Daniel Hevier: “I really don’t know what I’m doing here”

23/11/2013 17:20

Photo: Pavol Šveda


Everybody knows who Daniel Hevier is. Kids know him for his great poems, anecdotes, and stories; adults may also recall the lyrics that he has written for famous singers, his translation work, or his publishing house Hevi. He is a man of many talents and activities; therefore, we are very pleased that Mr Hevier was able to join us for the Days of Jerome event and share with us some of his language wisdom. Even though he started off with the words “I’m not a translator, and I really don’t know what I’m doing here,” he certainly was in the right place at the right time. His funny anecdotes and a sort of sixth sense for the beauty of language were a great pleasure to witness. We had an opportunity not only to look into the creative process of a poet/translator, but also a chance to talk to Mr Hevier about his student life, his dreams as a kid, about translations and translators, about his favourite wine, and much more. You are strongly encouraged to read more if you want to find out.    


Perspectives (PP): What kind of student were you?

Daniel Hevier (DH): Fortunately, I studied what I enjoyed. When I was studying at secondary school, I preferred humanities, and until this very day I am really glad that I had the opportunity to sink my teeth into Latin because I make use of it all the time. Well, back then my university studies were full of the Slovak language and Aesthetics. In fact, I didn’t have to study very much, I absorbed everything through reading books and other activities which I enjoyed doing and that worked for me. It’s actually some kind of manual for you as well – choose to do the things you like, and you won’t have to put so much effort in them.


PP: When did you realize you wanted to be a full-time writer?

DH: In the 8th grade at primary school.


PP: I assume nobody took you seriously at that time...

DH: But of course they did! A man called Ľubomír Feldek took me seriously. He claims that he discovered the talented boy within me right away. I think he exaggerates, but the truth is he encouraged me to pursue my dreams.


PP: What did your parents think about the whole idea? Didn't they put you off claiming you won’t earn much of a living as a writer?

DH: No, absolutely not. They were very reasonable about it; you see my mother was a teacher and my father a sociologist, so they had a connection to literature too.


PP: What is easier for you - to write your own work or to translate something?

DH: Paradoxically, the translation process is sometimes less difficult because you have a lot of things given in advance – you don’t have to select the actual form or theme of the work and then it’s actually some kind of routine work to rewrite it somehow into Slovak. One is very free when one does creative work, but sometimes the absolute freedom can be even more binding than having some limits.


PP: Do you think that when someone is a good writer, he will be a good translator too?

DH: It is certainly not connected because I know a lot of good writers who wouldn’t make good translators. I don’t consider myself a translator, or a good one for that matter, for me it’s just a marginal matter, but I do know many translators who don’t have the ambition to become writers even if they really could be. It’s not an automatic business. Even in world literature many good writers were miserable translators.


PP: Do you have a favourite translator or translators?

DH: Sure, such translators do exist. Great Slovak translators included, for example, Branislav Hečko or Marián Andričík. I’m always interested in the name of the translator who translated the book I want to read (or am reading). Sometimes the translator’s name is a hint whether the book is translated well, or whether I should rather put it back on the shelf and not read it. Another master of his art is, for example, Karol Chmeľ, who translates from all sorts of languages including Polish or Balkan languages. When I see his name in a book, I know right away that it’s a high-class translation. 


PP: Many English words have been leaking into Slovak recently. Have you ever tried to rhyme with them?

DH: Well, yes, for example, the word “cool“ is a very useful one for this task, you can work with it very nicely because it provides many rhymes in Slovak and you can use it mockingly or expressively if you want to. I follow these new trends and styles too; it’s also material for me because it’s part of the language.


PP: What rhyming word comes to your mind when I say “prekladateľ”?

DH: Z pekla ďateľ.


PP: You also wrote lyrics for some of our singers – for example, Jana Kirschner, Paľo Habera, or Ivan Tásler. What did your collaboration with them look like?

DH: This episode of my life is nearly history now. Habera sometimes tells me platonically that he would like to record something, but I think it’s all in the past, really. I recall times when the cooperation was rather hectic, and they would rush me to write something quick, but we would rush and encourage one another in fact. At that time it was a lifestyle rather than just a creative process.


PP: You had the publishing house Hevi. What happened to it? 

DH: I don’t run it anymore because I found out that I was wasting myself carrying the books on my back. I should be writing them, not publishing.


PP: What are your activities today?

DH: I am currently writing a novel and drawing a comic book. In the Slovak National Theatre I am working on a play with the actors. I am recording a CD with my own songs, managing a few literary seminars, I am painting in my free time... I disperse myself into all directions.


PP: My last question for you is a bit informal. I was asked by my classmates to make a little survey. Do you like beer, or do you prefer wine?

DH: (laughs) I drink only at meal times – with some dishes beer tastes better, and with others a glass of wine. The colour doesn’t matter, but it has to be dry, not sweet. Speaking of drinking, I like hard liquor too. (smiles)


Although Mr Hevier doesn’t consider himself a translator, during the panel he gave us a 4-step guideline how to improve ourselves as future translators.

  1. Read texts out loud.
  1. Write in your target language.
  1. Try to translate songs taking into consideration the melody of the language, its rhythm or long and short vowels in Slovak.
  1. Tell each other anecdotes in any language.

Try it and see if it works for you.   

Lucia Augustínová  



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