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Krisztina TÓTH
( 1967 )

» The Thread of Conversation (1994)
» The Shadow Person (1997)
» Powder Snow (2001, 2002)
» Crying Canvas (2004)
» Bar Code (2006)


1967 born in Budapest
1982-86 trained in sculpture at a middle school for fine arts
1986-93 studies Hungarian Literature at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest; spends two years on scholarship in Paris
1994-1998 works for the Institut Française, Budapest
1998 besides publishing poetry, sets up a lead-glass studio

Miklós Radnóti Memorial Prize (1989); Scholarship in Paris (1990-1992); Soros Foundation Scholarship (1992); Zsigmond Móricz Scholarship (1993); Gyula Illyés Prize (1994); Graves Prize (1996); Déry Tibor Award (1996); Attila Zoltán Prize (1996); Attila József Prize (2000); István Vas Prize (2001); Palladium Prize (2002); Book of the Year Prize (2003); Shared First Prize in Poetry at The Hungarian Cultural Ministry’s “Sweet Mother Tongue” Contest (2004); The Belletrists’ Society’s Prize (2005); Gemini Prize (2005); Giuseppe Acerbi Poetry Special Prize (2006); Sándor Márai Prize (2007)

The Thread of Conversation

Szabolcs Várady admits that the world of the second volume may be less cheerful. “It is drier. Does it carry more weight? No, not that. It is fluid, streaming and opalesque but, at the same time, always precise and graphic; obvious as a dream is, and indeed, she often works from dream-material. Time and space is constantly out of joint, only to find their place in the poem.” Toth’s fellow poet and mentor, László Lator, analysing one of the most memorable poem of the book (“De Fato”), arrives at conclusions relevant to her whole oeuvre. “This poem misleads the reader. At first reading, we can hear an undisturbed, clear, homogenous tune. It is velvet-like and bitter-sweet, easy to consume, like a cocktail mixed according to a good recipe and with good instinct. Reading it only once, a line, a stance, its textless music immediately remains in the memory. But returning to it for a second time, it turns out to be full of unpredictable turns, to have zones looming ambiguously....And there are the images, there is the drawing. At first glance, it is punctual, natural. For the second time, we feel that the drawing is not simply but nightmarishly precise, like dreams, like hallucination....All the elements of the poem play together, and its emotional, impulsive, metaphoric material, its pace and prosody affect us simultaneously, like a beautifully arching tune.”

The Shadow Person

As in her earlier poems, Krisztina Tóth's poetry in this volume flows in "an undisturbedly clear, homogenous tune", a feature underlined by her fellow poet and mentor, László Lator. In the poems of "The Shadow Person", however, behind the tune and the images that are graphic even in their visionary state, there is an off-movement, most powerfully present in the sequence "Budapest Shadows (dream, photo, murmur)", where she italicises those puns nearest to language philosophy.

Powder Snow
2001, 2002

The voice most commonly adopted in this volume is that of a naive girl becoming a mature woman and mother. This is a role on which she builds poetry of choked passion, as in her startling description of a three-course bout of lovemaking (“Silent, Silent, Silent”), or the profound melancholy of her apostrophe to men in their fifties, their typewriters clogged with fallen hair and dandruff, their teeth rotten (“Ode to Fifty-Year Old Men”). Many of the poems recall childhood, comparing it with the new experience of the mother-child relationship. The true novelty that Krisztina Tóth has brought to Hungarian literature is a bold, even radical reworking of the love lyric (and from a woman’s viewpoint moreover), an acceptance of the sensuality of erotic discourse. Poetry that celebrates physical love so outspokenly and yet sublimely is rare in the rather prudish realms of Hungarian literature. It can send a shiver down the spine of its male readers – and maybe its female readers, too. The poet is playful even in reckoning. In the title poem she alludes to Attila József (“To My Birthday”), elsewhere her texts are in dialogues with other poets’ texts. In the cycle “Year of Snows” Krisztina Tóth reforms her poetic sentence: instead of punctuating it, she only leaves the capitals at the beginning of the lines (cf. Apollinaire), but she ends each line with a full stop, independently of the sentence’s end, the way schoolchildren stop at the end of a line. From this “strange stammering,” observes István Margócsy, “her sentences become both elliptic and redundant. Yet this breaking of grammatical rules achieves a rather strong poetic effect. It almost unites or merges the (philosophical) problem of ineffability and the everyday experience of over-speech, the embarrassment of looking for “things to say” and the puzzlement over the generality of what is actually said.” By encompassing the entirety of her output to date, including not only new poems but also a careful selection from the three earlier volumes, Powder Snow stakes a powerful claim: that Krisztina Tóth to be treated as one of the major figures in contemporary Hungarian poetry.

Crying Canvas

The first cycle in Krisztina Tóth’s fifth volume of poetry records scenes and fragments of memory in a highly poetic way: she links motives recurring in different layers of the text in eight long, three-part poems. The shorter poems of the second cycle are governed by passionate emotions, and are related in their topic and motives to some of the short stories of her follow-up book, Bar Code. (As a fascinating formal invention, the sentence uttered in the middle of a row, “It would be useful if you looked in the mirror,” is indeed mirrored and written backwards, rendering the upside-down reproach utterly meaningless.) The third cycle is more occasional and playful, comprising bitterly humorous chansons (like “Hajdu blues, on the life expectancy of a washing machine”) and epistles written to living and deceased poets; here the texts become full of allusions, (to lines by Verlaine, Babits, Kosztolányi, Orbán Ottó, Balassi, Várady or Petri), giving weight to the occasions. “I feel a strong power radiating from Krisztina Tóth’s poems; a power that can originate only from a balanced sensitivity of consciousness and emotion. The program of objectivity, as a strange self-contradiction, becomes complete in the presence, the empathy and the acceptance of vulnerability. It is not by chance that while I read this highly feminine poetry (which was born in a totally different poetic culture and follows different ideals), I keep thinking of György Petri. Krisztina Tóth’s scandals (unlike Petri’s ones) are not political in their nature, but (like Pilinszky’s ones), existential. But her eyes are also dry; she also uses them to see with....All in all, I feel this poetry, its stability of values and moral courage, increasingly intensive, with its seemingly passive, observing-describing attitude.” -Béla Bodor

Bar Code

Her reputation as an outstanding poet was already well established when Krisztina Tóth wrote Bar Code, her first prose work. Each of the fifteen short stories that make up the volume has been given a subtitle which incorporates the word or concept of "line": "Borderline", "Line of Direction", "Lifeline", etc. The seventh piece, "Warm Milk", is subtitled "Bar Code" and is about a young American girl, Kathy, who stays with the heroine, a young Budapest girl, sometime in the early 1980s, stirring things up for her, getting her thrown out of her own room and upsetting her relationship with a boy, leading her to consider committing suicide. A bar code in those days was a badge for goods from the West, a distinguishing mark of a world that was as yet not easy to access from Hungary. The narrator of these stories switches between a young girl and a young woman, and the reader can choose between thinking of them as being each about a different person or all being about the same person throughout. At all events, they are treated from a female viewpoint, whether they concern childhood relationships, school camp, love, having a child, being cheated on, or travel, and all are set in the period towards the end of soft Communism that was Hungary in the Kádár era. All the stories are about events seen and endured by a female figure who is very sensitive yet also very tough. "Having built up what amounts to a crusade to obtain its rightful share of attention, women's literature may be relieved to read Krisztina Tóth. From both a purely literary and also a 'gender' point of view, her heartfelt, finely wrought and mature voice now guarantee her a mandatory place of her own in contemporary literature as a prose writer as well." -Lajos Jánossy, Litera

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