April 12, 2021 11:54
The translator behind Hungarian poems: Owen Good

On April 11 Hungarians celebrate National Poetry Day and its literary tradition isn’t so familiar among international student or foreign people living in Hungary.  First for fun, but later for building a bridge between cultures, Owen Good decided to translate contemporary work like poems written by Hungarian poets Renátó Fehér or Krisztina Tóth.

On April 11 the Hungarian Poetry Day is held annually, where there is an increased number of literary evenings, book presentations and signings, readings, spontaneous slam poetry nights, and various literature-related events. For a day, customers can pay with a poem in some coffee shops, and people are “posting” poems on trees, buildings, and even writing them on the streets.  But how can an international student join the celebration if they don’t speak the language?

In 2011 Owen Good moved to Budapest after an Eastern European round trip to understand better the Hungarian culture. Originally, he’s from Northern Ireland and studied in London, where he met the Hungarian language. “I was always interested in languages and linguistics and on the Language and Culture major you should study two languages. First was the Spanish from the high school and secondly, I asked my teacher to show me an odd language. This was Hungarian and it was definitely alien to me.”

He began translating Hungarian fiction and poetry while studying at University College London, where he majored in Hungarian studies. His translations have been published in The Best European Fiction (2016), Asymptote, Hévíz, and Hungarian Review.

Encouraged by his professor Eszter Tarsoly, he moved to Hungary to improve his knowledge and he became an English lecturer at Pázmány Péter Catholic University and he’s the editor of Hungarian Literature Online website.  His debut book translation, Krisztina Tóth’s Pixel (Seagull Books, 2019), took runner-up in the 2020 EBRD Literary Prize, and has been longlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation.

“I like translating the poem. It has a joy of limitation to write just a line…to melt two metaphors there. It gives you a direction and rules and you can touch the rhythm of the text.”-said in the interview made by Sunday Folk.

Here you can read two of his translation, first the Most Dialed Number from Renátó Fehér, whose first collection sought out the identity of a country, a family, and a post-socialist Hungarian generation. He is a defining voice in the new generation, who began publishing in 2007 and his poems have been translated into English, Czech, French, Polish, German, Russian, Romanian, and Slovak. His first anthology (Garázsmenet) was published in 2014 and he received the Zelk Zoltán Award.

Renátó Fehér: Most Dialed Number

The rain causes me to take shelter in an empty telephone box.
On one side someone’s plastered up the ten commandments,
and an old man loiters inside it from early morning until night.
He sprays aftershave on himself before he steps inside,
as if anyone could smell him on the other end of the line.
I fantasize that he’s continually calling his daughter
because his pension hasn’t come, he can’t pay the bills,
she’s to sort it out now, or come pick him up!
Anyway, tonight it’s me occupying the space,
I flick through the pages of the telephone book,
I’m looking for the most dialed number,
in the morning, when he sees me, he’s surprised that
my daughter hasn’t come,
but he’s glad I’ve learned the method.

Krisztina Tóth is one of the most highly acclaimed Hungarian poets. She is the winner of several awards. Since the publication of her first collection of short stories in 2006, she has been listed among the best contemporary writers of Central Europe, and much of her poetry has been widely translated. Typically, her poems subtly combine strong visual elements, intellectual reflection and a very empathetic, yet often ironic, concern for everyday scenes, conflicts, and people.

Krisztina Tóth: Delta

If you've passed forty years, your body will
suddenly start to speak about itself,
and every hidden image, which the years
have once tattooed onto your memory,
will be shown through your skin. Like when the sun
would cast a curtain's pattern on the floor.
You watch the slow procession of each vein,
how your body is unravelling a new,
approaching surface. You lie, eyes wide open,
and the tiniest thing comes to mind. How you stood
at a museum display with your son,
both watching how the water trickled slowly
out of a pipe onto the flattened sand.
You see, you said, it splits into small branches.
At which he asked: Yeah yeah, but where's the sea?

Owen Good likes working with contemporary poets from Hungary because it’s engaging the world with a small country with fantastic poetries. If you’re interested to take part in the Hungarian Poetry Day just grab the moment and enjoy the translated poems by Owen Good.

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