Kral Majales, 1965 – Allen’s intimate relationship with Prague Spring has been detailed by us previously here and here. This past week saw the passing of Vaclav Havel, post-Communist Czechoslovakia’s first president, and, after the country split, in January 1993, president of the Czech Republic. Artist-Politician, Politician-Artist – the links between the two men run deep. Here is Havel’s introduction to Allen’s 2001 (posthumously-published) volume, Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews 1958-1996 (his willingness to write it, an indication of the depth and the importance of their friendship – a mutual respect)
VH: “There has been a sensitive awareness of the Beat Movement in our country since the nineteen-fifties.The general revolt against the official establishment and the literary nonconformism of the Beat poetry and prose have most likely been perceived in our unfree conditions as even more rebellious than in the land of their origin. The literary works of the Beat authors were understood not only as a denouncement of the social establishment and as a quest for new attitudes and a new lifestyle, as a protest against the superficiality of our civilization openly manifesting all its tensions and strains as well as the tragic and reckless quality of life, but also as a potential instrument for resistance to the totalitarian system that had been imposed on our existence. And if those who knew the literature and, by fostering it, created through this common knowledge a brotherhood, a community of nonconformists, when they expressed their views, it was, understandably, more hazardous in our situation than it could have been in the United States of America.
I had the good luck to have enjoyed from my young days a close friendship with Jan Zábrana, the chief translator of Ginsberg and other Beat writers, so that I had access to the literature even if it was not and could not be published. I have to admit that in those years—through the fifties and sixties—I found the Beat authors’ way of writing and their way of thinking very close to my heart as I was just a little younger than the original Beat Generation. I believe I understood their views and their protest as I could share much of it.
I first met Allen Ginsberg at the renowned student May Day festival at which he was elected king (Král Majáles). After that I participated in one of the private gatherings with him in a Prague apartment. Then I had the luck to see him in Viola, a poet’s café, and I believe it must have been at the moment when the notorious theft of his notebook took place. Not far from me Ginsberg was sharing a table with some young friends, and he seemed to be constantly occupied in looking for something all around the table space. I gather it must have been the notebook that he was missing; that was very likely as right next to his table there was seated a group of men, with the undeniable appearance of plainclothes men, who must have stolen it then or a while earlier.
Later,after 1989, when I had become president, I had the opportunity to see Ginsberg a few times. A couple of times we went to a pub together, and I also went to see his performance at the Chmelnice theater hall.
I have always held the poet in great esteem. I truly appreciated his “Howl” when I was a young man, and I was, of course, deeply moved by what I felt to be his untimely death. I have also greatly cherished his sophistication, his intellectual power, and his scope of vision.” We greatly cherish (and will miss) Havel’s sophistication, intellectual power and scope of vision.
On to other matters.. We were about to post this [sic – no longer available] as a Chanukah greeting – but, wait, there’s something wrong here. The iconic Ken Regan snap of Allen and Bob Dylan at Jack Kerouac’s grave?, that’d be 1975, yes? – The Rolling Thunder Revue? – So, a portmanteau piece here (the photo, “2- 1/2” x 3- 1/2″ has been affixed to the card”, as the seller (Ann Arbor’s Third Mind Books) points out, next to the (seemingly authentic) blue-ink inscription) – “23(rd) (of) Dec(ember) (19)74 Happy Chanukah Allen Ginsberg” So that would be 37 years ago exactly, on this very day!