Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Bad Community

I wanted to rename this 'Community' but it buggers up some links. So I can't. And also note that there has been some discussion over this entry, and I want to state that these observations were based on a one night only visit. As a result, some of them are probably not fair and I have changed the entry as a result. It has been a valuable lesson in humility for me. And I want to acknowledge both Patrick and Ken for their work at Alchemy. End of note.

I've been in Prague these past four days to see the city and to catch a poetry reading by one of my favourite poets, Taylor Mali at the Alchemy club.

Prague is a beautiful city.

The Alchemy club is an english literature group who meet once a month in the cafe to here performers and to read their own work. Essentially it feels like it's one of those 'expat communities in a foreign language city'.

The reading was held in the Tulip Cafe, and it had two parts. The first part was Taylor's reading, most of which I had heard before, but he did offer to Anita and myself over dinner (yes, we had dinner with the talent) to read a couple we hadn't heard. Gotta like that about the man. Anyway. The second part was an open mic session where anybody could read work, so long as they had registered with the organiser. The vast majority of the work, most of which was poetry, but also included a letter, a couple of songs, an instrumental guitar piece and a synopsis of a novel, seemed totally hopeless. Which is not to deny the talent of the writers, but it seemed there was no hope. The notable exceptions was Jeff who played songs. He was very talented and seemed to sing of something he had lived.

And it made me wonder. How does a bunch of people get together and lose hope? Human experience is about highs and lows, but I believe that one of the most valuable experiences of the low is the hope that arises from and because of it. I don't want to deny the writers pain, but I did want to scream "move on with your life" at one person. The other thing I wondered about was the sense of community. It seemed to me that the only thing these people had in common were the English language and an interest in literature. But it seemed that the literature aspect was secondary. Expat communities seem to me to be a dangerous thing, they don't really encourage the members to move beyond their comfort zone. They always have their uses - in terms of developing contacts and sharing information. Maybe I'm missing something here, but I figure a key thing is to know when to move on from them.

Hammer and Tongue, which isn't an expat community, on the other hand has a sense of joy that is attractive. There are real expressions of pain and sorry and hate, but there is also hope and the joy of life in more than equal measure.

But then I guess you could also make a similar comparison when looking at different churches...


Anonymous said...


I'm the poet who performed at Alchemy with Jeff, the guitar player you gave well-deserved props to. As a co-curator of the series, I have to say this article of yours is quite ignorant. Here's my full response.

I suggest you spend more time getting to know a community before commenting on it.


Patrick Seguin

richard said...

I accept your criticism, but with some provisons, and I am sorry that you are upset about what you read. I accept that it may be unfair of me to make a comment about your community having only spent one night there. However, I did talk to other people, I did see, and I did hear. Without sounding sycophantic (Is suspect I will fail), I also appreciated your work, I just couldn't remember your name at the time I wrote.

However, I stand by the observation that it seemed to me that a lot of the writing of the performers lacked hope and I am sorry but I am somebody who thrives on hope. I need hope in my life.

As I say, I concede that having only spent a night there, I have a limited right to comment, but hell, I am still entitled to reflect on what I see, right? Prague is a city I instantly loved, and when I do come back, I would look to go back to your group (but maybe you wouldn't accept me there).

I have removed the comment about my wrists. That was too harsh.

I stand by my comments about expat communities as I do have experience of them.

And with regards to the dogs and Czech people, it was a delight to walk around the city and see the different sizes and personalities of the dogs. Maybe the Brits like their dogs, it just stood out to me.

richard said...

Oh yeah, a few other things. I have tried to make a policy of not insulting people in my blog. It appears that I have failed in this case. I was not trying to insult Alcehemy, or the organisers. I apologise for any offence.

But I do resent the implications on my powers of observations the list of observations was merely meant as a tongue in cheek list of things I noticed. You can read into it what you want, but I wouldn't have taken any of it seriously. I guess that when you read stuff from a computer screen, some of the tone gets a bit lost.

In addition I completely fail to see what relevance 'cricket loving engineer' has to do with my 'article'. You could have added New Zealander, christian, beer drinking and anorak wearing. Personally I would have thought that the last one would have provided you with more ammunition.

Anonymous said...

You're right about the personal cracks - my bad, they've been deleted.



richard said...

That's good of you. Thank you. If you wanted to have a discussion via email about this, rather than via my blog, then feel free to email me via