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
Kinga has worked
through my entire output - a number 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a sheaf of unpublished works, to translate poems which she likes,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.
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.
by Peter Finch is published by Konkrét Könyvek of Budapest.
- 2500 ft