The Krokodil Festival: Belgrade, Serbia – June 24th & 25th 2016
My fifth visit to Serbia for the Krokodil festival of literature, held in an amphitheatre on the ground’s of what was Tito’s residence. As unique a location as this is, atmospheric, immensely well produced and open air, what is perhaps more remarkable about the festival, in its 8th year, is the audience that it has stimulated. I read to hundreds of people, hard to make out how many hundreds in the dark, but some mentioned it was beyond 500, one of the biggest audiences I, and most of the poets presenting, have ever read to. Perhaps few other festivals in Europe are better examples of a resurgence of energy around literary innovation and community than Krokodil. But then the whole of Serbia seems full of interesting literary organisations, there’s over 200 active presses, and this can be said of the Balkans in general, from what little I know.
I had the chance to attend Krokodil through CROWD Literature’s Omnibus project, which takes 100 poets, on a bus, through Europe, changing poets with the countries and readings, on a weekly basis. And as I mentioned, my fifth visit to Serbia. It was one of my favourite places to explore when I was in my early twenties, twice I took public transport through the whole Balkans, from Slovenia into Greece. What charmed me then about the Serbia was the very things that wore me down on my last few visits – the bluntness, the brusqueness, the self-awareness, the intense historicism and the combustible nature of some of the people I met. This trip completely flipped that on its head, I benefited from some of the most generous hospitality I can recall, twice being given meals for free, many times engaging in conversations with strangers. And the whole atmosphere of the festival was an extension of these lovely experiences, the audience always patient, intelligent, intellectually lively and friendly. This with both nights of the festival running to over three hours, with many poets from all over Europe and interviews and music.
I spent my days in Belgrade in the company of some great poets also on this leg of the Omnibus project and got to meet lots of Serb writers and organisers thanks to a few conferences I quietly contributed to. I also got plenty of free time to walk the city, and it is a city worth walking – somehow changed from ten years ago, seeming more cosmopolitan, more open, bustling with young people. It remains still underdeveloped, which is a great boon, and I had the chance to visit exhibitions and suburbs along with the zoo and fortress and all the famed sights. Boiling hot days were bookended by the long nights sat on stone steps of the amphitheatre, in the company of friends new and old. The innovation and generosity and intelligence at the heart of Krokodil is clearly a real reason for its popularity and success and these were nights I’ll not easily forget.