The return of Allen Ginsberg

Photo gallery: Vojtěch Duda
Monday 27 November 2023, 14:38 – Text: David Livingstone

This November marks the 30th anniversary of the visit to Olomouc of Allen Ginsberg at the invitation of the late Professor Josef Jařab, rector of Palacký University at the time. This was actually Ginsberg’s second visit to the university, having come for the first time in May 1990, again thanks to Jařab. It was of course his third to the country, having been crowned King of Majáles in Prague and consequently forcibly removed from the country in May of 1965.

Ginsberg’s first visit to Prague has been well documented and has been immortalized in his poem “Kral Majales”. His second visit to Olomouc shortly after the Velvet Revolution included a visit to the university and a reading in Divadlo hudby. The highlights from his third and last visit to Olomouc and the Czech Republic involved a reading/performance at Slovanské gymnázium and a visit to the legendary Olomouc pub Ponorka where he, among other things, signed autographs in the form of short poems. The reading at Slovanské gymnázium has been preserved and can be viewed on YouTube.

The anniversary of Ginsberg’s 1993 visit was commemorated with an event held at the American Center in Olomouc on 21 November at 5 pm. Matthew Sweney and Lukáš Merz organized the evening with the former introducing the event, reading several poems and showing a short documentary directed by Petr Slavík and filmed during Ginsberg’s 1993 visit. Sweney read several poems and was joined by two Master’s students of the Translation Interpreting section of Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies. First, Maxie Ivanová and Sweney took turns, with him reading the original and her reciting her own translations: “Milarepa Taste, Kiss Ass/Nádech Milarepy, Vlezdoprdelství” and “C'mon Pigs of Western Civilization Eat More Grease/Žerte víc tuku, vy zápaďácký prasata”. They were followed by Petr Uram who read Czech translations, originally by Jan Zábrana, of the poems “America/Ameriko” and “Sunflower Sutra/Slunečnicová sútra”. There was a full house present and everyone seemed to enjoy not only the reading, but the discussion which followed over snacks and drinks. There will incidentally be a repeat performance (all in Czech) in the near future, follow the web pages of the American Center for more information.

The only visible absence at the event was of course Josef Jařab. He was very much there in spirit, however, as the evening included a mini-exhibition of personal copies of his books signed by Ginsberg and a reading of his own poem “Pro Allena” written on the occasion of the death of his beloved friend in 1997.


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