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This article is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

Ginsberg among the Slovaks
When Allen met Ivan, Peter, Ivan and Laco
James Sutherland-Smith
Allen Ginsberg’s meetings with Slovak Poets

BY 1965, when Ginsberg visited Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Soviet Union, he was the avant-garde Anglophone poet who was read in those countries. Barry Miles in his Ginsberg: a Biography (2000) cites a conversation with Yevgeny Yevtushenko in 1986 where, in the 1950s, issues of Evergreen Review were eagerly passed around and Ginsberg’s work was given very careful study. ‘You know, in the late fifties, you were my idol,’ he told Ginsberg, ‘My idol!’

Ginsberg had been translated into Czech and there were royalties waiting for him when he arrived in Prague. However, I wonder how much was lost in translation given the censorship restrictions on subject matter and language. I assume there were officially approved translations of Ginsberg and underground alternatives circulated in samizdat.

Ginsberg’s visit to Prague between February and May is legendary, but popular summaries give the impression that he had the equivalent of ‘a helluva time in Denver’ and was too wasted to go anywhere else. Miles provides plenty of juicy detail, but is silent about to whom Ginsberg might have talked about poetry. Jaroslav Seifert, as one of the founders of Poetizmus, which evolved in the 1930s into the Czech version of Surrealism, was in relatively good standing with the Communist Party and Vladimír Holan had his greatest influence on Czech poets in the 1960s. One reason might be that Ginsberg was closely supervised.

The biography does mention his trips to see relatives of his mother ...

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