Friday, January 30, 2009

George Gömöri: Polishing October

George Gömöri's history shows in his poetry. He was born in Hungary in 1934, fled to England because of his involvement in the Hungarian revolution of 1956, and came to rest in England where he taught Polish and Hungarian at the University of Cambridge. Recently, her Excellency Tuge-Erecinska, Ambassador of Poland in London, presented him with a "diploma," a document of his membership in the Krakow-based PAU (Polska Akademia Umiejetnosci). He is the only Hungarian member of this academy which counts among its members Umberto Eco and Andrzej Wajda.

George Gömöri's poems -- like his essays -- are smart, engaged, and impassioned--a combination hard to turn away from.

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Polishing October is his thirteenth book of poems, his second in English, and the poet George Szirtes says this about it:

"George Gömöri's lyric poetry is a mix of passion and irony, the irony itself always informed by passion. His political poems learn their lessons from a history where the small get their heads kicked in by the great who use them for footballs. There is a certain wry comedy involved in the process but the stakes are high: defeat and exile are for real, as is the pain."

Many of George Gömöri's poems contain Polish subjects and echoes, but one that I find especially moving is his poem about the Polish poet and artist Cyprian Norwid who came to New York in the 1850s. Like many Poles of the Polish Diaspora, Norwid felt his exile deeply and complexly:

A letter of Cyprian Norwid’s from New York

If it chanced that, defying many a storm,
our sailing-ship crossed the ocean and
I reached dry land again after sixty days,
and if, later, the big splinter that wounded my thumb
failed to cripple me, so I could draw again –
if God had preserved me in these ways, perhaps he has
some other plan for me. In the Crimea, say,
I’d be happy to take up arms against the helots
serving the Frost Colossus, or to aid our cause elsewhere.
Please help me, You or some other wealthy Pole,
to get back soon to that Old World of ours.
There are all kinds of things in the papers here
and you can’t really tell what the truth is.
Kossuth, of course, was splendidly received,
but you’ve got to be defeated and a famous exile
to qualify for such treatment. As for me,
I work as an artist here, but unknown and lonely –
my windows look out on to a cemetery –
above the bushes humming-birds flutter and sometimes
a heavy scent of flowers comes wafting by . . .
In my thoughts, though, I’m wandering in Paris
or better still in Rome, where the past’s alive
and consoles – where you live not just for the present,
not only for the Market.

Translated by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri


Polishing October
is available from Shoestring Press in the UK and Amazon books in the US.


myshkin2 said...

Thanks for this and the Gomori poem on Norwid. For those who are interested there's also a translation of Norwid's most famous poem. "Chopin's Piano" on Jerome Rotherberg's Blog--part of his "Reconsidering Romanticism" section.

It's not such a great translation, though. If anyone's interested, I do have what I consider one that's both more accurate and comes across better in English, maybe. I'd be happy to send a copy.

John Guzlowski said...

Leonard,thanks for the post and the link. I didn't know Rotherberg had a blog. I saw him years ago at a Polish American lit conference in Missouri. He was inspiring.