10. 03. 2014. 10:09

Poem of the month - Kassák: The Horse Dies the Birds Fly Away

There is no chance for us to grasp the sense of freedom of those ‘guerillas’ who took the risk of self-annihilation as they sat in the bomb-crater, having just blown up the history of art.

Last week I visited the representative exhibition of the Hungarian National Gallery on Surrealism and Dada. There were no surprises, I could say, yet I’m not going to say that. For even though I knew most of the works, there were many I hadn’t yet encountered yet in their “objective reality,” especially the foundational works of modernist movements. I hadn’t yet seen Duchamp’s ready-made objects, Arp’s sculptures, or Man Ray’s objects at an arm’s length. I gazed at the pissoir, the hatrack; gestures that radically subvert the timespace of the museum even today, and I felt dizzy. There is no chance for us to grasp the sense of freedom of those ‘guerillas’ who took the risk of self-annihilation as they sat in the bomb-crater, having just blown up the history of art. What happened in those years is equal to the significance of rock paintings. It is the bold attempt at emancipating the creative forces slumbering within each person that we can witness at the Gallery.

The exhibition is divided into two sections, the first is on international Surrealism and Dada, the second shows their reverberations in Hungarian art, including the emblematic figure of Hungarian avant-garde, Lajos Kassák. Which made me think of his flood of a poem.

What a phenomenal opening! Expressive and surreal, heartrending and uplifting. And it continues that way, testifying to “a man’s life” (this is the title of Kassák’s autobiography), that is, our life, and that of an era which is no longer ours. Or is it?

There were so many things flying over us in the course of the years, but a nickel samovar (see last line of poem) is certainly not one of them. There are no such sentences today; there cannot be. The experiment is over. We are fumbling about, perplexed, polishing our sentences with a rag, hoping that, eventually, we will end up with a samovar. We won’t.

Now I heard time neighing I mean it parrotishly spread its wings
I say gapingwide red gate
with my lover black diamonds bricked into her face and
trailing 3 children
in desperation
we sat under factory chimneys
we knew tomorrow the winding lines
ho zhoop ho zhoop
and she said my Kashi I know you’re going off and for me it’s
shrivelling on the daïs and modelling for mister nadler’s
cacocanvases
what else
what else
the lord god lets pretty women slip out of his mind
already the demichrist the woodcarver is here
young reeking with truth not to be put down
tomorrow we’ll be over the hungarian border
well yes h’m yes
what else what else
the city flew past
squirmed to and fro and then reared up (...)

(…) the rivers will splinter in shreds if they have to hurry
gentlemen can hardly walk on two legs like sparrows
we know women leave their husbands
the monkeys examined their backsides in mister goldmann’s
mirrors and have absolutely no complaints
say I could play chess
yet I’m really good at nothing
my love waited for me pregnant at angyalföld station
my mother in her poverty was already a lemonhead
I could have laughed in front of them but embarrassment
took over
for I had two pairs of trousers on and no underpants
certainly the poet can either construct something that pleases him

or he's at liberty to collect cigar-stubs

or

or

birds have devoured the voice

yet the trees went on singing

this is already a sign of old age

but it means nothing

I am LAJOS KASSÁK

and our heads twist up for the flight of the nickel samovar.

The poem can be read in its entirety in the Summer 2007 issue of The Hungarian Quarterly.

Lajos Jánossy

Tags: Lajos Kassák