Paul Sohar translating Zoltán Böszörményi


“The inventory’s done.” Nothing more. Whitewashed wall.
Croupier in ceaseless winter. Stake piled on stake.
Two crickets fiddling. That’s all.

The kettle’s empty in the kitchen. Suppers incinerate.
Book, booze, nothing doing, blue skunk cabbage, blue.
Muddy city gate.

My freshly pressed shirt. Give it to you off my back.
I’ll put them to sleep, should doubts attack.
You’re true stuff. Nothing. Just enough.

** ** ** **

Huge, Yellow Fairy Tales (Nagy sárga meséket)

I’m rounding up a herd of nerves,
huge, yellow tales: my childhood,
the cadet keeps running
with a howling olive-branch flag in his hand
and playing with an air gun near my heart.

The anxious two-year-old
creates a smile oasis
like a freshly opened gift package
and defeats the huge yellow fairy tales:
he confiscates my childhood,
my toy horsewhip
and, shrugging his shoulder,

he whacks my nerves into docile
domestic stock.

** ** ** **

GLEAM SLIVER  (Fényszilank) 

A horde of butterflies taking off.
For a moment of truth a breath is enough.
Overused molds. Maybe sins.
On its see-through spots, fever begins.
Its sac is damp and melts like tulle.
The fragrant glaze holds on to the morning shine.
No joke, no confession coerced.
No boundaries.
Silence and passion are so many quarries,
but there’s no one to share them with you.
On a flimsy twig a wee little bird.
Its beaks open and close, its eyes slivers of gleam.
It takes off, but where to?
The brash century takes a seat.
And shuts your mouth for you.

** ** ** **

The Dust of my Existence (Létem pora)

A void inside me urges me on to great things,
I’ve become the crow’s nest of zealous words.
Weakness holds out the fulfillment of strength.
It halts. It comes to life in creative works.

The void is fertile. I’ve seen huge fires die,
the lava of volcanoes come to belly crawl.
Light is hungry, straw flame, an icon, deity.
There’s a spirit I in invisible loyalty.

Emptiness is all, it raised me as I am,
the time on my knees is Scythian.
Prodigal nonexistence is eyeing me,
I’m a dispersed cloud, failure and success;
my guard is the iron hand of nothingness.
The dust of my existence washed out to sea.

** ** ** **

Introduction to Zoltán Böszörményi’s Poetry

Most poets can be best described by the environment that formed them, but what can you say about Zoltán Böszörményi, who largely formed his own environment? He was born Transylvanian-Hungarian in Romania where Hungarians form a barely tolerated ethnic minority, where it would have been much easier for him to accept the majority identity and all the advantages that came with it. Yet, he chose to identify himself as a Hungarian and nourish his mind on Hungarian history and cultural heritage, a choice that eventually had a definitive role in his poetic consciousness. However, shortly after publishing his first volume of poetry, he was hauled into the dreaded State Security headquarters for an overnight stay in an interrogation room before he was let go with a warning to stay away from his circle of poets. Seeing no future for himself in communist dictatorship he fled to Austria, to eventually find a new home in Canada. There was no persecution there but little demand for his Hungarian poetry. After a rocky start and with great effort he worked himself up from a position as hotel janitor to car salesman while learning English and philosophy at York University, finally landing a job with an advertizing agency. There was little time for poetry; this was a period of opening up to a new world and a wider perspective for his mind. Soon he took advantage of another historical situation to take another tack; in 1989 communism collapsed, and Böszörményi went back to Romania. Using his business experience he started a Hungarian publishing firm, putting out a weekly newspaper, a quarterly literary journal and books of prose and poetry. He was also able to restart his writing career, adding prose to his poetry; his adventurous escape and varied experiences in the Western World combined with his knowledge of the contemporary intellectual currents of Central Europe gave him plenty of material and inspiration as well. As his publishing venture got off the ground he was able to divide his time between the two sides of the Atlantic and concentrate on his writing. His work creates a world of its own by sifting words in an effort to find the meaning of life, like gold diggers sift through dirt to find riches. Thus his poetry, while it is Hungarian in language and cultural influences, can be best described as cosmopolitan in the positive sense of it: being open to the ideas and the intellectual ferment of the world and concerning itself with the world of reality out there. This also explains its eclectic nature when it comes to form; the voice remains authentic going from free verse to rhymed poetry as the mood or the theme requires. He speaks five languages, Romanian, Hungarian, German, English and French, but he can best express himself in his mother tongue, Hungarian. And poetry is not just a form of expression but a way of life, at least for true poets.

Paul Sohar has been writing and publishing in every genre, including seventeen volumes of translations, the latest being Silver Pirouettes, Gyorgy Faludy’s poetry (Ragged Sky Press, Princeton, 2017). His own poetry: Homing Poems (Iniquity Press, 2006) and The Wayward Orchard, a Wordrunner Press Prize winner (2011). Other awards: first prize in the 2012 Lincoln Poets Society contest, and a second prize from RI Writers Circle contest (2014). Translation prizes: the Irodalmi Jelen Translation Prize (2014), Toth Arpád Translation Prize and the Janus Pannonius Lifetime Achievement Award (both in 2016, Budapest, Hungary). Magazine credits include Agni, Gargoyle, Kenyon Review, Rattle, Poetry Salzburg Review, and Seneca Review.

Zoltán Böszörményi (1953-), a Romanian-Hungarian poet and novelist, was born and educated in the Transylvanian-Hungarian area of Romania, but as a young poet he moved to Canada where he graduated from York University. After the fall of communism he went back to Romania to resume his literary career. He has published two novels in Sohar’s English translation: Far from Nothing (Exile Editions, Canada, 2006) and The Club at Eddie’s Bar (Phaeton Press, Ireland, 2013). His novel “The Refugee” just came out in Berlin in German translation. Now he is working with Sohar on a selection of his poems in English translation: The Conscience of Trees