The Prague Microfest - a diary

A fascinating three days in Prague for the Microfestival. So many weird and wonderful elements to my experience – I was sent there by the remarkable generosity of the Czech Centre in London, whom I’m building an increasingly strong relationship with, and went not only to meet Czech poets and curators, and people at the festival, but to partake in the debut performance of the TRYIE collective, which I’m a third of, next to Zuzana Husarova and Olga Pekova, two powerful powerful avant garde writers out of Bratislava and Prague.
I met Zuz and Olga last year at the Ars Poetica festival and it was immediately obvious upon meeting them they were unusual. I talk so often about process over product, community over hierarchy, kindness over posture – and in that traditional festival environment, their humour, their energy, their work just really resonated with me. It has since proven a good hunch as we formed the collective and spent the last months exchanging texts and ideas before this big off. The work in the end was a really adventurous, dynamic, complex performance. It involved Zuz and Olga behind two specially made screens, reading a text of multiple languages, and using their bodies to create a ghostly imprint on the canvas of the screens while I intermittently read on stage while walking or carrying a dog. The piece was really about the balance of genders through the text, using iconography and light, and a brilliant sound accompaniment by the 4th honorary member of the collective, Lubo Panak. It was highly performative, with Zuz and Olga feeting and fingering the screen while I carried and petted and kissed the beautiful French bulldog motoracek, even using her as a reading stand, while reading new texts I’d written while in Prague, that were about the experience of the festival and preparing for the performance, and drew from Kafka as well as ideas about the relationship of our collective, indulgence, boredom, and my own personal history in Prague itself.

The festival itself is a strange thing. Shining so brightly in places, with really innovative work, and some really gracious, warm hearted people, it also suffered from a occasional lack of quality control and at times I felt outside of things. In turn, because I wasn't perhaps as quiet and mannerly as I normally am about the work that was so different than that which I gravitate too, I felt conflicted that I perhaps was being too didactic or judgmental. Genuinely, the fact that poets were reading for over 30 minutes at a time effected me profoundly. It was just an excess, drowning out any chance of finding that which I might have discovered in their work, and often massively exemplifying the faults I perceived. I am aware that most often that which I talk about, and blog about, is effusively praised. I do this deliberately, to speak only about that which I like. But there does come a time when I suppose I had no choice but to listen, when a line has to be drawn. Some of the work was very poor, and left a trace for me. Moreover literary cynicism, a culture of it, can easily slip into the discourse and curation of such an intense undertaking like a poetry festival and at times in felt like the scene surrounding the happenings was in a village. I spent some of the time wondering if it wasn’t me, that I wasn’t burnt out a little after Paris/Edinburgh/Copenhagen/Iraq/Venice in a two month space, or if I wasn’t falling into habits of being anti-social, or overly critical, or egotistical, wanting more attention. I tried to remain consistently open to communicating with people, really focusing on their work, and in places it was easy – with the students of Charles University who seemed to be the lifeblood of the festival, with friends Im getting to know better with each collision like Jorg Piringer and Heike Feidler, and with the amazing Maggie O’Sullivan, with whom I shared my last day, having coffee in a beautiful art deco café, and whose intelligence, humility and wisdom, left me feeling elevated and tiny at the same time. Yet perhaps Ive been spoiled by things like Reel Iraq and Crossing Voices, and now I expect everyone to be like Olga and Zuzana, funny, deferent, collaborative and frankly excellent as writers and artists. Much to learn, and to insist upon, for the things I organise, in experiencing things here I didn't enjoy. Feeling a wee bit alienated can only keep me on the right path for my own events.

What matters really is that I did mediate my experience of this beautiful city through people, and had the chance to meet wonderful poets and curators, explore the town a bit, even getting to the zoo, which fully lived up to its reputation, and to leave behind me a really satisfying piece of collaborative work. The performance of TRYIE was an auspicious beginning of our collective, one that I hope flares into being a few times a year for the near future at least, and Zuzana and Olga were elated, which was what I really wanted. Their performances certainly went great, they worked the concepts to great effect. I felt my own stuff wasn’t so strong, that the audience was a little frozen or discomforted by my presence, as I fondled the doggy, read at them and wandered about the basement venue, weaving it between them with the lovely French bulldog bitch staring and sniffing them out. Im too sensitive of audiences, I want to attack them on instinct when they recoil. I wasn’t free to really loose on them, because of the spirit of the beautiful little animal. Maybe that is good for me, to gain that experience as a performer, and to learn the skill of letting others express that force for me, with my cooperation. Others seemed to enjoy the whole thing, and seemed to think it was truly a collaborative act, a conversation in complex poetry and theatre performance, and successful in relating the message of our concerns about gender. You always run the risk of pretension with something like this, and we escaped that. A feminist hell, one person described it as. Happy to have found myself there