Monday, July 20, 2009

The Lyric Life with David Hill

David Hill ConsumedI am kind of on a poetry jag here, and see no real reason to abandon it at this point. The truth is that Pilvax gets so many more poetry submissions than we could possibly publish, thus it is nice to dedicate some space to verse here. It is interesting that, in terms of popularity, few genres of writing sell less than poetry. Even Pulizer Prize winning poets sell fewer, sometimes far fewer, than ten-thousand copes of their work. Most major publishing houses no longer consider poetry commercially viable. But poetry as a democratic art form is alive and well. Why is that? At my most cynical, editorial-minded, I believe it is because it is the least objective form of writing. Anything goes in free verse, and it takes a sensitive, well-trained mind to distinguish the real thing from the imposters. Or, more generously, I believe there is a real human need for poetry. It is the most elegant and expressive form of writing, and indeed, a poem like Sándor Petőfi’s Nemzeti Dal can change the world we live in.

One poet that did manage to get past the Pilvax radar was Budapest’s original lit-dude, David Hill, a co-founder of the Bardroom, Budapest's forum for live readings in English. His poetry is unique in its tempo, pith, and, above all, wit. His verse walks the tightrope between erudition and accessibility, and is the kind of stuff former editors of magazines like the New Yorker championed. Both Aaron and I were attracted to David’s work long before we conceived of Pilvax, and were thrilled to publish an array of his verse in Pilvax 4, including one Hill poem on the back cover. Below you will find a brief interview with David Hill, followed by a selection from his new book Consumed published last year by Ken Arnold Books in the United States.

Pilvax: What is the best pun with your name?

David Hill: Someone pointed out to me once (at a party in Budapest) that "Dave Hill" sounds a bit like "Devil." He speculated that I was actually Satan in disguise. That appealed to me quite a lot, although it requires some effort to make the pun work. It helps if you put on a Spanish accent. A few years ago, I went through a phase of writing poems that contained puns on my name, specifically in order to get around the irritating anonymity requirements that are common in writing competitions. But they were rather bad puns. No doubt that's why I didn't win anything.

: What are a few things that surprised you about your move to the States?

David Hill: I didn't know the Pacific Northwest was so beautiful. And not just when you're visiting a waterfall, walking along the coast, gazing down into the Columbia Gorge or strolling in downtown Portland. Even if you're just shopping at some strip mall, coming out of the store to see the big sky and the coniferous forests on the horizon can be breathtaking.

Pilvax: How in this day of constricting publishing industry did you get a book of poetry published?

David Hill
: I read in a writers' newsletter that this publisher was open to queries from writers. I sent in a resume and a work sample, they liked it, and we took it from there. To put that in context, though, I work in writing and publishing all the time (journalism as well as entertainment/arts things). I don't do anything else. So I'm always sending out stuff and keeping my eye on different information sources for opportunities. Most things don't lead to anything. This one did.

: What else are you working on currently?

David Hill: I'm working with a composer in Portland on a piece for the Third Angle ensemble. The piece includes some narration, and I'm helping out with the text. It will be premiered early next year. I've been cooperating with the Hungarian band Little Cow since 2006. I translate their lyrics so they can record their songs in English for international release. There's an album in the works right now, which will be the third one I have worked on with them. Besides those projects, I have some ongoing gigs in online and print journalism.


Our names are on the headstones of our husbands,
Awaiting date of death. This warms our hearts.
Our friend's the man who makes the region's shop signs;
Our kids patrol their land in horse-drawn carts.

This spring the storks, fashionably untended,
With unkempt nests for nodding over brood,
Low-flying, halfway tame, wholly enchanted,
Did not home here. Nor did the frogs, their food.

First year I can remember when they didn't.
The lanes are filled with stork-news nonetheless,
White petals star-splayed, mimicking our village,
Whose spread arms pose as streets in our address.

Strange, changes. Now we're on a brand new railroad;
Vladivostok to Adriatic Sea;
At space-age white pavilions load and unload
One-car electric trains, infrequently.

Needing bridges

Each bridge defines a stretch of the flat town,
Lords over it; and makes its road continue
Deep into it; keeps taut its pulsing sinew—
But wartime photos show those bridges down,

And one ad-hoc bridge that was soon destroyed.
Plaques, pointing statues, tell the tale. It throws me.
I dream how this wet air might still enclose me,
Walking out on the flat face of that void...

The hilly town, sure in its bluff terrain,
Of course, has its own shape, is less in need.
This tram I'm in now, fastening the river,

That marbles with unnecessary rain,
Stanches the doubt. Up there we view, we read,
We live; a bridge would be how we deliver.


Despite being communists,
The leaders of Romania
Between World War Two and 1989
Were also nationalists.

Towns which had always
Borne Hungarian or German names
Were officially rebaptized
With Romanian ones.

My parents' village slipped through the net
And kept the same name
Throughout those atheist days.
Gottlob. Praise God.


I do find Transylvania congenial:
Haunting a forest or Saxon town.
The tourists love me, but it's all quite menial.
Moldavia is where I wore the crown.

A corner of first Rome's then Kiev's empire,
I stood for all things Caesar never tames.
Werewolf, vermicolacius, or vampire:
My legend, like my towns, had many names.

Hero of global culture, I grew slicker,
Perfected chilling smiles and licked my lips.
But long before fresh blood became my liquor,
I ate the sun and moon. I was eclipse.

Between the mouths of Dnister and of Duna
Is still where I return to rear my young.
I teach them somnul dulce, noapte bună:
Our vowel-rich Thraco-Latin mother-tongue.

Lying Still

After a few nights of
Going to sleep in the searing heat
Drunk on fine fruit spirits,
I found my sheets took on a strange smell:

A headier, purer,
Double-distilled potion filled my sweat.
Soon I'll be fermenting,
Be a reaction, be truly still.

Matt Henderson Ellis is a freelance manuscript editor and author coach working with writers who publish in print and digitally.

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