04. 04. 2007. 12:41

Hungarian poets in French

in the latest issue of Action Poétique

The publication of the March 2007 (No.187) issue of the prestigious French review Action Poétique, presenting nine "new" Hungarian poets to the French reading public, deserves notice in Hungary for various reasons.

If these poets are "new", it is first of all by virtue of their youth, which was one of the criteria for the selection proposed by Henri Deluy, the editor of the review. With the exception of Endre Kukorelly, whose œuvre constitutes a possible link between the generation whose poetic efforts and formal experiments started in the 1970s–1980s and this new generation, all of them are twenty to forty years old and have a poetic œuvre with more or less firmly established characteristics.
With this review, Hungarian poetry has made a new entrée into French literature, allowing other voices to be heard than those presented in the few anthologies that saw light in France in the last few years (Dix-sept poètes hongrois, ed. Anikó Fázsy et André Doms, L’Arbre à Parole, Maison de la Poésie d’Amay, 1995; Poètes hongrois d’aujourd’hui, ed. Thomas Szende, Orpheus, Budapest, 1999; Nouvelle poésie hongroise, ed. Alain Lance et János Szávai, éditions Caractères, Paris, 2001).
As for the review Action Poétique, the last time an issue was dedicated to Hungarian poets (thirty of them, and six others from the GDR) was in 1966. The changes that have taken place ever since in the world, in ways of thinking and in artistic forms, are well reflected in this issue of the review, which has been published without interruption for more than half a century. Anna Bálint's excellent preface to this new selection of poetry offers the French reader a critical and well-considered overview of some of the stages of Hungarian literary life after World War II up to now, also treating literary strategies when faced with various kinds of censorship and social constraint, as well as the Hungarian reception (or lack of reception) to home-grown and international avant-garde. This preface is very useful for the French reader who wants to understand this era, spent behind the iron curtain, as well as the poetry of this new generation, partly determined by excesses or lack of predecessors.
This encounter with the "poetry of the other" is thus accompanied by some elements which allow us to situate it in a historical and social context as well as the formal, metrical and stylistic traditions of Hungary. The poetry presented here can often be situated according to the way it defines itself within this literary tradition – which makes it difficult and, at the same time, interesting for the foreign reader –, by breaking with it or by seeking a certain continuation that might be lacking; by following or rejecting poetic models and elements of discourse; by filling classical metrical forms with contemporary everyday objects; by deconstructing the syntax; by reinventing a lyricism which is erudite and coarse, historical and personal at the same time; and by getting rid of certain effects of language that tend to deplete or sharpen it. The authors presented here – five male: Endre Kukorelly, István Kemény, Szilárd Borbély, János Térey and Balázs Szálinger, and four female: Kriszta Bódis, Virág Erdos, Anna T. Szabó and Vera Filó – appear in a new light in another language, presented together in this issue that they share with other important documents (biopsie 12 of 1969 by the multimedia poet Bernard Heidsieck and the translation of a 1921 piece by Velimir Khlebnikov), some poems, written and drawn, as well as book reviews and reflections by contemporary artists.
The translation of these nine Hungarian poets is the collective work of translators with different backgrounds – Anna Bálint, Guillaume Métayer, Sophie Aude and Paul Legrand, all accustomed to working in several languages – with the collaboration of the chief editor of the review, Henri Deluy, and a very active member of the editors' board, Liliane Giraudon.
Neither the translation nor the selection pretends to be representative or to give definitive answers to what contemporary Hungarian poetry is, but it offers a number of paths where one may encounter and come to a new critical understanding of one's poetry when, translated, it becomes the poetry of the other.
Sophie Aude

Tags: in the latest issue of Action Poétique