04. 04. 2006. 18:03

The seriousness of invention

Roland Acsai: Tunnel Days

The poets of this generation are talking about issues radically and unforeseeably new. Still, at the same time, we seem to understand them pretty well.

Exceptionally pure and powerful, Roland Acsai’s third volume of poems has a poetical language with potentials at least as exciting as the achievement itself. Alagútnapok (Tunnel Days) informs the reader of a new phenomenon or tendency – namely, that a new generation of poets has emerged, a generation that represents a new poetical mentality marked by purity of language, artistic consciousness and self-reflection. All of the writers of this generation work with a concept. Their relation to Hungarian lyrical tradition is described by artistic freedom and craftsmanship. The new language they have been inventing is neither spectacular nor programmatic, neither avant-garde nor belonging to any movement.

Young writers of today are not left to fend for themselves; many people contribute to realizing the potentials of a given literary career. Let me mention just a few names. Dániel Varró is probably the writer who gets the highest degree of media attention in Hungary, Orsolya Karafiáth is a media personality, and Ákos Gyorffy got much public attention last year with the help of Hungary’s leading literary internet portal, Litera. All three of them are good examples of how powerful editorial and media support can be. Thorough editorial planning and quality work on the behalf of editors and critics are both important factors in supporting young writers. Also, it is very important for authors not to be left on their own.

The questions this generation of poets has been raising are altogether new. The meaning of their texts will be easier to access later from the point of view of historical reception. The novelties I am talking about are not superficial, syntactical or lexical ones – these poets are perfect speakers of the language of a given poetic tradition. They are semantic novelties: the poets of this generation are talking about issues radically and unforeseeably new. Still, at the same time, we seem to understand them pretty well.

Roland Acsai speaks a crystal-clear language in Tunnel Days. Both his themes and language point towards the classic poetic tradition of Hungarian literature. They evoke, for example, texts by Dezso Kosztolányi and Lajos Parti Nagy. The latter mocked the turn-of-the-century metaphor of illness, turning the metaphor into a language game, a poetic self-reflection without the possibility of linguistic representation. The Great Metaphor permeating this volume points towards the metaphors of illness, malaise and depression. Depression, which, as an illness of our civilization, has been getting more and more attention, makes sickness a poetical metaphor, just as neurosis and tuberculosis did in the nineteenth century. Depression, not unlike influenza, is marked by acute symptoms and is primarily interesting as a cultural attitude, since it creates a culture of its own. A whole set of cultural and consumers’ accessories – such as medicines and therapy tools – are associated with the phenomenon. Poetry is sickness rather than therapy. Invention proves it.

Invention. With the help of invention, Acsai evokes the voices of György Petri and Endre Kukorelly, both of whom invented new techniques of invention, and he finds the poetic possibilities manifesting themselves in language, in everyday trivialities and in the lyrical (but not sentimental or romantic) dispositions of the mind – exposing themselves in the fragmentation and the automatisms of consciousness. Poetry is neither a sentiment, nor the pathos of self-assertion, nor the tiresome cultural struggle of creating the self. First and foremost, poetry is language, the instant force of linguistic initiation and exploration. Poetry is invention, just as in classic poetics and rhetoric, the ancestors of conceptual artistic programs. Renewing invention is a conscious work, and it is presented in poetic action. This classic poetic technique is typical of Roland Acsai’s language and themes. The poetic text finds its shape in the course of invention, while, on the other hand, the theme itself determines the mode in which it is represented. Simile is another classic instrument of this kind of poetry.

Simile. Similes are instruments of linguistic fittingness and disparity. The linguistic tool of simile, and especially comparative simile, has been devalued in recent theories, although it has been present in poetic practice. It is a fundamental linguistic device, creating connections between language and the material world, between linguistically expressible phenomena and those recognised by consciousness. Simile is an ancient device closely associated with invention, and Roland Acsai masters it. The organic bond between simile and allegory is palpable in the texts of this volume. The poems interpret the similes, unveiling, in the end, the ultimate dissimilarity obscured by the figure of speech.

Rhyme. Blazoning the connection between words with elemental force, rhyme is a device for elaborating the invention hiding in similes. The shabbiness of rhyming, a tool for breaking and, at the same time, structuring the poetic sentence, emphasizes the inner logics of figurative speech. Acsai’s rhymes are not typically beautiful. They are often naïve, often redundant. Nevertheless, they cannot conceal Acsai’s powerful poetic vision.

Szilárd Borbély

Translated by Dóra Elekes
Poems by Roland Acsai on HLO: Living Thus, Sad Sack
Roland Acsai: Alagútnapok
Budapest: Új Palatinus, 2005

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