Do you ever get the feeling that you’ve arrived but the party’s over? All the best music – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Dylan – the decent stuff, the genuine article – has already been produced. The best writers have already written the best books, the best painters have already painted the best frescos. All that’s left is just a derivative, watered-down version of what’s gone before. History has already been made and you weren’t there.
I feel like that about Prague sometimes: that by not making it here in the Wild West nineties when there was no Starbucks or Marks and Spencer I’ve somehow missed a Significant Period in Western Civilisation. Living in twenty-first century Europe, despite the Babel of languages, everything is much of a muchness. There’s a Marks and Spencer on Wenceslaus Square, a Costa coffee on Narodni Trida. The only thing I can’t get hold of goods-wise is decent humous.
To the poets then. Apparently, post-Velvet Revolution, Prague became an artistic and cultural melting pot with creative types from all over the world (especially the US of A) taking advantage of the great exchange rate and descending upon the Golden City to indulge their dreams of producing a literary magnum opus. For these folks, nineties Prague was the Paris of the twenties. At least they thought it was. Whether the quality of their output matched that of Stein or Hemingway is open to question. However, thanks to a new anthology of writing in English (mostly) produced by Prague-based authors, you can judge for yourselves.
I attended one of the two launch parties: hey, it’s a fat book. There were readings. Some were good, some weren’t. This isn’t all that surprising: even the some of the greats (T.S Eliot, W.H Auden) weren’t particularly good at reading their work. Someone read a funny short story about working for a language school that had its own unique method for getting their students to speak English – teaching on stilts. There were not so young men making notes in those Moleskine notebooks presumably to prove that when you’re imbued with poetic genius, inspiration can strike at any time. Ah, I promised myself that I wouldn’t mock the poets too much in this post but they make it so easy.
It’s the pretentious posturing that I can’t stand. It seems so unnecessary.
Writing is a lonely business. It’s about you, bum on seat, pen in hand, struggling to come up with some decent ideas. If you want to be Lady Gaga (or the contemporary literary equivalent thereof), go on Ceskoslovensko Superstar instead. You could show off some of the circus skills you acquired while grafting at Shitty School of Languages in order to fund your “real” work – an 800 page homage to Rilke written entirely in a post-Derridean stream of consciousness, self published copies of which are currently arranged in piles in your living room, themselves an ironic testament to the tragic short-sightedness of the publishing industry. That’s what you’d like to believe anyway.
P.S All bloggers (not-so) secretly want to be Proper Published Authors.