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This report is taken from PN Review 175, Volume 33 Number 5, May - June 2007.

Letter from Belgrade James Sutherland-Smith

Some time in the last year of the last century, somewhere in a spa town in Polish Silesia, an American poet, resident in Sweden after travelling through the wilds of France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Denmark, said to me, 'I bet like all of us you wrote a poem in the persona of Odysseus.' I, of course, replied, it cannot be denied in the spirit of the actor, Sir John Gielgud, 'Yes, but my poem is a rather good one.'

In an Amsterdam hotel, perhaps the Krasnoyarsk, some years before the exchange in Polish Silesia I fell into conversation with a Dutch businessman and his wife at the bar. 'Are you a good poet?' he said suddenly after I had, at the end of my usual five-minute circumlocution, duly declared my vocation. Having caught me off balance he then suggested that the three of us might repair to their apartment for some Byronic activity. I think amphibrachic was the metre he had in mind.

Shortly afterwards I found myself in Istanbul, not I hasten to add in the company of Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook Jnr in pursuit of 'the Black Bird', but in a hotel in the Pera quarter during Ramadan. Consequently, I was the only customer in the hotel's night club and the belly dancer decided that one dance was all that I was going to get and that she should practise her English on me. I was more rapidly forthcoming ...


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