The way of non-forgetting the late poet Szilárd Borbély

The half-decade that has passed since the death of Hungarian poet Szilárd Borbély has been the time of silence for both readers and literature experts. Silence of astonishment and mourning, as part of our clumsy try to express our confrontation with death, and then the world went by, leading us away from talking and letting talk.

But Szilárd Borbély’s life work is important! Even if it feels fragmented, it is complete, diverse and finished, and in many ways even more actual than it was in his life. If we do not want to forget him, or do want to non-forget him, then the poetry night in the Festival Theatre of the Müpa on the 6th of October 2020, created by Júlia Tóth-Czifra and organised by Pál Mácsai, is the best programme for us.

Evening now in Bethlehem,
the swineherds fallen still.
Gipsy musicians playing
in a dilapidated inn.

When the Three Kings arrive,
three roses red as blood.
Three wilted lilies
at the stable doors knock.

As through the tiny crevice slips
the full moon’s slender shard.
And shines yet for two more years,
like the knife on the table laid.

(Szilárd Borbély: Sequences of Christmas; translated by Rachel Mikos)

The Dispossessed, his 2013 novel is clearly the zenith of his life works – and now we know it was also the closing. It is a strong, characteristic prose that outgrows taboos and own silences, something that could say a lot back then, because it was a step forward from what we valued in Szilárd Borbély’s word already.

The Dispossessed was a tremblingly new form of expression within the life work of Borbély who kept experimenting with voices and the creation of new connections. By the time of its release, everyone thought it was the beginning of something, but shortly after it turned out that it became the end of his artistic world. Such a peak above an abyss that we have to stand upon to look over the whole work of that tragically short life.

Looking back from the end, we can see markantly that literature is no easy, joyful game for Szilárd Borbély, be it poetry or prose. It is more like self-discovery, self-crucifixion, where new paths always promise more than the ones walked on by predecessors.

That is why and how his ability to personify all kinds of voices in his poetry, also taking the responsibility of breaking taboos and clarifying aesthetics, is extremely important. He personifies women or Holocaust survivors, and that is the way of bringing absurd and grotesque elements into the most serious topics. Because we inevitably live in an absurd world anyway.

There was nothing more than there should have been,
the common residue of the last few days,
gathered by the breeze into the courtyard nooks,
until Fanny the charwoman swept them away

and into the ground-floor flat called
“Good morning!” and “What’s for lunch today?”
The sun shone down. Doves alighted on the eaves
and pockmarks on the cement were seen

each one by itself, for eternity. It was Spring.
The shutters were folded, the shades drawn.
The window opened just a crack, which was strange,
but maybe not so much. And then everyone

was seeking the cause of the peculiar smell. Evening
came, and morning again. The third day. No one
thought of the elderly couple in the ground-floor flat.
The detectives were bored. Nothing affects them

anymore. They were drunk when they got there and
guzzled even more at the drink-stand next door. The corpses
were buried quickly, because it was Easter. The case
was closed. And no one played the Dies irae.

(Szilárd Borbély: Final Matters: Death; translation by Ottilie Mulzet)

Szilárd Borbély received many prizes and scholarships throughout his active years, from the Gyula Juhász Prize in 1989 to the Miklós Mészöly Prize in 2014, but everyone who knew his introversion could guess that in his case, it was really the works that won the prizes. Works that you can still read – works that you should still read! Because this life work is not important for the author anymore. It is important for us, the surviving ones, the readers.

“Poem is like a divination tool, like the tarot. Condensed symbols that connect to a state of mind, a moment, a little part of time that is very personal, as it is revealed through the human being. Not an individual moment, I have to emphasise, but a personal moment. It is the moment of the persona which can be swapped with a very specific form of existing.”

These were his words in an interview, and maybe we can get closer to this divination tool at the upcoming literature evening on the 6th of October 2020.

Article: Hahó Grozdits

Translation: Zsófia Hacsek