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This report is taken from PN Review 133, Volume 26 Number 5, May - June 2000.

Letter from Slovakia James Sutherland-Smith

This year I've moved into my second decade in Slovakia working in a variety of educational jobs for the British Council. I'm now ensconced in the grandest office I've ever had in my life in Jakabov Palac in Kosice. This is a turreted building of neo-gothic design dating from 1903, five minutes walk from the station and overhanging an underpass which skirts the medieval boundaries of the city. There is a plaque on the wall outside commemorating the fact that the palace was President Benes' first presidential seat after liberation by the Russians in 1945. I take more delight in the fact that the building was originally owned by a brewing magnate who lost it in a card game and that it can be translated as 'James' Palace'. My office is lit by a central, small, brass chandelier suspended from an impossibly high ceiling. Unfortunately, I've been far too busy to write a poem there and besides my line manager wouldn't like it.

One of my current projects is trying to promote Creative Writing in the teaching of English in Slovak schools and, I hope, in other countries in the region. The teaching of literature in schools in Slovakia is retarded by a combination of dry philological practice and a lack of interest. For example, before 1989 contemporary poets could rely on their books being bought by a national library fund and the more established poets could collect their works in editions called My Favourite Poems which ...


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