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From Poetry to Prose: Writing Outside of Your Genre

The Prague Summer Program is a big advocate of multi-genre workshops, and, as we prepare to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary, we would like to encourage poets considering PSP to pursue new experiences. Be committed to your writing—as you must be if you are reading this blog—and face new challenges as they arise. For poets, we would encourage you to accept the challenge of work outside of your genre.

Working outside of our comfort zones can be a great source of anxiety or discomfort, but growth seldom comes to those afraid of new experiences. If you are a poet—especially if you have never given much thought to writing prose—the Prague Summer Program would like to encourage you to consider writing fiction or creative non-fiction in one of our multi-genre workshops. Here’s why:

  • The language of poetry can often be quite ornamental, decorative, and beautiful. The same can be said of good prose; however, prose often has a more concrete, tangible approach that can challenge, inform, and complicate the ways in which a poet chooses to make meaning.
  • Line breaks can be used to compliment the music or rhythm of a poem, and, for the poet who is not used to making it all the way to the right margin, prose offers a new way of understanding the rhythm—a way that does not include the suggested “lighter” pauses that come at the end of a line.
  • This might be a bit obvious, but poets can contain an image, idea, or concept within a single stanza, sometimes connecting to the next through the use of enjambed lines. The poet working in prose must consider how to navigate similar transitions with a different set of tools, which really helps writers continue to develop their idiosyncratic ways of knowing, understanding, and expressing.
  • The use of commas in poetry and prose is complex, and worth contemplating. For example, a poet might use commas when elongated pauses are necessary—typically this need comes from the music of a piece. When writing prose, the same writer might avoid commas to make the reader feel breathless or to suggest that the narrator is thinking rapidly. They might use commas to suggest the passage of time or to further distinguish dialogue between two dissimilar characters.

 

Places to See in Prague Part III: “The City of a Hundred Spires”

by admin

During the month of November, the Prague Summer Program’s blog has focused on must-see attractions in Prague for creative writers considering signing up for the with PSP. Our final entry of the month will give a few more suggestions that we hope will take your breath away when the time comes to visit “the City of a Hundred Spires.” Most of the spires you’ll see on Prague’s horizon are nameless houses or minor churches and cathedrals while the most prominent tower is St. Vitus cathedral which forms the silhouette of the Prague Castle. In a nontraditional take, we bring you two modern spires and one out-of-town spire.

Petřín Lookout Tower

Built in 1891, the Petřín Lookout Tower is 63.5 meters tall with two winding, 299-step staircases for visitors that appreciate the journey as much as the destination, but there is an elevator for those who wish to visit one of the two observation platforms without the brisk hike. The steel-framework tower, as you might gather from the design, was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris and was built such that its tip is at the same altitude as that of the much taller Eiffel Tower. It was used as a transmission tower until 1992. The Petřín Lookout Tower will give you a bird’s-eye view of the city that is sure to make your study abroad in Prague feel complete.

Žižkov Television Tower

Construction of the Žižkov Television Tower began in 1985. The tower was completed in 1992 and, as you might have guessed, took over the transmission operations formerly run through the Petřín Lookout Tower. Standing 216 meters tall, this high-tech giant provides one of the best views of the city. The observatory is 93 meters off the ground, which places the observatory about 20 meters above the Žižkov Television Tower’s hotel. There’s also a restaurant if you’d like to take in the sight while grabbing a quick bite. In 2000, the Žižkov Television Tower gained new fame when artist David Černý (who is also behind the statue of Freud in the first installment of our Places to See series) installed ten bronze statues of faceless babies crawling up and down the tower, an installation he called, simply, Miminka (Babies). The baby statues caused such a (mostly positive) uproar that they were installed permanently in 2001 and, though they were taken down this past October for upkeep, they should be crawling the tower again during the PSP this coming July.

Karlštejn Castle

Charles IV founded the Karlštejn Castle in 1348, and construction was finally completed in 1365 with the consecration of the Chapel of the Holy Cross in the Great Tower. The castle was used as a place to keep valuable items—crown jewels and holy relics—safe, and as you wander the castle, we’re certain you’ll see that the Great Tower provided the best security a King and a Holy Roman Emperor could buy. Standing 60-meters high, the Great Tower is a veritable vault in the sky that was exceptionally well fortified.

Places to See in Prague Part II: Keep Storming the Castle

by admin

Our last entry explored some interesting sights to see in Prague during your European study abroad program, and this post will continue with more suggestions for creative writers that really wish to interrogate the culture and architecture of the Czech Republic. There are simply too many beautiful, resonant, and intriguing locations in Prague to mention them all, but hopefully this list covers enough of the must-see historical locations to get you started.

Prague Castle

The Prague Castle is the most popular tourist attraction in Prague. If you are a creative writer studying abroad in Prague and you don’t go to the castle, we question your sanity. Built in 970 AD, the complex around the Prague Castle is collectively called Hradčany. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore! The PSP‘s guided tour of Prague, which all participants should attend at the beginning of the program, will cover the Castle but this is a place worth visiting twice. It would not be unreasonable to give yourself an entire day to explore the castle (don’t forget the Royal Garden!). Make sure you stick around town for nightfall; the castle’s lights are particularly beautiful in the evening, visible for miles along the river.

The National Gallery in Prague

If you wish to see a beautiful collection of Czech artworks, The National Gallery in Prague will keep you busy for hours. Czech artwork is an important part of what The National Gallery has to offer, though you’ll find a variety of works from across the globe, such as Asian art, European art from the Middle Ages, Baroque period art, and even ancient Greek and Roman works. The buildings of The National Gallery include the Veletrzní Palace, the Covent of St. Agnes of Bohemia, the Kinsky Palace, and the Sternberg Palace.

The Prague Zoo

The Prague Zoo is a real crowd pleaser, and the perfect spot for any animal lover. It is considered to be one of the best zoos in the world. The park has been opened since 1931, and it is the home of over 700 species of animal. If you need a nice, calm walk ripe with nostalgia, the zoo is perfect! And it’s a wonderful outing for children if you have little ones to attend.

Places to See in Prague Part I: Have Fun Storming the Castle

by admin

If you have made the decision to join the Prague Summer Program for your European study abroad, you’re in for a treat. PSP prides itself in offering excellent creative writing workshop experiences in a setting that provides easy access to centuries of accomplishment, tradition, and beauty. Our program affords creative writers the opportunity to explore Prague’s historic relationships, culture, and the surrounding physical structures within their writing. To get the most out of your time with our summer study abroad program, here are a few sights you won’t want to miss.

The Old Town Square

Located in the capital of the Czech Republic, the Old Town Square is just around the corner from Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge. Visiting this location will give you a chance to see some of the most impressive pieces of Prague’s architectural history, such as the medieval astronomical clock or the Gothic church of Our Lady before Týn. The astronomical clock, the third oldest in the world, is still fully functional; every hour, the mechanical figures of the apostles bow one by one at the top of the clock while the figure of a skeleton chimes a bell, counting down to each person’s death. If the architecture alone isn’t enough to inspire the creative writer in you, the Old Town Square is full of merchants, performers, locals, and visitors. It’s an excellent spot for people-watching and making new friends.

Find Freud

While you’re in Old Town Prague, keep your eyes open—and upward. You might just spot a man hanging from the side of a building. Not to worry, that’s just Sigmund Freud. The hanging statue of Freud is a darkly comical homage to the life and achievements of a man that dedicated his life to understanding fears and phobias. That is if you believe the statue intends to commemorate Freud’s achievements while acknowledging his phobias; some interpret the statue as a challenge of Freud’s works. Whatever interpretation you value, this interesting and well-traveled piece of art is worth finding.

 

Alchemists’ Alley

Otherwise known as Golden Lane, Alchemists’ Alley is a beautiful street within Prague Castle…that never actually housed Alchemists. Though the place does have a certain enchanted feel to it. As you pass the souvenir shops on a stroll down Alchemists’ Alley, be sure to stop at house number 22. Franz Kafka lived in this house for two years, exactly 100 years ago. You couldn’t ask for a better time to drop by.

What’s in a Name? (Prague History Lesson)

Studying abroad is about more than just personal development and building experience. Very often, reasons include a particular investment in understanding a location, culture, or historic relationship. Other times, the program or location offers opportunities that are not as easily accessible through institutions at home. In the case of Prague, many of our students cite both reasons. This is no surprise when one teaches writers, because often historic relationships, culture, and the physical particulars of location are bound together in our work.

What About Prague?

Generally, it s believed that the city gets its name, as many do, from its physical location. The Czech name, Praha, is derived from the Slavic word práh. The meaning is something like “ford,” or in other contexts “river rapids,” and it is generally accepted that this is a reference to the city’s origin at the crossing point for the Vltava river. This means that its original naming was conducted in the same spirit as U.S. cities like Grand Rapids, Cedar Rapids, or Chagrin Falls. It also means that there are other, similarly named locations that derive their identities from the same etymological turn, such as the Praga district in Warsaw, Poland.

Alternative Theories

The word práh also exists in the Czech language, where it means threshold. Alongside the commonly accepted etymology, there exists an explanation that ties this meaning to princess Libuše, the legendary ancestor of the Czech people as a whole, who was said to have ordered the city “to be built where a man hews a threshold of his house.” Other theories tie the name Praha to the term “na prazě,” which refers the the shale upon which the castle and the surrounding city was built.

Wrap-Up

While there may never be a cut-and-dried answer to the origin of Prague’s name, the more familiar English version is easily traced back to French modifications to the original name as it became a common term in that language, and other common names or references to it have also called it “the heart of Europe” and “the mther of cities.” See you there!

Studies in Prague: Franz Kafka

Chances are, if you’re looking into the PSP, you already know a bit about Kafka’s career and history as a writer. One of the reasons we use his quote on the front page of our site is to highlight the fact that so much of the mood and matter of his writing is entrenched in the time and place that gave birth to it, the city of Prague. In 1883 Prague was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and as a result of social and economic pressures, his family encouraged their children to become proficient in High German, the language Kafka would later choose to write in.

Kafka’s personality was such that he constantly feared being found repulsive, as well as being considered a sexual failure. When these social fears and anxieties are combined with his cultural location as a middle-class, educated Jewish worker in a cosmopolitan city that was, nevertheless, prone to the prejudices and pressures of the age, it is easy to understand how the surreal and alienating elements in his more famous stories came to be. It’s also easy to understand how their application to byzantine bureaucracies and the inscrutable judgment of power came from a member of a minority population in a city that was being ruled by an outside power.

The influence of the focal lenses of culture, history, and social attitudes is clear at every point in Kafka’s work, making him an ideal writer to study if you are working to understand how literature interacts with the other elements of culture in its time. For writers, he also provides a unique example of the ways identity can be brought to bear in the craft, and by growing closer to the history that shaped his experience, students have the opportunity to find new layers of depth and richness when they return to their study of the words themselves.