In this week’s Czech Books we look at what is, amazingly, the first anthology of contemporary Czech poetry to be published in English since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The anthology includes six contemporary poets, some of whom were writing under communism – either in exile or what might be termed internal exile. Others are much younger and have been published since the late 1990s. The anthology, called simply “Six Czech Poets”, was edited by Alexandra Büchler, who divides her time between Prague and the United Kingdom and has been responsible
The Czech music journalist Alex Švamberk is the author of a book on American punk and hardcore music entitled Nenech se zas oblbnout, which translates as Won’t Get Fooled Again, as in the song by The Who. Among the many important and influential figures he interviewed are Ian Mackaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys, Henry Rollins and Iggy Pop. When Alex Švamberk stopped by at our studios, he explained how he himself got into punk music, American punk music in particular.
“…A Bude Hůř” (It’s Gonna Get Worse), published in 1985 by author Jan Pelc, based in Paris at the time, has long enjoyed cult status, arguably remaining one of the rawest testimonies of the Normalisation period which followed the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. The novel maps main character Olin and his acquaintances’ descent into booze and drugs in the ‘70s in a working class area in north Bohemia, a hard-hitting cocktail of abuse and destruction underlined by daily clashes with authority and a desire for escape.
The years of German occupation and decades of communist rule that followed have given music a very special role in Czech society. Amid censorship and political manipulation, music became an important and often subversive tool of free expression. The Doruzka family in many ways embodies this unusual history. The broadcaster and writer Lubomir Doruzka was born in 1924, and has been writing about jazz for well over sixty years. He still broadcasts regularly on the subject. His son Petr, born in 1949, has continued the tradition. He grew up listening
There are various marionette theatres in the Czech Republic but few which enjoy as cutting edge a reputation as Buchty a Loutky (Cake & Puppets), a troupe founded in Prague in the early 1990s which took Czech theatre in new directions. The group’s name is a take on the famous Bread & Puppet Theatre based in the US since the 1960s, known for serving free bread to the audience as a means of creating community. One of the group’s founders, Marek Becka, explains naming his troupe Buchty a Loutky was a bit of a joke, not without a measure of irony.
Faded jeans, platform shoes, pointed collars and lapels, striking colours and prints: that’s what you recall when you think of 1970s fashion. Now, you can see some of its finest – or at least most garish – examples on display at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague. The exhibition entitled Kytky v popelnici or Flowers in the Dustbin is part of a long-term cycle which aims to present fashion in the course of history. The show is also part of a larger project that has presented 1970s lifestyle in photography, living and now, in fashion.
In this special programme, we offer a taste of Czech Christmas music through the centuries. We’ll be hearing from the 17th century “Christmas Songbook” of Adam Michna z Otradovic, one of the founding fathers of this country’s rich tradition of carols, with recordings by the Moravian Madrigalists, and a new CD by the Zvonecek (Little Bell) children’s choir. There’ll be a stirring Christmas Mass from the 1770s by Frantisek Xaver Brixi, and we’ll even be finding out what happened when the Angel of the Lord broke his sled, in a traditional Moravian Christmas
We have featured Mark Corner in this programme before. He has translated several well known Czech works from the first half of the twentieth century, including Vladislav Vancura’s whimsical short novel ‘Summer of Caprice’ and the Czech novel that comes closest to the atmosphere of P.G. Wodehouse, Zdenek Sirotka’s ‘Saturnin’. Now Mark has turned to another writer from the same period, Karel Polacek, and one of his best loved classics, “Bylo nas pet” which Mark has translated as “We Were a Handful”.
The eastern Bohemian town of Moravska Trebova is situated in an attractive part of the country. Yet, unlike other towns in the region, it hasn’t been very successful in drawing tourists. Now this is about to change, local councillors are hoping. They have introduced an ambitious project: what should become the first real-life Czech fairy tale kingdom.