Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I Feel Better Now

There's an interview here with Gyorgy Faludy, the Hungarian poet, who is 96 and looks spookily like a guy who used to live across the road from me in Stoneybatter (except that guy was probably 46...that's what having your own snug in Walshes will do to you). He believes, basically, that literature is doomed; that reading and dialogue are in decline and that what's approaching is a crisis in literature to rival the one which occurred in 350 AD, under Constantine the Great, when "people stopped reading." Well, that's a bit dramatic, I think. It's the material people read, and the way they read, which is undeniably changing, but I do believe that there will always be readers of good literature. Even if that literature is on a screen rather than in book form; Sinead wrote about this today, and like her, I don't think I could ever read a novel in electronic format. The experience of being with the book is part of the experience of reading it.

But this wasn't the passage in the Faludy interview which first caught my eye. No, as I survey the mass of looming and unmet deadlines stretching before me, it was his answer to a question about how he chooses which books to read that gave me hope. I'm more than a month behind on one of my longer pieces, an essay for an academic publication here. Every morning I wake up in dread of seeing the "Forget about it, you unreliable pup" e-mail from the editor in my inbox. But tomorrow, if I get that e-mail, I'm just going to refer her to the wisdom of Gyorgy Faludy:

After the success of Villon, in March 1938, I offered some of my poetry translations to the publishers Uj Idok. They offered me a contract to translate the 1000 most beautiful poems in world literature. When the publisher's head, Miss Andrassy, who looked rather like a woman from an Italian renaissance painting, asked me when I'd have it ready, I asked for four years. "I have a lot of reading to do: I'll submit the manuscript after the World War," I said. She replied: "After the World War? It's already been." She couldn't believe there'd be another. In the end, we agreed on a deadline of 1942. I finally completed the first version of the anthology in spring 1988. It's now being reissued, with another 500 poems. I don't regret chasing down great poems all my life. I learned something that few people know: that Japanese, Chinese, Persian and Arab poetry has just as much value as European poetry.

Six weeks over? Call that late? Why, it's positively premature!!
(If you're reading this, by the way, Ms. Editor, I am nearly finished. Nearly. Honestly. Faludy.)

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