Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Case for László Sárközi

Some day you will be able to talk about László Sárközi without having to mention that he is a Roma (and one of the very few Roma poets publishing in Hungary today). But now, for better or worse, he is burdened with that mantle and all the expectation and associations that come with being a gypsy writer in post-communist Central Europe.

Pilvax was lucky enough to be the first literary review to publish Sárközi in English. But getting Sárközi in print proved to be a challenge. For starters, he is not an easy man to find. I had to go through an intermediary, who kept promising me Sárközi, but whenever we were supposed to meet, the writer was indisposed. I finally did catch up with him, at a private writers’ canteen in Pest. He could only manage to make a scrawl on the publishing agreement as his writing hand was mostly unusable due to an incident that was either a bar fight or a slip on the pavement (the explanation was vague, as was about everything that came from Sárközi’s mouth). The second time I met him, he was in a hospital near Marczibányi Tér, where he was recovering from another mysterious accident, which left him slightly crippled. When offered cab fare to attend a reading of his work, he declined, preferring to take the tram. He did show up at the reading though, along with a gang of thuggish guys who tried the patience of just about everybody around them. Later I was informed that they were his former residents of the orphanage he was raised in.

There are many stories surrounding Sárközi and talking to him in person did little to distinguish the truth from the mythologizing. I know he was raised in an orphanage, and was discovered and mentored by the infamous Hungarian poet György Faludy. It is also said he was homeless (unlikely – there are relatively few homeless gypsies in Budapest – they tend to squat or live communally). What is for sure is that he is forever getting in accidents or otherwise injuring his body, his place of residence is constantly changing, and anybody seriously interested in contemporary Hungarian poetry knows his name. Sárközi may be obscure as a person, but his poetry blossoms in gorgeous imagery and is chiseled and rigorous in style. He is a genuine talent, and perhaps a genius. And, what he has made for himself in this life, he made through the craft of poetry, which is unlikely for a person of any race.

Below is a portion of László Sárközi’s Inner World: A Sonnet Wreath, expertly translated by Andrew Singer (the entire fifteen sonnet cycle was previously published in Pilvax Issue 3).

I. Night

I walk the valley of green and silent dreams
and still don’t know where I will be tomorrow;
my moods propel me, they drive me far,
anticipating night, craving respite.

Nightfall is a scaly wound, and then
night’s well holds the moon – a brave warrior’s fate
in shining armor; recoiling to die again.

Down endless streets, new streets run
and where this movement ends, I’ve no idea.
I straddle the border-stone, gazing at naught.

Cold flash, and yellow lamp regards me,
light glints off blue-musted cobblestones:
with ten thousand solitudes, the night caresses,
where a black moon renders every shadow brown.

II. Beggar’s Sonnet

Where a black moon renders every shadow brown,
from a dirty cardboard box a beggar coughs,
his dog poking him – “Leave me, it still hurts so…” –
and eying his master in a Faithful Zen Ring.
The dwarf shifts cannily; no one cares;
he is crawling now on backward-facing knees;
now he throws his cup pugnaciously down:
dawn’s anger recoils on marble walls.
So I wandered by with pocketed hands
and spat into the beggar’s jolting cup –
may the rest be veiled and then forgotten…
but neither of us turned lighter from it.
I’m wretched: good intention has died in me.
My twenty-nine years are just a giddy game.

III. Facing Eternity

My twenty-nine years are just a giddy game,
one day I am ornate; the next I’m plain,
an endless whirl of good and bad design.

My life is like a dream – it comes to naught,
realizing absurdly the weight of the grave –
nor is the stone’s perfume enjoyed in moss.

Whatever I build is in vain, for windmills
and dusty lips are rumbling from the past,
for all is fleeting that once was joy:
the once-shining diamond shall be as ash.

My light fades, morning falls to night –
Once you regaled the evergreen dark
Pandora: a box forever opened, as
I go on – shivering, wounded by light.

About the author: Matt Ellis is an author coach and manuscript editor at Word Pill Editing. Have a look here for an affordable Manuscript Critique.

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