Prague Writers' Festival finds its groove with Anghelaki-Rooke, Hofmann, & Irwin: this is what a world-class festival is all about

Poets Miloslav Topinka, Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, Michael Hofmann, Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Michael March discussing in the theatre Minor, photo: CTK

This week the 14th annual Prague Writers' Festival has been underway in Prague and Jan Velinger has been attending afternoon discussions and the so-called "International Evenings". On Wednesday the evening programme welcomed Greek poet Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, German-born English poet Michael Hofmann, and English writer Robert Irwin. As Jan Velinger now reports this was the unforgettable night that visitors had been waiting for.

Poets Miloslav Topinka,  Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke,  Michael Hofmann,  Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Michael March discussing in the theatre Minor,  photo: CTK
"It certainly was Dita: this Wednesday really saw the kind of thing we've come to expect from the Prague Writers' Festival when it's at its best and those who braved the drizzly weather and made their way to Prague's Theatre Minor Wednesday evening had nothing to regret. Unlike just a day before that suffered from somewhat lacklustre direction, Wednesday's programme was brilliant - thanks in part to a very dynamic host."

"Good evening. Welcome to night No. 4 of the Prague Writers' Festival! I'm Gail Whitmore. I will be your host for the evening for better or for worse!"

"For the better definitely - let's just say there aren't many presenters who would be able to pull off a bit of opera from Schubert... hip hop by Sir Mix-a-Lot...

all in the same night. And it's that kind of unexpected humour and eccentricity that added a new dimension to sweep away any cobwebs of stodgy pretence that might have been lurking in the shadows!"

What about the main attraction - the invited writers?

Michael Hofmann and Hans Magnus Enzensberger,  photo: CTK
"The invited writers: what an honour it was too. Poets Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, Michael Hofmann, and writer Robert Irwin - all on one stage. All were witty, all were charming and all were very responsive, each exchanging double entendres with their interviewers and reading from their work. Mrs Anghelaki-Rooke took to the podium first and since we don't have a whole lot of time let me use her as an example. She spoke with old-hand at the festival Spiros Vergo. Mr Vergos, himself a writer, made light of the fact "only" a Greek could interview another Greek."

Spiros Vergos: "I have to ask you questions, to 'interrogate' you!"

Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke: "They think because you are Greek you are more severe!"


Spiros Vergos: "Yes. That's it.... I would like to introduce Katerina first by saying that for my opinion - and not only my opinion - she is one of the finest poets in Greece and sees a love point I would say. She's a lover... a lover of life."

For those just discovering Mrs Anghelaki-Rooke's work her use of language is nothing short of sublime. Mr Vergos described it as very erotic - even when dealing with dark subjects like death. One of the most beautiful poems she read was called "At the Harbour".

At the Harbour

by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke

At the harbour yesterday

I was touching with my thought

your slender thought

your small eyes looked far away

and they had the colour of the sea

in love with some beautiful winter.

At the harbour yesterday

I was envious of the boat

which held in its arms

desirable fruit

all flesh and juice.

You were smiling shyly

as if someone had just described to you

the deepest superficiality of life


You had a misty shine

as if all over you divine moisture had been poured

the one that makes you remember the insignificant

respect the temporary

and cover with tender kisses the perishable ego

that will soon leave this harbour.

That was truly beautiful. When will we hear more?

Miloslav Topinka,  photo: CTK
"Yes, we will, though not just yet I'm afraid. We will be coming back to highlights of the festival in upcoming days - so you will still get a chance to hear more from Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke as well as Michael Hofmann and Robert Irwin from this night. David Vaughan has interviews and on Friday Coilin O'Connor will be talking to Russian-born U.S. novelist Gary Shteyngart the author of "The Russian Debutante's Handbook". Finally, we'll have poetry from Czech poet Miloslav Topinka and Polish poet Zbigniew Machej - really a lot to look forward to.

I'll leave you now, though, with a final entry from last night and one of the best statements of the festival so far: Spiros Vergos asking Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke why she had written the poem you just heard. Listen to the reply capturing what the creative process is really all about:

Spiros Vergos: "So now you can explain to us why you wrote it... {pause} you say you know why you wrote it!"

Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke: "Yeah."

Vergos: "Why?"

Anghelaki-Rooke: "It was an image that happened at the harbour: something I saw, connected with something else I saw, with something I knew before, connected with something I'd never seen!"