Czech coffee houses join celebrations of World Poetry Day

Café Louvre, photo: archive of Café Louvre

Twelve coffee houses in the Czech Republic will join celebrations of World Poetry Day on Saturday with a special offer: visitors will be able to pay for their coffee with a poem. The pay-with-a-poem initiative, which has now been adopted in over 1,000 coffee houses the world over, aims to bring poetry back into our increasingly hectic and consumerist lives.

Café Louvre, photo: archive of Café Louvre
Coffee-houses were traditionally the hub of artists, philosophers and writers and, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Prague’s coffee houses were a case in point. The city, which was long part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had a coffee house culture similar to that of Vienna –attracting the leading figures of the literary world.

To this day, the city’s famous coffee houses such as Slavia –right opposite the National Theatre, and Café Louvre just a little further up the street, live off their hey-day when they were frequented by the likes of Karel Čapek or Franz Kafka. One of the Prague coffee houses which for the first time this year is joining the pay-with-a-poem initiative is Café Louvre on Prague’s Národní třída.

Among its famous guests were Karel Čapek, Franz Kafka as well as Albert Einstein during his professorship in Prague. Eduard Vojan, a famous Czech actor, used to have a table there. Café Louvre was used by Prague writers as an office, a place of exchange and inspiration. They penned notes and wrote letters using Café Louvre’s letterhead paper. In 1925 this famous coffee house hosted the constituent meeting of the writers’ PEN Club, at which Karel Čapek was elected chairman and President Masaryk was guest of honour at their first dinner there.

The owner of Café Louvre, Sylvio Spohr told Radio Prague why he decided to join the pay-with-a- poem initiative.

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
“I saw videos of this undertaking from different parts of the world and I really liked the idea. You see it bring a smile to people’s faces and then they take it seriously and start getting creative. I think it is worth pursuing. Moreover we have something similar in our coffee house on a permanent basis. We always leave a pen and paper on the table and we encourage our clients to leave us a message – be it a complaint, an idea, a picture or a poem.”

On Saturday all visitors to Café Louvre and eleven other coffee houses in different parts of the country will be advised about the possibility to pay for their coffee with a poem of their own making. The poems will eventually be published on the internet and according to Mr. Spohr there is a surprise in store for those who take part which is being kept under wraps.

There will of course be plenty of other ways to mark World Poetry Day – there is a poetry jukebox on Prague’s Náměstí míru and in the town of Blansko the local library annually decorates a tree on the main square with hundreds of poems – for people to pick and enjoy.