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22 January 2019

Hungarian Transylvanian Poets – Part II


 

DOMOKOS SZILÁGYI
 

Domokos Szilágyi (1938–1976), poet, writer and translator, is considered an important figure in Transylvanian literature. He graduated from the Hungarian university of Kolozsvár with a degree in Hungarian Language and Literature in 1960. From that time until 1970, he worked as editor for periodicals in Kolozsvár and Bucharest while turning out a number of books, which included his own poetry and translations. His innovative use of language and breaking up the conventional forms of poetry put him in the forefront among his peers. He was married to Gizella Hervay for two years, but battled often-recurring episodes of depression. He committed suicide in 1976.

 
 

What Can the Poet Do?

 

What indeed can our poet do?

He can fill the sky

by scribbling stars all over it

while the astronomers are asleep.

He can fill the garden by scribbling roses in it

while May is asleep.

He can fill the beach by scribbling sunshine on it

while the sun is asleep.

Oh, he can find a hundred and one

ways to get around the procrastinators!

He can scribble hope to fill

time in rapid flight

while the people are asleep.


 

ÁRPÁD FARKAS

 

Árpád Farkas was born in 1944 in a Hungarian village where his ancestors had farmed until the land was taken away by the Communist regime. While attending Babeş–Bolyai University (1961–1966) he started publishing in periodicals, and in 1967 his work was included in the anthology Vitorla (Sail). His first poetry volume, Másnapos ének (Hangover Song), came out in 1968. Numerous others followed, including several books of translations, most notably one in 1985 featuring works by Ana Blandiana, a Romanian poet who was blacklisted by the Communist regime. In his poetry, he often speaks out for the survival of his ethnic Hungarian minority in Romania. Farkas helped compile Maradok (I Remain). A selection of his poems, including the two featured here, will soon be published under the title Tunnels in the Snow.

 

Abroad

Salzburg, 1969
 

I’m hanging out here under Europe’s bright-lit windows

with the moonlight’s heavenly lime dripping from my face,

clawed red by the wind, enwrapped by a shower:

the waters of the Danube and Olt pour

and wash the tatters of my mantle.

 

Driven by hunger, your sole son has strayed far from the herd

and staggers in your winds, oh liberty!

Through the veils of rain

he feels the century’s blind face,

with mud-caked boots he keeps on kicking

Mozart’s cradle: – let him bawl!

 

I bump into everything!

All I want is just to walk on nicely, whistling in the rain,

(the china houses weep when I splatter mud on them),

and whispering sweet nothings to the foliage in secret

(while knocking the castle off the hill

with my clumsy elbow! The statue of the ETERNAL SONGSTER

turns to dust when I try a tune!).

 

My rain-soaked, homesick shadow is cast

only to the moon from here,

oh, Twentieth Century!

 

Though at home how peaceful and how open the herd is now,

steaming and fattening, pressed against the planks!

At the end of the first millennium of the great migrations

I cannot picture a better home

than there,

where even the brother bites your back,

not only the friend,

where the people chump on the flowers of barbarian pastures,

warm up by their stench,

and bare their knuckles for mere morsels of civilisation!

 

I’m hanging out here under Europe’s open windows,

a sudden wild squall blows the moonlight off my face,

all the way back home.

 

Old Folks

They’re sitting in the opalescent weather

under the eaves; it’s snowing, coming

down in enormous Central-Asian flakes.

 

Lambs are coming down or rabbits,

neighing milk-white stallions –:

with them winter plays fairy tales.

 

Some drawing emerges from behind

the rough curtain of snowfall –:

King Dul’s naked daughters dance.

 

The old folks get up with arms stretched,

and hesitantly, like the blind, they merge

with the shower of the shining light.


 

ZSÓFIA BALLA
 

Zsófia Balla was born in 1949 into an ethnic Hungarian Jewish family, a minority within a minority in Kolozsvár. Her public upbringing, anti-Hungarian and atheist, was prevalent at that time. Her father, a writer, introduced her to Hungarian literature, her mother taught her Jewish traditions. Her higher education was devoted to music (violin); on graduation she got a job with the music department of a Hungarian-language radio station. At the same time she started publishing her poems. When Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu closed down the radio station, she got a job as an editor. In the meantime her poetry gained popularity, as well as the attention of the authorities, and she was blacklisted for five years. During that time she received an award from the Romanian Writers Guild. After the regime change she moved to Hungary to work for a literary journal. She has published twelve volumes of poetry and received most major poetry prizes in Hungary.

 

Embrace

 

On a steep slope a breath shower.

The scattered red

mercury-balloons of touch.

 

The baby-beat of non-existence

that finds its way into the ocean.

Crimson rattle.

 

The meltdown of a rasp.

Powder snow unloosed

 

On the crest, on the blade.

At a downhill pace.

 

Call it a fragile pause. Call it

a teeny, unselfconscious death.


 

When You Came Home
 

At last, when you arrived at home

the gleam and glint were all in place

but I could not stand the waiting

and rushed ahead to hug your face.
 

At last, when you arrived at home

the drip was barely hanging in

the faucet, and the soap was dying

in its dish to touch your skin.

 

At last, when you arrived at home and

your footsteps began to tease the door,

just to be with you the sooner

I jumped down from the second floor.

 

 

ZOLTÁN BÖSZÖRMÉNYI

 

Zoltán Böszörményi, born in 1953, was educated in the Transylvanian-Hungarian area of Romania. As a young poet he was harassed by the Communist authorities of that time. He had no choice but escape, eventually finding a new home in Canada where he graduated from York University and got a job with an advertising agency. After the fall of Communism he went back to Romania to resume his literary career. He has published two novels in Paul Sohár’s translation: Far from Nothing (Exile Editions, Canada, 2006) and The Club at Eddie’s Bar (Phaeton Press, Ireland, 2013). His novel The Refugee was recently published in Berlin in German translation. He is working with Sohár on his first English poetry volume The Conscience of Trees, for Ragged Sky Press.

 
 

Holiday Fever
 

if the heart, if the heart,

if only the heart stopped that rattle”

Domokos Szilágyi,

The Book of the Old

 

the heart is rattling

celebration is no trivial matter

you need an occasion

 

(an occasion that may or

may not put you in the mood)

if something is about to commence or come to an end

it also holds in itself the holiday

in which the doubt

and invention

the opportunity

to invite the gods

like in the Greek tragedies

let them glisten like gold nuggets like

salt rocks brought up from the mine

when they meet with sunshine

and playful time smiles at them

 

the body too adapts to the holiday

chests swell up

spines become ramrod straight

although clumsily nature too pitches in

even helps with the memorial service

it rolls out the fog curtains of alabaster dawns

in front of the occupants of the stage

on the blinking screen hung in space

it plays back the cavalcade of memory tatters

(replaying what cannot be replayed)

 

we must let the tension dissipate

it’s good general well-being

the play-acting

mortals see a show like this only once in a lifetime

if they live to see that one

(nobody forces them to

take the bus to the bullfight in Acapulco

at four in the afternoon in tired heat

even one show is too many

disgusting slaughterhouse

bloodbath drowned in cruelty

the joyless drops of fear lashing the windowpane

on the other hand

this too is a kind of holiday)

 

Judas is desire

indecision in shards is a warm comforter

covers you with unlikely blue

the way the sky and sea used to wiggle

for eyes hungry for spectacle

reeling heights and depths on the retina of imagination

a holiday logo

coming from nothing to sing of its woe into the void

 

 

Francesco Petrarca

 

I’m not at home in the hills of Arqua

Here, like everywhere, I’m a foreigner.

My father sent me to study law but it’s

Reading Cicero and Virgil I prefer.

 

The landscape fills my heart with glow,

Devils and angels keep haunting me.

I survived Florence and Avignon,

To sonnet though I can’t claim paternity.

 

As someone well-versed in prosody,

I hold Latin syllables under my tongue,

Laura’s eyes are my constant company,

 

Where the people are neither old nor young.

Ulysses fate follows my fate wherever I go,

In the unclouded sky of Padua I’m the glow.

 
 

GÉZA SZŐCS

 

Géza Szőcs, poet, writer, journalist and politician, was born in 1953 in Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mureş), Romania, into an urban ethnic Hungarian family. He published his first volume of poetry as a student at the Hungarian and Russian Departments of Babeş–Bolyai University in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca). After graduation in 1978 he worked for a newspaper until 1979, when he left to study at the University of Vienna on a Herder Scholarship for a year. Back in Romania, his journalistic and literary career was hampered by harassment from the Securitate, the political police, for activities on behalf of his ethnic minority. In 1986 he was allowed to move to Switzerland. The regime change made it possible for him to return home. Since then he supplemented his writing career with various political and editorial positions in Hungary. His poems have been published in Chinese, French, Italian, Romanian, and recently in English: Liberty, Rats and Sandpaper (Iniquity Press, 2016). Poems featured here are from his early period, written in the surrealist world of a totalitarian society in the style he developed then and continues to use in the present day.

 

Indian Words on the Radio

To poet William Least Heat Moon

 

The Indians of the prairie will not let us down.

Others yes, but not them, they will not let us down.

Had they known what was to take place at Segesvár

but they knew not what was to take place at Segesvár

surely they would have shown up too,

some would have known they were coming too:

General papa Bem, the Indians are coming, they would have said,

one morning to papa Bem this is what they would have said:
 

across the Bering Strait

across the Bering Strait

an Indian cavalry is on its way,

cutting across Siberia

cutting its way to us

it’s coming to our aid –

 

the valiant officers would have talked like this,

tossing their gold-braided hats up in the air.

 

My Indian brother, we haven’t even got a reservation.

Ghetto, Bantustan, a reservation

sometimes would be fine with us, but we have none.

The tribe gets together in the cafe,

we stand around a lot in the cafe.

Miss, don’t spare the Indian pie.

That’s what we say but to ourselves we think

but to ourselves we actually think:

 

some day a few Indians

across the Bering Strait

across any kind of strait

will cut their way through to us

to come to our aid

to come to our aid.

 

The Indians do not let anybody down.

The Indians will not let us down.

 

 

When You Become the U.S. President

 

when you become the u.s. president

and with golden water pistols in your pocket

you play cops-and-robbers by yourself

in the corridors of the white house

or else you walk outside to stand on the democratic demarcation line

or walk out to stand on the dividing line or the continental divide

you drink a cocktail of nitric acid so you can tell base metals from gold,

when you separate evil from good

and the useless from the useful:

one imperceptible move and you can’t tell

if you’ve stepped over the hill

to the other side of your life

or you are still here

 

*

 

the continental divide and a cocktail of acids,

you’re past the halftime

 

you’ll play hide and seek

and bury the black box containing your last words

in the basement of the white house,

you’ll be digging in the basement of the white house

with a computer crucifix on your forehead, wearing galoshes

and the hot line twisted around your neck,

when you become the u.s. or the russian president.




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