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Erzsébet TÓTH
( 1951 )

» Stone-Rose (2012)


Erzsébet Tóth is a poet and editor born in 1951. Since the mid-1970s she has published feuilletons, writings on public life, poems and essays. Aft er earning a degree in economics, she turned her attention entirely toward literature. In the early 1980s she was an editor for a publishing house, which was followed by a stint as a freelance writer. In the early 1990s Tóth edited the poetry column of a prestigious journal, then in the 2000s she participated in the launching of a weekly literary journal. She also wrote columns for dailies on public life. Tóth’s verse is typically biographical and personal. At the start of her career, her poems were rich with metaphor, but later she simplifi ed her language and instead of imagery, she came to favor everyday language, irony, and frequently black humor. Collaborative arts and fi lm have had a pronounced infl uence on her work (her collection of poems in 2011 took its title from a Martin Scorsese fi lm), and she has also had her poems performed on stage.


e poet doesn’t know more things about the world, she knows diff erent things about it,” Erzsébet Tóth once said in an interview. Th is can be felt in the diff erent sections of her latest volume, Kőrózsa (Stone Rose), which can also be read as the diary-like monologue of a woman in prison. Tóth’s work is not characterized by sudden changes but by subtle transitions. Kőrózsa stays true to this, and continues it in its form, language, and content. Th e volume blends freeform poetry with shape poetry. Th e poems are not laid out as verses but as fragmented lines. In one case, an open space is wedged in between the lines, and the structure allows for both a horizontal and a vertical reading. Th is curious form is linguistically clever, for the fragments can be read in any direction while retaining their meaning. At the same time, this meaning is inevitably altered, at times subtly, at times obviously. The language of Kőrózsa is strong and vulgar, while its subjects are sensitive – alienation, confinement, solitude, lovelessness, and addiction. Through the procession of painful motifs, gradually, from one poem to the next, the poetic self ’s tragic story is revealed: why the narrator is in prison, why the lawyer recommends that she pretend to be insane, and what her relationship is to her family. Not infrequently Erzsébet Tóth takes the various states and condenses them into just a couple of lines, for instance, when she describes the undiluted loss of hope in the words: “I write a letter to myself, a consoling love-littered letter / the kind I would like to receive from someone but do not” (“Hát ha nagyon akarja” – “Well, if They Really Want It”), and also in the lines, “words to forget / good to love to wait” (“Vali azt mondja irigyli a génjeimet” – “Vali Says She’s Jealous of My Genes”). Naked feelings unchecked by reflection strengthen each other in Kőrózsa. The poetic self keeps itself in its multi-layered imprisonment, entombing itself in a “cold and hard muteness,” turning to writing as a form of therapy. Poetry helps elucidate what is happening around it. Th e volume, which focuses on a single person, alienates and bewilders the reader with its honesty and its unusual vulgar openness (“the cocaine ate your heart / it poisoned your soul and mangled your mind” (“Angyalpor” – “Angel Dust”). Despite this, the sharing of innermost thoughts creates a tight bond between the initiated reader and the eighteenyear old girl protagonist. excerpt What Can the Snow Be sometimes I ask a guard to talk to me about the weather of course she hits on the fi rst man since we don’t have the slightest idea of it inside there isn’t she sees in motion who she would a piece of sky I’d look at through the window my neck goes talk to perhaps with me yesterday I fell numb for I’d like to see something so bad asleep while the coff ee spilled on my face yet we feel when february arrives in our heart coff ee roses all over why do I need to drink then it’s february everywhere says the guard so much coff ee probably because I’m bored he’s very nice sometimes I pay him just to tell me something a lot I can’t decide what is worse sleeping last time he had read me from a book or staying up I wanted to wait until she takes her I’m not a lady companion he says I could entertain you on my own vacuous notebook and starts writing with an you’re tiring me, you know my wife is enough for me she always otherworldly expression she thinks I don’t know says that I don’t talk to her enough though she can see the weather what she’s doing but one of these days I’ll you can be sure of that she workf for the city gardener in rain in heat take the pen out of her hand and redraw those stupid pansies needs nursing her stupid stuck up face what did I do to her might it be suggested to plant other fl owers not only pansies life beat her plenty but I’m but they cannot have an opinion in the matter not a good company occasionly there is some scarlet sage but I hate that just the same well what this hypocrite chick pure luck it’s not me who has to nurse them wants is a cock Translated by Michael Castro and Gabor G. Gyukics

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