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This report is taken from PN Review 217, Volume 40 Number 5, May - June 2014.

Letter from Slovakia James Sutherland-Smith
In foreign-language learning there is a notion, perhaps no longer fashionable, of the affective filter, whereby anxiety or too much concern with rules of language inhibits learning the target language. The more closely woven the netting or less porous the gauze or less permeable the gravel of whatever material one cares to attach to the metaphor, the less likely new linguistic experience is to pass through the barrier. For me it has parallels with writing a poem. The more my feelings are driven and therefore channelled into a predetermined course by an opinion on what I should be expressing and what form a poem should take, the less satisfactory the poem will be. I find the teaching environment in which I work requires all manner of opinion-forming and this cannot be discarded by simply going home. In the last four years I’ve found either travelling by train or withdrawing into my garden or, better, the centre of the forest, where I have a cabin, are the only ways to shed my didactic exoskeleton and once more become receptive to the world.

In Central and Eastern Europe writers’ organisations used to provide facilities for writers cramped in tiny flats. Yugoslavia had and Serbia has a tradition of writers’ colonies in the summer months and I was invited to the 2011 colony at Čortanovci in the Vojvodina. I don’t think Slovakia has them, although there are still places such as Budmerice Castle where there were international gatherings of writers from time to time. There was also a place in the High Tatras where writers ...

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