Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize is...

Who is this man and why has he won this most prestigious of prizes? Laszlo Krasznahorkai was born in 1954 in in GyulaHungary, the son of György Krasznahorkai, a lawyer,& Júlia Pálinkás, a social security administrator. After finishing his secondary education in 1972, where he specialised in Latin. Between 1973 - 76 he studied law at the József Attila University (JATE) (now the University of Szeged) and from  1976 to 1978 at the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) (formerly the University of Budapest). Once he had finished his law studies, he went on to complete a degree in in Hungarian Language & Literature from Eötvös Loránd University, receiving his degree in 1983. Since then he has supported himself an independent  writer, with his first publication Satantango, was released to immediate success and  he was immediately thrust into the forefront of Hungarian literary life.

So far, so dry and doesn't answer the question of why he has won this prize. I read Satantango in March 2013, as part of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and although I read several books after completing Satantango, it was that book that haunted me, made me want to seek out other books by him, I purchased War & War, which after I'd finished reading I stated that this  "book belongs in the category of "books that broke my heart & yet made me smile". Books that make me open my chest & say take this, do what you will & somehow manage this whilst placing a bloody great baboon-like grin on my face."  I also purchased as soon as it was published in the UK "Seiobo There Below" which at this moment sits on my shelf tempting me away from my attempt at a reading plan. I think that Laszlo Krasznahorkai, is one of the greatest living authors around today, but let us see what more professional people have to say about him...

The judging panel for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize was chaired by celebrated writer and academic

 Marina Warner, who said that..

‘Laszlo Krasznahorkai  is a visionary writer of extraordinary intensity and vocal range who captures the texture of present day existence in scenes that are terrifying, strange, appallingly comic, and often shatteringly beautiful. The Melancholy of ResistanceSatantango and Seiobo There Below are magnificent works of deep imagination and complex passions, in which the human comedy verges painfully onto transcendence.

Susan Sontag
“The contemporary Hungarian master of apocalypse who inspires comparison with Gogol and Melville”
 WG Sebald
“The universality of Krasznahorkai’s vision rivals that of Gogol’s Dead Souls and far surpasses all the lesser concerns of contemporary writing”

So it is  praise all round and deservedly so, I have a short list of writers who I pigeonhole into the category "Writers whose shopping lists I'd read" by this mean that I believe their writing is so absorbing, so fantastic that their mundane everyday notes, lists etc. would be as interesting a read as other writers whole oeuvre. This isn't a long list but features writers of the calibre of Italo Calvino, Georges Perec, and Laszlo  fits into this list comfortably. Congratulations to Laszlo Krasznahorkai and to the translators 

George Szirtes is a Hungarian-born poet who came to the UK as a refugee. He has won a number of prizes for his poetry, including the T S Eliot Prize. He has also translated Sándor Márai amongst others.

Ottilie Mulzet is a Hungarian translator of poetry and prose, as well as a literary critic. She has worked as the English-language editor of the internet journal of the Hungarian Cultural Centre in Prague, and her translations appear regularly at Hungarian Literature Online.

“El último Lobo” Fiction

László Krasznahorkai will be interviewed by Marina Warner at the Hay Festival on Sunday 24 May at 7pm.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

WAR & WAR ~ Laszlo Krasznahorkai (A Reaction)

('Heaven is sad')

This book belongs in the category of "books that broke my heart & yet made me smile". Books that make me open my chest & say take this, do what you will & somehow manage this whilst placing a bloody great baboon-like grin on my face. This book has left me dumbstruck & bewildered, a burbling Chaplinesque clown trying to strum out a coherent sentence and yet it somehow, with its own juxtaposition of words, lines, sentences, its chapters - its magic has me enamoured, enthralled, it does this ............. I don't know. Although I've finished it, it has not finished with me, it still lays heavy, a weight that, like Sisyphus, I will bear - but unlike him this is of my own volition and not a burden to be endured repeatedly – that boulder is my buddy. At this moment in time I will finish this babble with "Do Not Disturb, Gone Pondering"........................…........................................................................


War & War, find us with the central character Gyrgy Korin about to be robbed and beaten by a group of teenagers. We then follow Korin as he sets out on his mission to go to New York to publish an antique manuscript on the internet before he commits suicide. This document narrates a tale of four brothers in arms, struggling to find their way home after a disastrous war. The manuscript is perceived by Korin as a work of such original genius and beauty that it overwhelms him & becomes his raison d'être, his sole reason for delaying his inevitable suicide. Once in New York he befriends a fellow Hungarian, who appears to be as damaged as himself, who will assist him with his quest to transmit the manuscript and its wisdom onto the web. War & War through its eight chapters manages to convey Korin's obsessive manic nature as we follow his encounters with the rest of humankind, although what we see of its nature is through the cracked and distorted lens of our protagonist. So far so normal???? Well as normal as a Krasznahorkai book can be, because whether any of this is real, whether the manuscript exists or is the ravings/visions of a madman or………. Then there is the prequel that takes what little you've managed to piece together and takes those fragments and, and ……..

This is a beautifully written book that had me following the protagonist (Korin) through all his trials, yes I knew he was mad, but mad in that holy saint-like manner, as though touched by some spirit, & not touched by the world. Still not certain if this is merely some labyrinthine phantasm played out in Korin's head, thought I was - until I read the prequel. I thought that this mad Hungarian archivist, would complete his self-ordained mission & all would be well, having read Krasznahorkai before I should have known better, but I got sucked into the little Hungarian's world, and had my heart broken & my mind fractured into warring factions each sure they have the solution, each willing to sacrifice all for their version of the truth. In my first year of blogging I wrote a post on Roberto Bolano's novel 2666, stating that it was "a nightmare that is beautiful & a dream that haunts the edges of your waking hours, you could take a set square & compass to it & describe it logically, but all you would end up with is a pile of words, scattered across your floor". Guess my only real response to this book is "Still Pondering" 

James Wood of The New Yorker  wrote in 2011: "this is one of the most profoundly unsettling experiences I have had as a reader. By the end of the novel, I felt that I had got as close as literature could possibly take me to the inhabiting of another person, and, in particular, the inhibition of a mind in the grip of 'war and war'—a mind not without visions of beauty but also one that is utterly lost in its own boiling, incommunicable fictions, its own grotesquely fertile pain ('Heaven is sad')."

George Szirtes (1948) is a poet and translator, he settled in England after his family fled the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. He currently teaches creative writing at the University of East Anglia, England and is trained as a painter. His translation of Satantango won the 2013 Best Translated Book Award, and his poetry has won many awards, including the Faber Memorial Prize (1980), the T.S. Eliot Prize (2005) and the Forward Poetry Prize (2009)

As translator

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Antigone Poems

We live our lives
The instant between life and death.
To touch death always.
That is the sun.

The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight and illustrated by Terrence Tasker, are a collection of poems interspersed by some really eerily haunting artwork. They are based on the Sophocles play Antigone, or to be more accurate use Antigone as a mouthpiece to represent womankind – sometimes on a really direct personal level, sometimes as a collective noun with the idea of representing a state of all women.
For those not familiar with the Greek tale, Antigone, is the third part of a trilogy of plays by Sophocles collectively known as the Theban plays, the play begins with two brothers killing each other on the battlefield after leading opposing sides in Thebes' civil war, Creon who takes over as ruler of Thebes, declares that Eteocles will be honoured and that his brother and traitor Polyneices will be publicly shamed - his body left unsanctified and unburied on the battlefield.

Fought order, limits, time.
Time of surrender or death.
To go where no one has been,
The past destroyed by heat.


Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, is faced with the choice of allowing her brother Polyneices' body to remain unburied, beyond the city walls, for him to become mere carrion or to disobey Creon, bury him and face her own death. Antigone decides to bury his body and face the consequences of her actions. Creon incarcerates her and sentences her to death. Although he does change his mind, his decision comes too late as Antigone commits suicide, this triggers the suicide of two others close to the King: his son, Haemon, who was to wed Antigone, and his wife, Eurydice, who commits suicide after losing her only surviving son.

As stated above, although a knowledge of the tale, allows another level of understanding to these poems, I don't believe that it is entirely necessary - anyone reading them couldn't help but be affected by the imagery these poems conjure up, add to that the charcoal illustrations disquietingly capture the dark foreboding nature of the words and the combination has an elegiac and yet at the same time a beautiful and oppressive quality that uses the idea of lamentation as a force of rage and pain, as though standing up a witness to all the wrongs suffered, knowing that you'll be knocked down, but will stand anyway - because you could not do otherwise, and in this sense the poems transcend any idea of a specific gender role, vociferating against the collective wrongdoing, from wherever it or to whomever it occurs.

This voice
Is afraid to speak.

Of the brutal metal
Of its words

Words that scrape
Words that scar
Words that have no peace

If I utter this voice
This great
Aching scream

Its horror will echo forever.

The Antigone Poems are a beautiful haunting lamentation that through the medium of words and illustration manage to portray the loneliness, despair and pain that can shadow humanity, but it also portrays that indomitable spirit that stands and says no, this is wrong I shall not be part of it. It is also an elegant work of art, from the paper it is printed on to the way the words and images are placed on the pages.

Marie Slaight

Co-founder of the original Studio Altaire in Montreal, Marie Slaight has worked in Montreal, New Orleans, and Buenos Aires as a writer, producer and performer for film, theatre and music. Her play, Random Shots, was produced at the Theatre Centre in Toronto. She collaborated on a series of short films with Terrence Tasker and was an actor and creative consultant for National Film Board of Canada co-productions. 

Her poetry has appeared in American Writing, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Poetry Salzburg, The Abiko Quarterly, New Orleans Review and elsewhere. Other jobs over the years include working in a jewellery factory, as a farm worker, artist model, scene painter, nightclub photographer, and both teaching English and running a bed and breakfast while living in Buenos Aires. Marie Slaight is currently the director of Altaire Productions & Publications, a Sydney-based arts production company, which has been involved in creative consulting and co-producing for independent New Orleans music and such films as the award-winning documentary Bury the Hatchet, Happy Baby Kindred and Anna and Modern Day Slavery.

Terrence Tasker

 (1947-1992) was born in Saskatchewan, Canada, the son of a lumberjack. Raised in rural western Canada, he went on to become a self-taught artist and filmmaker. He made a series of short films: Steps, The Abortion, and Echo, which screened in New York and Toronto. In 1981 he co-founded and built the original Studio Altaire, a 90-seat theatre and visual art gallery that also ran after hours jazz concerts and poetry readings in downtown Montreal. 

He worked as a set builder for Montreal's Centaur Theatre, Toronto Free Theatre and others and film such as The Resurrected and Deep Sleep, as well as working in construction, mining, finance, industrial installations, taxi driving and as a film projectionist. He created the artwork for The Antigone Poems in the 1970s, while living in Montreal and Toronto. Terrence died in 1992 at age 45.



I received this through Netgalley expecting an E-copy, but was contacted by the publishers who offered me a hard copy which I gratefully accepted & I'm glad I did as this is the best way to experience this work.


Antigone Poems 

Altaire Productions & Publications

Art ~ Terrence Tasker



Monday, May 4, 2015

MAP: Collected and Last Poems ~ Wisława Szymborska

In the introduction to "Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts" the translators* state that "Wisława Szymborska is that rarest of phenomena: a serious poet who commands a large audience in her native land", they also go on to say that as well as this she has the additional ability to get critics who otherwise would delight in disagreement to be consistently enthusiastic about her work. Although she was well-known in her homeland of Poland, it wasn't until she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996 that she received recognition on the international stage, and by god did she receive recognition – her first post award collection "View with a Grain of sand" was published in an edition of 120,000 in the U.S.A, this in a country where a popular collection of poetry would be lucky to sell 20,000. The German edition set new sales records (60,000) and this appears to be repeated in most places that editions of her work were published.

Wisława Szymborska was born on 2 July 1923 in Prowent, Poland (now part of Kórnik, Poland), the daughter of Wincenty and Anna (née Rottermund) Szymborski. Her father was at that time the steward of Count Władysław Zamoyski, a Polish patriot and charitable patron. After the death of Count Zamoyski in 1924, her family moved to Toruń, and in 1931 to Kraków, where she lived and worked until her death in early 2012.

When World War II broke out in 1939, she continued her education in underground classes. From 1943 she worked as a rail road employee and managed to avoid being deported to Germany as a forced labourer. It was during this time that her career as an artist began with illustrations for an English-language textbook. She also began writing stories and occasional poems. Beginning in 1945, she began studying Polish literature before switching to sociology at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. It was here that she became involved in the local writing scene, and met and was influenced by Czesław Miłosz. In March 1945, she published her first poem "Szukam słowa" ("Looking for words") in the daily newspaper, Dziennik Polski

Comic Love Poem

I wear beads around my neck
Every day's a day of joy
Sustained by the touch
Of unforeseen events.

I only know the rhythm
To a melody so soft
That if you ever heard it,
You'd have to hum along.

I exist not in myself,
I'm an element's function.
A symbol in the air.
Or a circle on the water.

Each time your eyes open,
I only take what's mine.
I leave faithfully behind
Your earth, your fire.
(From unpublished collection 1944 – 48)


My introduction to Wisława as a writer was not long after starting this blog, her name surfaced as a suggestion in the comments on a post I'd written about another Nobel Prize winner. This led me to find out more and within a short period of I'd purchased both of the books mentioned above, and soon became enamoured by the poetry I came across, poetry such as:

In Praise Of Feeling Bad About Yourself

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn't know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they'd claim their hands were clean

A jackal doesn't understand remorse.
Lions and lice don't waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they're right?

Though hearts of Killer whales may weigh a ton,
In every other way they're light.

On this third planet of the sun
Among the signs of bestiality
a clear conscience is Number One
(From A Large Number 1976)


I had always meant to write a post highlighting some of her poetry, but as is the way things work out, something else caught my attention, some other new writer's pyrotechnics, new idea came to the fore, putting this intention on the back burner until that moment passed and something else ensnared my mind's focus – and yet the two books mentioned above, still remained with me, became almost a benchmark on how poetry should comport itself, the manner in how it could describe the most horrid of situations, and without clamouring would describe that horror.

There is also a quietness within her work, that does not speak meekly or with pathos, but that finds amazement in all, making her poetry a questing poetry, one searching for answers but doing so in a fashion that realises the likelihood of an answer, is more likely to be in the form of more questions, as stated in her Nobel Prize speech:

"Poets, if they're genuine, must also keep repeating "I don't know." Each poem marks an effort to answer this statement, but as soon as the final period hits the page, the poet begins to hesitate, starts to realize that this particular answer was pure makeshift that's absolutely inadequate to boot. So the poets keep on trying, and sooner or later the consecutive results of their self-dissatisfaction are clipped together with a giant paperclip by literary historians and called their "oeuvre". (Nobel Speech)

Her poetry seems to resonate with people because she has this ability to take serious ideas and within a few words encapsulate them, sometimes merely as a way of explaining them to herself/ourselves and sometimes to deflate them, using humour to show the error in these philosophies, sometimes the horror.  Another reason is that at first glance the poems appear simple, it is in the process afterwards that you start to realise that there is a depth that warrants continual exploration that it takes more than splashing in the shallows to understand all that she has to say. Wisława combines the everyday minutiae, the dust and clatter of daily life, then holds it up to the grand and august mirror of history and both images hold true.

The reason I have now got around to writing about her work, is because a new collected volume MAP: Collected and Last Poems has just been published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. This collection contains work spanning her whole life, almost seven decades of her vision. From the early 1944 – 48 (unpublished) period through her first collection "Why We Live" in 1952 right up to her last poetry written just before her death in 2012, and translated for the first time within this collection. Making this the impetus I needed to highlight the poetry of this wonderful writer and also making this the ideal place to learn more, whether this is an introduction, or you're already familiar with her poetry.

A Note

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog
or stroke its warm fur

to tell pain
from everything it's not

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble on a stone,
end up drenched in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;

and to keep on not knowing
something important.

(Enough 2011)


Clare Cavanagh, professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature at Northwestern, has received a PEN Translation Award for her work, with Stanisław Barańczak, on Szymborska's poetry. Among her many honours include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Social Science Research Council, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Her criticism and reviews have been widely published in the Times Literary Supplement, The New Yorker, Poetry, and the New York Review of Books, among others. She teaches Slavic and comparative literatures at Northwestern University.

Stanisław Barańczak (1946 – 2014) was a poet, literary critic, scholar, editor, translator and lecturer. He is perhaps most well-known for his English-to-Polish translations of the dramas of William Shakespeare and of the poetry of E.E. CummingsElizabeth BishopEmily DickinsonW.H AudenSeamus HeaneyThomas HardyGerard Manley HopkinsT.S EliotJohn KeatsRobert Frost, and  Edward Lear . He also translated lyrics by the likes of the Beatles into Polish versions that "were singable". He was described as having "the rare talent of preserving the spirit and the beauty of the language of the original", and in 1996 he shared the US PEN Translation Prize with Clare Cavanagh for rendering into English a collection by his Polish compatriot, the Nobel Prize-winning poet Wisława Szymborska.


I received this book from the publishers via Netgalley and in the translators note Clare Cavanagh says "An old friend once inscribed his scholarly book on Szymborska's poetry as follows "To Wisława without whom this book could not have been written" she goes on to say that her variation on his theme would be to Wisława without whom this book could not have been written – Thank You" To this I would add my own two penneth by thanking the publishers for giving me the chance to read this wonderful collection in return for honest opinion.


* Magnus J. Krynski & Robert A. Maguire

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Warrior Lore ~ Ian Cumpstey

Warrior Lore is a collection of Scandinavian folk ballads, translated by Ian Cumpstey. They would have formed part of the oral tradition of storytelling that has probably been part of human nature from the very early days of speech, with our ancestors huddled around open fires gaining an understanding of the world around them, expressing their fears, their beliefs, and their ideals of heroism through the recasting of their experiences in this narrative form. These narrative songs would have been sung for centuries before ballads of this nature were formalised on paper sometime around the sixteenth century and as such would have been known throughout Northern Europe.


There are ten Ballads in this collection:

Widrick Waylandson's fight with Long-Ben Reyser.
Twelve strong fighters.
Sir Hjalmar.
The Hammer Hunt.
The Stablemates.
Sven Swan-White.
The Cloister Raid.
Heming and the Mountain Troll.
Heming and King Harald.


Each ballad starts with an introduction by Ian Cumpstey, explaining what the ballad refers to - setting the scene and also some of the history of the narrative, alternate versions etc. There is also a preface to the collection giving some background detail to the works featured and a notes section providing information on which versions of the tales he based his translations on.
Most of the collection is based on the Swedish tradition, with one exception Heming and King Harald, which derives from the Norwegian. The form of the verse is predominantly in a four-line format in which the second and fourth line rhyme (ABCB), which may or may not be followed by a chorus line or lines.


King Diderick he sat in Bern,
And he gazed out so wide:
"I never knew a fighter,
"Who'd challenge me to fight".
There stands a castle at Bern
And there lives King Diderick.

Answered Bernard Wifaring,
He'd travelled far and wide:
"There is a fighter in Bortingsburgh,
"Who you'd not dare fight".

King Diderick took him by the throat,
And then took out his knife:
"You'll show me who that fighter is,
"Or it'll cost you your life".

(Extract from Widrick Waylandson's fight with Long-Ben Reyser.)


Confession time, my knowledge of these warriors, Gods and heroes is quite limited - beyond the obvious ones such as Thor, Freya & Loki my understanding falls drastically short. Which is quite pitiful especially as I consider myself to have a reasonable knowledge of Greek & Roman mythology & yet as a Northern European, I seem to have missed out on what is part of my own heritage, add to this the fact that Hollywood seems, through Marvell comics, to be co-opting certain Gods & heroes for its own mythology - making this book a welcome addition to my library. By giving me an understanding of this world and its heroes with all their characteristics, all their love & hate, all their foibles, their bawdy or violent nature intact and before they have been face-lifted or photo shopped beyond recognition. This is also a great book for dipping in and out of, erudite enough to make one want to learn more and yet still light enough that you can just dip in when the urge takes you.




Thursday, April 23, 2015

World Book Night


World Book Night is an annual celebration of reading and books that takes place on the 23rd April. It sees passionate volunteers give out hundreds of thousands of books in their communities with the aim of spreading their love of reading, to those that don't read regularly or own books. WBN is run by The Reading Agency, a national charity that inspires people to become confident and enthusiastic readers.

World Book Night took its lead from the well established and successful children's reading celebration in UK & Ireland called World Book Day. So as day is for children, then night is for adults.

 2015 will be the fifth World Book Night celebration.

Wbn covers with logo