A global crisis is a crisis of perspective. We can refresh The Guardian’s live newsfeed a thousand times, but it is still impossible to imagine this crisis – to hold in our heads a game of consequences of this magni- tude. The human mind cannot contain so many unique, individual tragedies at once. If we watch the US president, horror-struck, we likely don’t see the disease has hit the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh. As we worry about domestic abuse victims in the UK, Beijing’s new security law in Hong Kong slips past on our timeline. As we fret about Orbán we don’t notice three Russian doctors have fallen from hospital windows.
There are children in my country who haven’t played with another child for three months now. There are people who have been entirely alone in their flats that whole time: grieving, suicidal, hopeless, scared, forgotten. I am afraid of the suspension of normal rights; of this rapidly evolving surveillance state. I am afraid of this government which declares that a paid employee in your house – a nanny or cleaner – is lawful, but relationships with friends or lovers, not being economically useful, are not. I am afraid of all the terrible, important events that are pouring down the screen I look away from for a moment, to snip a paper-doll for my daughter or teach my son to spell. Migrant workers walk hundreds of miles across India, and I am boiling eggs. In the Amazon rainforest they dig mass graves, and I am tidying up Lego pieces.
How do we try and stay connected to each other even as this pandemic physically separates us, our lives shrinking to this windowsill, this wash, this meal? How can we turn off the rolling news but not shut our door to the wider world? Digital poetry events seem one positive to have emerged. They make readings far more accessible – something disability rights activists have been calling for over many years. They also solve, for an international literature organisation like Modern Poetry in Translation, the problem of wanting to share global poets with audiences, but being concerned about the carbon footprint. To have the Japanese poet Sayaka Osaki reading at the launch of our Japan Focus in May was a delight. It made me think of that line from John Donne’s ‘The Good Morrow’ – it ‘made a little room an everywhere’.
I hope journals can also help keep us connected. This issue contains ‘Here’, a feature on next generation translators curated by Rachel Long, that we have been planning for a while and are very proud to publish. In these days, my heart broke to read Máire Mhac An tSaoi’s words of grief, translated by Aisling Fahey: ‘God, we are not treasured, those who are impermanent, | beauty does not survive.’
The second half of the magazine is also given over to a Czech Focus. Czech poetry was featured in many early issues of MPT, with issue No.35, in 1978, devoted to modern Czech poets. Thirty years after the Velvet Revolution it has been a pleasure to work with the Czech Literary Centre and the Moravian Library, along with Jan Zikmund, in particular, to showcase of how Czech poetry has developed. I have been comforted by these poets – their wit, style and wisdom – in this year of isolation hearing Olga Stehlíková, translated by David Vichnar, in my head as I iron (‘When I’m bored I force myself | into golden activities, | saintly chores’), or watering my garden at dusk – one of the great pleasures of my lockdown – whilst mouthing Jan Skácel’s words: ‘This evening a rose came to visit me.’
Wherever you are, I hope this issue brings welcome company to your home too.