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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Blatný (cont.)

My copy of Blatný’s The Drug of Art arrived in the post.

Did Matthew Sweeney really have his first name and surname misspelled on the cover of his first book? Because, in what would count as a slight improvement, he appears here (as translator) as Matthew ‘Sweney’ throughout.

There are the formal ‘Brno Elegies’, the elegiac poems of ‘Old Addresses’, and the caputa mortua of ‘Bixley Remedial School’.

Lots of poems in facsimile at the end of the book. ‘Come on you lazy censors’ is reproduced in typescript, its last line tumbling diagonally off the page before regaining the horizontal with a handwritten emendation:

Come on you lazy censors
confiscate my poem
put a dark oblong in its place
I wanted to say black
black jako na úmrtním oznámení

The last line means ‘black like in the death notice.’ How odd to start hailing a distant censor from the (I was going to say ‘comfort’) remove of your English mental hospital bed, and to be reduced to internalizing the interference in your work this sadly negligent censor has failed to provide. The secret police were on to him, by the way, so this wasn't just paranoia. He was given the codename 'Salamander' and an agent was dispatched, bunch of grapes in hand I presume, to inquire about his plans for returning to Czechoslovakia.

His affectionate reminiscences of Czech football (cue gratuitous image of the great Patrik Berger). I remember watching the 2002 World Cup in Prague and being able to bring a large jug into a street-corner pub and fill it, before disappearing upstairs to watch a game on TV. The closing stanzas of Blatný’s’s ‘Football’:

We’ll watch the match in its entirety
from far-off England, from behind closed eyes.
On this TV, with any luck we’ll see
the offsides and the fouls, the angry cries.

To see the fans fling all kinds of abuse,
to stay for ever longer games, refuse
to climb league-tables, leave the jerseys torn,

to stay, to stay there near the Svratka’s sluice,
near football, football, like a mother to us,
and never have been born.

{Quotation ends, that fine translation by Justin Quinn}

Blatný’s heart may remain in the stands of FC Brno but his reputation is obviously due a transfer to the big league.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Matthew Sweney is a right name. He exists and is one of the most wonderful and charming people I have ever met ;-)excellent translator too...