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This report is taken from PN Review 126, Volume 25 Number 4, March - April 1999.

Letter from Slovakia James Sutherland-Smith

Last year Presov celebrated its 750th anniversary. For a time the tower on the main church of Saint Nicholas was adorned with something reminiscent of a vast armband worn by a zebra crossing warden. It was green with the relevant numerals on it and glowed at night. A legacy of last year's anniversary is an electronic chime which, despite a range of tunes from the spritely to the stately, always sounds like Mr Whippy on his rounds. The main street has been renewed and partially made into a pedestrian zone as has happened in other cities such as Kosice and Banská Bystrica.

Last summer occasionally I would watch road workers in the main street fitting cobbles together, knapping each stone with a hammer. Sometimes they would need to break off only an edge, sometimes they needed to shape the stone elaborately and sometimes they would make a mistake and simply break the stone in pieces. Of course, from time to time there was a stone which resisted shaping and could not be made to fit anywhere. It occurred to me that here was an apt metaphor for literary translation. The work I, and usually my wife, Viera, do is more craft than art as we do not set out to create more than workmanlike versions in English for Slovak poetry. Besides much of the work I do with Viera is to provide texts in English for international juries in literary and drama competitions, possible financial backers for ...


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