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There Is a land: Selected Poems. (Hungarian).

Sandor Kanyadi There Is a Land: Selected Poems Peter Zollman, tr. George Szirtes, pref. Budapest. Corvina. 2000. 104 pages ISBN 963-13-4904-7

THERE IS A LAND CONTAINS eighty-one poems in the English translation of Peter Zollman, plus a four-page preface by George Szirtes. From the latter the reader will learn that Sandor Kanyadi is a Transylvanian Hungarian poet, both popular and populist, committed to (the cause of) his birthplace and possessing a poetic voice not unlike that of Charles Causley. What we do not learn from Szirtes -- but will guess from the poems -- is that Transylvania, Erdely, was so Hungarian in spirit for a thousand years that its inhabitants believed, "Here you have to live, to die." This dictum, written 150 years ago by the great Hungarian poet Mihaly Vorosmarty, has now been turned on its head. The people stayed, the country moved on, acceded to Romania. The Transylvanian poet, doggedly keeping to the Hungarian language and, what is more, making it shine in classic Hungarian rhythms, in West European cadences, and in free verse, quarrels with history -- not necessarily with border changes or with political systems, but with language absorption and cultural aggression: "I wear it as I wear my skin / tormented but still beauty-graced / landscapes where the bitter taste / that fouls my mouth is purified / there is a land deep deep inside."

Kanyadi, as the notes at the end of the volume remind us, is the recipient of the highest Hungarian honor, the Kossuth Prize, and the author of at least five hundred poems. I presume that the selection for this book was made by the poet himself, and as an introductory volume to him in English, it is fairly representative of his poetic range, although not of his themes. It certainly has his most well-loved and most frequently quoted piece, "All Soul's Day in Vienna," whose Hungarian text is in front of me. The translation is accurate, and thus the poem is as soul-searching in English as it is in Hungarian. Elsewhere, more often than not, Kanyadi is a playful poet, playing not with emotions but with words, rhymes, and iambics in a way that imparts a lightness of touch and softens the hard days of our existence: "don't look behind because your loved ones / are not following in your track / it's time to find a tree and hang there / your worn-out empty haversack" ("Going Away"). You gasp at the end of the third line, but then you read the last; your worst fears are not realized.

The penultimate verse in the book is, in a way, a personal favorite, partly because I heard the poet read it, partly because I kept reading it to my boy, but mainly because it is children's poetry at its best -- and the poet had the courage to use it here, in a poetry volume for adults. The translation also shows Peter Zollman at his best: inventive, ingenious. The translator is also spot on with "After-Midnight Dialect." This very courageous poem is the present tense of a future, centuries ahead, where a "half nomadic sect" jabbers "in an after-midnight dialect." It is an ethnographic fact that the Gypsies of Transylvania are on the increase -- like it or not, like them or not. The poet does not condemn them, but he steers quite close to what is and what isn't politically correct. There is a land.... Yes, the land is the same, the borders are not, and even the population can change, change beyond recognition. Facing this fact requires ultimate courage.
Thomas Kabdebo
Maynooth University (Ireland)
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Kabdebo, Thomas
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2001
Words:593
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