CC BY-SA krozruch

A Treasure in the Bargain Bin


Old Town, on the street running from the metro station to the library - a walk I had known better than any by now ten years since I had first made it. Mid April, 2014, it is a couple of weeks after the Hrabal centenary, a few days after I heard back from the young translator's competition. I had come third, of nine, for my translation of an obscure story by Bohumil Hrabal. They had recommended I continue. I stop, as I always did, outside a secondhand bookshop opposite that old pizzeria I used to go to on my own for creamy gnocchi. I look over the books. I don't know the publishers yet, though I am getting a feel for a handful of the names. It is my second time in Prague now, into my second year. It is Spring. I am a mess, and yet I am not. If I have not already been sacked, it is coming. I am reading the Tao Te Ting to understand Hrabal, reading a book on his life, and, for a spell, I am reading Jenny Diski's autobiography as serialised in the LRB. Soon it will be too much even for that. My life is a mess, my one friend sacked, ill, some time before, and leaving the country, but I am holding it together here and there when I remember what is good for me. It has been five days since I have tweeted 'knowing that you are a writer and getting on with it is what has to happen before anything else.' From Diski, who was on Twitter herself until the end. I look over the book. It is poetry. I have tried poetry a handful of times. Who am I kidding, whatever you think of him, Jaromir Nohavica, who I started trying to get my head around back in 2004, was a poet. Still, this time I feel I can grasp this. Do I need it? No. Maybe I was going to the National Library where I would have to sign it out. Still, I could understand this. I had never heard of him before and might never find it again. Hating myself a little for my tendency to obsessiveness, I buy it, for 20 Crowns. Once, twice, I come by it until today when, maybe a couple of years down the line since the last time, I am prompted by the need to bring myself down after a disastrous evening and with the start of the new school year following a year in which I did my own thing, working on this project, knowing that I am a writer and getting on with it, but also by the frustration with my progress with the language, cursing into the night as we walked back over Letná from Dlouhá třída from that guy with his helicopters, the world having gone long long mad without anybody of consequence looking up from their cappuccino art. It's the other side of that angry, disappointed evening where, silent, I walked beside my girlfriend full of wrathful passions and heavy with a dream of Prague that had died long ago. I'm busy resenting her until lunch the next day, today, where, having spent an hour or so writing the story that had struck me listening to audiobooks as I mop the corridor at her parents' flat, I sit and eat and turn back into the congenial 'dog' she knows. Thereafter, spent from all that intellectual and emotional energy of a first week at work, I lie down, listen to her make an irritating phone conversation, and then pick up those poems - poems I might never have known. I'm Czecher than I was, Irisher than I was, British-ish, still, grudgingly, even English, perhaps - though only ever in Czech and for convenience's sake - the last time I read any of his poems of return, but if his distance is the further, if his returns have been few or none, making this the first, then with everything, too, that has happened to 'my' country, I feel them. This is a poetry of exile, and I see, not for the first time, how much I need and understand it.

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