How to do you say “wind chime” in Czech? Ah, well, I know that. It’s větrná zvonkohra. I know because it’s the title of John’s new book, a collection of his poems translated into Czech by the wonderful Jiří Měsíc, a young Czech poet and scholar currently living and teaching in Spain. For the past few years, Jiří has been corresponding with John about the poems and I’ve loved hearing the details of their discussions about specific words, idioms, meaning. The book comes out this month, published by Protimluv in Ostrava. In an ideal world, the world before the pandemic (which would also have been a world in which John’s hip surgery would have been last spring), we would have gone to the Czech Republic this fall to help launch the book. And when there’s a return to travel (and good health), we hope to make a belated trip to do that. We will also celebrate Jiří’s new book on Leonard Cohen as well as the fact that his translations of John’s poems have won him a prize from the Czech Literary Translators Guild. (If you read Czech, you might be interested in learning more here.)
When we met Jiri in Ostrava in 2012, he and John participated in a poetry festival curated by Protimluv.Here’s John, with Jiří to his right and Petr Kopecky, to his left. (Petr is a scholar of North American literature, among other things, and he will forever be dear to me because he drove me to my grandmother’s village in 2012.)
It was an extraordinary event, filmed for Czech television, the room filled with people who loved poetry, and I remember feeling like we’d found our people. The prospect of returning to them is exciting.
When John won the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 2006, for his book Stumbling in the Bloom, there were a lot of readings connected with being shortlisted and then winning. He often read “Wind Chime”. These are the opening lines:
Come sway in its ear-level lilt and lapses, fond instrument
day-long of come what may. It lolls, an insatiate
tongue for the random, whim’s trinket, net
of the invisible, middle-sister to leaf
and sail, shimmering
suspension in silver wire…
Who could have imagined then that the fond instrument would find another voice, in Czech, ringing across the oceans? Across the wide and beautiful world?