An “attack of poetry” and practicalities

If there are themes to our publications then one of them is translation and writing in second languages. The translators are mostly of European languages except for Richard McKane who is an important voice for Turkish and Russian poets.

One of the many exiles who turned up at Torriano was Miroslav Jancic. He had had what he called an “attack of poetry”. He had written novels and plays in his own language and been director of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Theatre, but when he came to London poetry arose out of neccessity. He was the Yugoslav ambassador to Ghana when his country disappeared and he refused nationalism. Like John Rety he wrote in a language that was not his mother tongue and poetry provided the bridge between his two language beings.

In 2007 John had to give up his stateless person’s document and apply for British citizenship because the Hungarians said that he couldn’t prove he was Hungarian. The language had changed and to the young officials it sounded as if he spoke funny. His immigration lawyer persuaded the British authorities that after 60 years of writing and  publishing in English, maybe John could be excused the humiliating language test. His personal experience of thinking between languages made John especially interested in the work of others who made the same voyage such as Stephen Watts and Cristina Viti whose “Mountain Language” and “Journey Across Breath” Hearing Eye published bi-lingually. As an engaged publisher he went to the Spanish-French border  to see where Walter Benjamin died before publishing Carina Birman‘s memoir of crossing the Pyranees with the philosopher.

The other particularity of Hearing Eye has been our anthologies. In 2003 A Company of Poets was compiled to celebrate a community of poets who had gathered over the previous 21 years at the Torriano Meeting House Contributors included: Christopher Hampton, John Heath-Stubbs, John Hegley, Judith Kanzantzis, Jeremy Reed, Labi Siffre and Sarah Lawson.

For a number of years John Rety was the editor of “Well Versed”, a poetry column in the Morning Star newspaper and gave many poets exposure to a much wider audience. Taking poetry into politics was John’s way and he was delghted by this mention in the Guardian: “Since its inception the poetry column in the Morning Star has raised circulation on Thursdays by 2%, such a hit has the column become.” In 2009 Hearing Eye put together an anthology of the Well Versed poems.

In the early years John used to enjoy visiting the London bookshops and got to know the owners and managers personally. The pleasure and purpose gradually disappeared as bookshops became more corporate. Now we are represented by Inpress who are also our on-line bookshop, but the personal is still important as most books are sold through author readings.

To come full circle from the 1940s: John was finding that publishing was becoming increasingly ” proper”. You had to have all the email and webshop stuff. (However, that saying, one of our authors Raymond Geuss who is Professor of philosophy at Cambridge never uses e-mail, only post, and the world still goes round.) So just as Mr Prager had John to be his translator, John found David Floyd to be his right-hand man. While John’s partner Susan Johns does the literary editing, I do the pictures and David does the electronic mysteries and managing. John himself was the soul and impressario. Since John’s death in 2010 he has remained the soul.