is a European capital of a European country - far more European than
one might expect. This year things are already dual priced in both
Florints and Euros, in advance of the country's accession to full
EU status in 2004. Glory, lights, success, a brilliant future. But
the buildings are still dark, stone, nineteenth century, undecorated,
dirty, little lit. The trams rattle passed them connecting the hills
of Buda with the great flat city expanse of Pest. You say Pesht. You
work at it. Get it right. And then you overhear real Hungarians on
the metro saying Pest, like you used to. The language is a monster
to grapple with, all whirling accents and consonants that gather in
great tribes and then rush you when you are not looking. Like Finnish.
Like Estonian. Nothing like any of the languages in Europe which surround
it. No hint of Latin. Nothing you can recognise, hang onto. And absolutely
nothing like Welsh.
I'm here to launch
Vizet, Water - a selected poems in Hungarian. Facing page verse
translations, published (with some shoving from the British Council
and a translator's grant from Welsh Literature Abroad) by Konkret
Konyvek, Budapest. My main translator, energy pal, co-conspirator
and collection editor, Kovacs Kinga (names are always backwards in
Hungary) meets me with the thing at the airport. She's in the queue
waving a copy. It's fat, white, has folded in flaps bearing big coloured
photos of me and her. Mine is taken in full sun on the harbour at
Solfach. Hers at the Statue park. Both pieces of home.
Kinga has worked
through my entire output - mostly published by Seren - along with
a sheaf of unpublished works, to translate poems which she likes,
which I like, which we both think are significant, which might work
for a Hungarian audience (indeed which are about Hungary, or eastern
Europe) or which are simply easy to move from one language to the
other. We've travelled around the city asking each other questions.
A year ago Kinga wanted to know what I meant by Bostic (it's a glue
unknown in Budapest) and where was Llanystumdwy? I explain. The new
versions harden up. Become new poems.
The launch is
at the Merlin Theatre (and again the following night in a cavern-roofed
club in Pecs, pronounced PayCh - in Hungary's Mediterranean south)
and is supported by Juvina, a Hungarian bottled water company. Last
year my readings were supported by Kent Cigarettes and I got two Kent
girls, entirely dressed in white - boots, hats, dresses, coats, gloves
- handing out cigarettes, ashtrays and vouchers at the entrance. Couldn't
get away with that in Wales. This time it's free water but no girls.
We do the giving away ourselves. The reading is a big multi-media
performance involving a whole team of Hungarian artists known as SoLit.
Film overlays, back projections, sound intercuts, TV footage on a
huge monitor. Videos. Me sneaking in and out of the shadows to read
at the mic to an audience of 300. I do it in English and it works.
Behind me projections of my poetry in Hungarian twist and turn.
The British Council,
who have a big hand in such things, have the new Director, his wife
and Gabriella Gulyas, main literature officer, in the audience. In
Pecs I get teachers and students and a Canadian in a turban who needs
reassurance that his country is not America. I tell him it isn't.
He buys a book.
On the train back
we sell another to a professor of orientalism who has found of way
of getting to Teran by bus for $20 (catch it at Istanbul, takes two
days). He's impressed that Wales and Hungary should be forging links.
It's all down to Kinga, I tell him. Translators are what make this
go. She one of the best.
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