From Mácha to the Beats: Czech poetry festival brings verse to the city this week

Opening today and running through Nov. 19, the Czech Day of Poetry – now in its 25th year – offers English-friendly talks, documentaries and readings. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 06.11.2023 13:58:00 (updated on 06.11.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

Now in its 25th edition, Den poezie/Poetry Day is a nationwide festival taking place in over 50 towns for the two weeks surrounding the birthday of celebrated Czech romantic poet Karel Hynek Mácha (born on Nov. 16, 1810).

This year, the festival brings poetry to libraries, schools, cafes, cultural institutions, galleries, cinemas, theaters, and outdoor venues across Czechia. The program features leading Czech, as well as international, poets and includes some English-friendly events.

This year's theme, "Poems in the Picture," has inspired partnerships with visual artists and exhibits that explore the relationship between words and images. Readings tying poetry to film will also take place. As is tradition, the festival commemorates some of the major literary anniversaries observed in 2023.

Statue of Karel Hynek Mácha. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Statue of Karel Hynek Mácha. Photo: Raymond Johnston

Honoring late, great writers

Running from Nov. 6-19, the event honors the 100th anniversary of Czech author Jaroslav Hašek's death with crafting workshops for children and the 100th birthday of Magic Prague (an extensive book about the Czech capital) author Angelo Maria Ripellino. A literary walk exploring the mysteries and history of Prague’s "Fifth Quarter," the Jewish quarter of Josefov, featured prominently in Ripellino's work, will also take place as part of the festival. A conference will be held by the Italian Cultural Institute in the author's honor.

The 50th anniversary of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso's death will be marked with a reading of his poetry in the National Gallery. Late Czech poet Zbyněk Hejda, who died 10 years ago, will be remembered through an evening of his works while his poems will be displayed on public transit posters.

“Many events in this year’s program experiment with the border between the literary and the visual. This year our poetry postcards will feature poems by the great experimental poet Ladislav Nebeský, who was a linguist and mathematician at Charles University. His poems are very visually powerful and we think they are not as well-known as they should be, so we would like to introduce him to a new audience,” said poet Vojtěch Vacek, one of the organizers of the festival.

Hosted at multiple locations, with a global angle

In Prague, the festival opens in the National Library, at the Klementinum, on Monday, Nov. 6 with a non-traditional evening of poetry and music. It ends in the DOX gallery on Nov. 19 with a reading and discussion on the theme of the relationship between art and literature by well-known poet Petr Borkovec, who is currently Prague’s city poet.

  • On Nov. 10 at 6:30 p.m., Anglo-American University's library will host a reading from professors Stephan Delbos, Anthony Marais, and Seth Rogoff.
  • On Nov. 11 at 7 p.m., Týnská Literary Cafe will feature a reading by Berlin-based poet Alistair Noon from his new collection, "Paradise Takeaway," introduced by poet Justin Quinn.
  • On Nov. 15 at 7 p.m., the Václav Havel Library will present an international evening with poets Tatev Chakhian, Zofia Baldyga, Gareth Evans-Jones, Ivan Antić, and Aljaž Primozič discussing migration, identity, and language. In English with Czech translation.
  • On Nov. 16 at 6 p.m., the American Center, in cooperation with the Italian Cultural Institute, will screen a new documentary about beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in English with Italian subtitles.

Internationally, the festival brings acclaimed poets like Armenian artist Tatev Chakhian and Welsh poet Gareth Evans-Jones. Both will take part in a reading on migration and identity. Three events conducted fully in English, including a visiting American poet, aim to make poetry accessible to foreign residents and visitors.

Now coordinated by the non-profit Poetry Society, Den poezie has grown from a single day of events to a widespread, two-week celebration of the written word. Organizers say it fulfills their goal of bringing poetry to public spaces and readers of all backgrounds. The silver anniversary edition promises to further connect audiences to poetry both familiar and newly discovered.

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