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Dithyrambs Reading – Kalamazoo, MI (EDIT)

by admin

Kalamazoo Public Library, street-sideWhere and When:

Time: 7 pm, Thursday April 28

Place: Kalamazoo Public Library, Kalamazoo, MI

The dithyrambs event has been postponed until fall due to scheduling conflicts. Check back for more information as it becomes available!

Event Description:

In 1998, Carnegie Mellon University Press published my Dithyrambs. In my newest collection, Swastika into Lotus (Carnegie Mellon, Feb. 2016) there are two newer choral lyrics. I’ve long wished to organize a relatively large, public presentation of my dithyrambs, and am taking the publication of this new (and probably my final) collection of poems as the occasion for acting upon my seventeen-year wish.

I envision a performance exactly like any other choral performance. The “singers” will cluster, dressed alike or wearing choral robes, and holding choral “books.” For each dithyramb, two people will step out of the choir to speak the two leads. In most cases, the leads will be one male and one female, though there are two or three exceptions. Rather than being organized into voice types (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone), the choir will be organized into “male” and “female,” and transgendered folks are of course included in this binary.

Each dithyramb tells a story; that is, each has a narrative arc, a sense of setting, characterization.

All that’s required is a voice strong enough to be heard in a large room, and the ability to declaim pentameter lines. All English-department students, graduate and undergraduate, are invited to participate, as are folks from the community. Back in the late 90s, when Dithyrambs was published, I gave quite a few performances at colleges and universities. I’d find three volunteers, a male and two females. I would perform the male chorus leader part, the male volunteer would read the male chorus part, and the female volunteers would read the female chorus and female chorus leader parts. We’d practice for an hour or so, and then perform. I have to say that those impromptu performances were well received and a load of fun. After we’ve formed our troupe, we’ll practice two or three times.

Richard Katrovas

What’s a dithyramb?

From the introduction to Dithyrambs (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1998):

Perhaps for all the wrong reasons, I am enchanted by the choral ejaculations of Attic tragedy, and am fascinated by the question of how tragic drama, the likes of which developed nowhere elseon earth, issued from a particular moment in ancient history,the product of satyr plays, dithyrambs, and epics. As far as I can tell, what fragments of dithyrambs we have are not necessarily representative of those immediate precursors of Aeschylus’s Oresteia, and I imagine that one must look directly into Aeschylian drama to see the vestiges of dithyrambs in their latest development, a period when they were original compositions and not simply received, folkish forms. My dithyrambs are highly stylized blank verse monologues framed by choral outbursts. In all of these poems, several dialectics are at play, not the least of which is a simultaneous yearning for, and parody of, a “high” lyric style.

—RK

Prague in the Age of Terror

by admin

An Open Letter to the Prospective 2016 Prague Summer Program Community

There are roughly ten thousand—primarily Sunni—Muslims in the Czech Republic. Most of them are early 90s refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and from countries of the former Soviet Union. They arrived in the Czech Republic as native speakers of Slavic languages, and so learned Czech relatively quickly and assimilated likewise. They are Slavic Muslims. Most are middle-class.

I’m unqualified to speak to the demographic and social complexities of Muslims’ presence in Europe or in North America. However, I know, really know, that prejudice is always morally wrong and strategically debilitating. What happened in Paris, what happened in San Bernardino  and whatever follows in the wake of these atrocities over the coming months, must be considered within as broad a perspective as possible.

I hold with those who insist upon a clear delineation between radical jihadists and Muslims in general, though I also eschew politically-correct commentaries that refuse to recognize that religious belief systems are ideologies, and that an ascendant interpretation of the Muslim faith is in fact an ideology centered on murder and subjugation of the “other”: us (“us” including Muslims who oppose radical jihadists).

Last July, one of the students in the PSP was a young woman from a Muslim country I’ll not name here. In social settings, outside the classroom and the other official program venues, she spoke of the nonviolent opposition that she and other young people in her country mount, when they can and almost exclusively online, against conservative powers that be. She expressed deep and abiding religious faith, but also a marvelous hardheadedness, a delightfully youthful opposition to authority. I can’t speak in any detail for fear of compromising her, but I can say that when I asked her if she ever thought of seeking asylum in the West, her answer was an unequivocal “no.” She loves her country, loves her culture, and wants to contribute to improving her society, making it freer, especially for women.

We, in America, should not be smug. Our kids are gunned down by cops; some cops too often find themselves in untenably dangerous circumstances. The Second Amendment is an anachronism causing, directly and indirectly, thousands of deaths each year. Our prisons are packed with nonviolent offenders who are themselves victims of antiquated drug laws. The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few makes a mockery of our democracy. The commoditization of information, the dovetailing of news and entertainment, in the context of the twenty-four-hour news cycle, gins up fear and plays into the hands of terrorists. There is a very odd symbiotic relationship indeed between CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and all terrorist organizations. The news organizations are not altogether at fault. We are at fault for not better understanding that “news” is vital information, but that it is also breakfast cereal, roll-on deodorant, car insurance, Viagra, and dishwashing  detergent. As long as information is tied to a profit motive, there will be terrorists manipulating news coverage, and there will be trolls like Donald Trump lurking beneath the body politic.

The Prague Summer Program for Writers is going into its twenty-third year. In our first years, the carnage in what was then Yugoslavia raged. In 2002, nine months after 9/11, we conducted a somber yet joyous four weeks of celebrating literature and literary ambition. This coming July, 2016, we shall celebrate the victory of unfettered imagination over mere ideology. We’ll celebrate life over death. We’ll take ourselves just seriously enough, and we’ll know ourselves to be as safe as anyone deserves to be. We’ll celebrate the beauty of an ancient city, and know that the odds of danger are, if not minute, nearly so.

We’ll be safe in Prague. We’ll take good care of one another, and make sure that we have ample opportunity to experience deep edification as well as serious fun.

Richard Katrovas