The Congress was chaired by poet and writer Milan Richter
18th World Congress of Poets took place from the 19th until 23rd August 1998 in Bratislava, Slovakia, honoring the centenary of birth of Jan Smrek, the most beloved poet of Slovakia.
The main theme of the congress was "A New World of Peace and poetry with the Closing Millennium“ and 6 more themes had been suggested to the participants to write their papers or poems about, including "Poetry and Taboo“, "Translating Poetry – the Art of the Impossible?“ or "The Poet as a Mediator between Universes“. Among the 160 poets from 45 countries some 40 prominent or well-known writers participated, such as Tomas Tranströmer from Sweden (who was to receive the Nobel Prize 13 years later), Klaus Rifbjerg and Pia Tafdrup from Denmark, Ludvik Kundera, Jana Stroblova and Jiri Zacek from the Czech Republic, Knut Odegard from Norway, Richard Pietrass from Germany, Dannie Abse from Great Britain, Lubomir Levcev from Bulgaria, Milan Rufus and Stefan Zary from Slovakia, etc.
Besides readings of papers and poems in language groups (groups: English, German, French/ Spanish, Slovak/Slavic, Chinese) there were 14 readings for the audience of Bratislava and nearby towns, presenting international and domestic leading poets or poetry of one country (Chinese, i.e. Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese poetry or "Italian Poets in Bratislava“ mostly in ancient palaces of the Slovak capital (Palffy Palace, Old Town Hall courtyard, Primate´s Palace) and in the culture centers of Austria, Bulgaria and Poland.
In the period shortly before parliamentary elections and without a serving president only lower positioned officials, such as mayors of towns and directors of institutions took part in the opening and closing ceremony. Still they offered cocktails and the farewell reception.
There was a day-long trip to the town of Modra where lord mayor and WAAC/WCP President R. Wilkinson unveiled the plaque in honour of Jan Smrek and to the Home of Slovak Writers in Budmerice where translators of Slovak literature spoke about their work and where a real garden party in the park in front of the mansion took place. The participants had also opportunity to enjoy a boat trip to the Devin Castle.
Awards in the Jan Smrek Prize competition were conferred upon T. Tranströmer, L. Kundera and others during the closing ceremony while at the opening of the congress the diplomas of honorary doctorates of literature were awarded to international and Slovak poets.
One additional day of poetry and sight-seeing followed: a trip to Vienna, Austria´s capital which is only 55 km far from Bratislava. A brief sight-seeing was planned for the historical centre of Vienna, as well as three readings for international and Austrian poets. Unfortunately, 1998 was still a year/an epoch of borders, passports and visas in Central Europe and several poets from Turkey, Romania, Israel, etc. didn´t have visas for both entering and leaving Austria. So the trip remained a nightmare in the memory of the organizers: we spent 3 hours at the border, lost the chance for a sight-seeing and instead of evening hours we returned home late in the night while 2-3 poets had to stay with the border police waiting for their consuls to receive visas.
The post-congress tour went to the medieval towns of Nitra and Trnava, as well as to the city of Kosice in the eastern part of Slovakia where a reading of foreign poets was given to the local audience. The participants enjoyed Slovakia´s beautiful country-side with ancient castles and hospitality of Slovak people.
Several books and brochures were published for the WCP 1998:
- anthology with 1 poem in a world language, with 1 photo, a short CV + documents (speeches) for the 18th WCP
- anthology A Violin Before the Open Window with texts of the Jan Smrek Prize competitors + Jan Smrek´s poems in English
- 5 booklets with poems in several languages – volumes by Slovak poets Milan Rufus, Stefan Zary, Albert Marencin, Jan Zambor, Dana Podracka, Milan Richter of whom the honorary presidency and the active presidency of the 18th WCP consisted
- 1 booklet with poems of Jan Ondrus (one of leading Slovak poets) in English translation
The 18th WCP in Bratislava was prepared and arranged by an organizing committee lead by Milan Richter.
The following is the Opening speech at the XVIII World Congress of Poets, Bratislava
by Rosemary C Wilkinson, WCP/WAAC President
On behalf of our World Congress of Poets held under the auspices of the World Academy of Arts and Culture, and all of our international members, we thank your Excellencies, the Lord Mayor, Slovak Ministry of Culture, National Centre for Slovak Literature, Municipality of Bratislava, and Honorary President Milan Rúfus, and his Vice-Presidents Štefan Žáry and Albert Marenčin, the Organizing and Executive Committee headed by the President Milan Richter, his Steering Committee and Associations with Special Supporters and Sponsors, we the world poets given your title of ”the saints beyond the Village”, are honored to be invited to your precious soil. Here we can cherish and embrace your traditions, noble literary endeavors in the gathering of nations in a special brotherhood, through their poets, to witness an esteemed culture by all of us globally plus and especially the European countries.
The present 18th WCP comes on the eve of our thirty years of existence in 1999. In 1973 when I was given ‘Special Merit’ grant to publish my first book of poetry: A GIRL’S WILL by the Illinois State Poetry Society, Lou Lu Tour of New York, one of the Founders of our Academy, asked our President of the 2nd WCP, Dr. Tin-wen Chung, to invite me to Taipei, 1973. He did but I buried it in my desk drawer thinking it was not for me to be among such prestigious gathering of well-recognized world poets and critics. Months later and reading Dr. Chung’s ‘for shy and unknown poets too’, my neighbor said I should attend – I did. While there Dr. Amado Yuzon, also Founder of our Academy, presented me with a medal (this one) but I refused stating that I had not merited it yet. He insisted by placing it over my head with ”spend the rest of your life earning it” – it seems I have obeyed now bringing forth my twentieth book of poetry, twenty-five years later, and two Epic Biographies, presently my thirty-five year literary career autobiography.
Service to the world poets during that interim was liaison for sixteen WCP’s and working with nine more until the year 2007. All of this occurred after ten years in hospital administration, and in between rearing four children. I stretched time out for it all.
From the years derived serving the past and upcoming Presidents of a WCP I learned of their contagious enthusiasm opening the arms of their beloved nations to embrace us world poets as brothers and sisters, no matter our color, religion, ideologies, for we are only into poetry. Attending a WCP is like the oasis of water we rush to, and from, our havens of poetry solitude. In other words we need each other, we are just one big family. Why?
For 1) we all suffer the silence of the publishers refusing our poetry stating that the public never reads poetry so they cannot risk financial loss through us.
2) it really does not matter for a born poet was born to write, so we continue to struggle for the upcoming generation who will come to demand it to fulfill their spiritual vacuum that they suffer from ‘soul hunger’ and becoming more painful the further we delve into more modern technology advances. Meantime we go to the public via the Internet/On Line etc.
I studied John Donne 200 years after he died, so there is hope for us all, I am confident. Meanwhile we listen to Thomas Edison who said: ”We must hustle, while we wait.”
Thank you from our hearts for welcoming us, all of us, to your beloved Slovakia.
Rosemary C Wilkinson, President
(18th World Congress of Poets, August 19-23, 1998, Bratislava, Slovakia)