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This report is taken from PN Review 80, Volume 17 Number 6, July - August 1991.

Letter from Hungary Philip Balla
In late February this year I finished a book which I had begun the previous September. The writing took place in Slovakia, in a resort village in the central mountains, though I periodically took trains south, into Hungary, where I had an older home in Budapest. In many respects I had an enchanted life: as winter came on I could watch the mountains fill with snow, from the hardwood hills lower down, to pine forests layered above, to meadow balds crowning them. Budapest on the other hand provided its own beguiling contrasts, from terraces of stone walls, villas, and gardens throughout the Buda hills, to more deliberate achievements of stone piled up in neo-baroque and Secession-style in Pest.

At the time that I was writing, or taking travel breaks, I was continually nagged by a question Joseph Brodsky had posed to me many years before: why does language signify more than place?

I have known Joseph from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then New York for several years, but my heart wasn't in the peripatetic routes he took. All of his true friends were poets, or people who understood what poetry was doing, and though large figures like Milosz, Heaney, Zagajewski, Venclova, Walcott and Murray famously evoked places dear to them, they all seemed possessed of a wanderlust like Joseph's.

I didn't have this wanderlust which perhaps all real poets have because, when I arrived in central Europe four years ago, I still couldn't answer that ...


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