched. Alexandra Buchler is the book’s editor:

“The foreigners who live here are, I think, often very interested in literature, and so I think that they will welcome the opportunity to have access to Czech poetry in translation. And I should add that this is the first anthology of its kind in I think thirty years. There hasn’t been another one like this for all of that time.”

More information on the festival can be found at http://www.volny.cz/denpoezie/

14-11-2007