There is a kind of story in which a narrator’s regard for another character is the focus, the primary reason for the narrative to exist. Some of you read The Great Gatsby in high school. Remember how mysterious, how intriguing Gatsby seemed to the narrator, the young guy who happened to rent a small house next door to Gatsby’s gaudy mansion? Can you see the parallel to the narrator/boss’s regard for Bartleby? There are many stories that take such a basic form. Many love stories have a similar dynamic; a mysterious “other” is often the focus of stories across the genres and sub-genres (even “superhero” stories). My point here is that if you (consciously or unconsciously) begin to conceive of a story in which such a dynamic is at play, “Bartleby the Scrivener” should echo through the dark chambers of your noggin! Read More
Sometimes, to create a sense of verisimilitude we over-describe, and usually do so regarding the most mundane activities, like getting a character from her car to the door of her house, through the door and into her house.
I mean, if a character (in either a fiction or nonfiction narrative) approaches her or his apartment door and pulls a keychain from her or his pocket, do we (your readers) need to know that that character then chose the appropriate key, pushed that key into the lock, turned the key, then turned the doorknob and pushed open the door? Well, consider the following:Read More
From Richard Katrovas: My rants are off-the-cuff mini-lectures on topics relevant to students of both fiction and nonfiction writing. When I teach “hybrid” writing workshops–classes that meet only six times in the classroom over the course of a semester–I send these ephemeral ditties to my students as follow-ups to our spirited, if infrequent, class discussions. The ones included here are general enough to make sense, I hope, to folks who were not privy to the conversations that spawned them.Read More
Why the Prague Summer Program for Writers Has Existed for Twenty-five Years, and Why It May Endure Another Twenty-five
As we come upon our 25th anniversary session, Richard Katrovas (PSP founder and director) and Ema Katrovas (PSP coordinator) reflect on the historical context of these past 25 years of the Prague Summer Program for Writers. Read More
The Word Made Mud: Interview with the Golem During Which Katrovas Attempts to Hire Him for the 25th Anniversary of the Prague Summer Program
The Golem, through his agent, agreed to meet me on the bank of the Vltava, below Vyšehrad, at 6 a.m. on a Friday. It was late fall; the sky was turning from black to gray, the moon was pale and almost full, and the air was crisp. The Golem climbed lugubriously from the river, stood dripping on the cement dock before the green bench, overlooking the water, on which I waited. The Golem, eight-feet tall and svelte (for a monster), dropped gently to his knees, sat back on his haunches, dipped his chin in silent salutation. He smelled of mellow rot.
The following essay is from a book the PSP program director Richard Katrovas is working on: Chained to a Tree: A Memoir in Essays about Poets and the Fools Who Love Them. About the essay he says: “The project is still fluid; that is, I’m still fiddling, fixing, still moving words, phrases, paragraphs around. My concern in the book is not so much American Poetry as American poets, people I’ve known through the years, some famous (in a poetry kind of way), some not. My larger concern is creative writing as a cottage industry within high education, though my deeper concern is the mysterious world of poets and writers, how they constitute an often ignoble tribe pursuing noble, if quixotic, ends. I’m discovering, in the twilight of my odd life and modest career, that the run of luck that has gotten me to this point has been nothing short of miraculous, and my consequent blessings manifold.” We share this recently-written piece in the spirit of the Prague Summer Program as an organization centered on the honesty and vulnerability of sharing work in progress.
7 pm, Thursday April 28
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!
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.
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 else on 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.
Richard’s newest book of poetry, Swastika Into Lotus, is now available through Carnegie Mellon Press. It’s been out for about a month now, and there are some great reviews starting to pop up. Early readers are saying things like:
“Tough, direct, gritty, full of wonder . . . there is nothing meek about Mr. Katrovas. . . . He sings with an authority that is guided by compassion, by an unblinking eye for what is beautiful within what is not.”
—The New York Times Book Review
If you’re wondering about the scope and content of the material, here’s what the Press has to say:
In Swastika into Lotus, Richard Katrovas, a “punk formalist,” casts a wary eye on poetry, poetry readings, higher education, the UFO cottage industry, organized religion, fine dining, climate change denial, and national right-wing politics. The book’s humor is dark, by turns self-deprecating and fierce, and yet many of the poems are unabashed in their assertions of both filial and romantic love. Heaving traditionally “formal” verse through a looking glass, Katrovas has produced a book that is not for the passive-aggressively “sensitive.”
Poems in the collection have previously appeared in The American Literary Review, Crazyhorse, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, New Orleans on New Orleans, and North American Review. It’s available here on Amazon, or through most other major booksellers.
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.