The Czech poet, playwright and translator Ludvík Kundera was awarded this year’s Jaroslav Seifert prize on Monday recognising his life’s work and contribution to literature. The 89-year-old poet – a cousin of the internationally renowned author Milan Kundera – was given the prize, which includes 250,000 crowns in funds, at the residence of the Prague mayor.
Ludvík Kundera is one of the country’s most respected poets, literary theorists, and translators, whose work is most closely associated with Surrealism and the avant garde. Still writing at the age of 89, the poet, who published his first book of poetry in 1946, Demons in Us, suffered many difficult moments throughout his long career. In particular: not being allowed under the Communists to publish or having to work clandestinely in theatre. On Monday he spoke to Czech Radio and discussed life under the former regime.
“It wasn’t easy for poets or artists or ordinary people on the wrong side of the regime, especially if you had kids. It wasn’t that they focussed on you, but that they targeted your wife, children, and relatives. This is what was so malicious. Of course in the 1950s, there were executions, but here people were worn away by the regime. The state apparatus didn’t even have to ban you outright: things worked through all kinds of secret phone calls and information: you couldn’t know where you stood, but you knew you were on the outside.”
Nevertheless, Mr Kundera says he was lucky: inspired by other poets, good teachers, friends and contemporaries.
“Three of us were close friends, in constant contact. Emil Juriš, František Listopad and myself. We kept in touch mostly through letters. When I was banned from publishing I worked in secret as artistic director for the theatre in Zlín, then Gottwaldov. The theatre was named the Theatre of the Working People and we used to joke ‘Where is the theatre for unemployed people?’ I met a lot of people on different jobs and surprisingly no one denounced me.”
After the fall of Communism, Ludvík Kundera taught at universities both at home and abroad and he has continued to publish with the Brno-based publisher Atlantis.
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