I met Bartha György, a Hungarian contemporary poet on the book launch of his second volume, Örökvisszhang on 27 October, 2016. His thought-provoking introduction of his new volume made me curious about it. When I approached him with the intention of an interview he reacted as “Oh, am I famous enough for this?” He let me meet him at his workplace where I asked him about his background and poetical works.
Thank you for your time. Would you like to introduce yourself briefly?
I would not like to bore you with my extended biography, so I only highlight the most important dates in my life. I was born in 1954 Novi Sad (Újvidék), Serbia. In 1993 I settled down in Veszprém, Hungary and then moved to Budapest in 1997. It was difficult for me to integrate at first since the Hungarian state approved of only one of my professions, a Hungarian language and literature teacher although I also have the qualifications as an interpreter and a librarian. For about 16 years now I work as a social worker in the Children’s Welfare Institution in the 20th district, Pesterzsébet.
How do you recall the period in your life when you started to be interested in poetry?
I learnt to read at a relatively early age thanks to my grandfather who pushed the first books into my hands. These were overwhelmingly historical novels related to the 1848 Revolution which determined my outlook on the world later on. I had to come to realize that we Hungarians are not a celebrated nationality. Afterwards I became an omnivorous in terms of genres so I read young-adult fictions. Then, I turned to more serious pieces from the range of high literature, such as the books of Verne Gyula and of course, during my studies the obligatory literature, which I didn’t always read, though. Due to the encouragement of my literature teacher I started to pay attention to contemporary literature. During my secondary school studies I encountered with Kassák Lajos, Babits Mihány, Móricz Zsigmond, Weöres Sándor, Nagy László, Juhász Ferenc.
Do you have a favourite writer or poet?
Yes, of course. My most beloved poets are Pilinszky János and Kassák Lajos. From the range of world literature Poe and Wittmann are my all time favourites.
When you first started to compose poems, what inspired or influenced you?
Back then when I started writing I tried to copy the poems published in Híd, a literary periodical. Well, my reluctance towards studying at school made my parents send me to a psychologist to examine my behaviour. I revealed these poems to her but she showed them to my parents. This made me very angry, you know. But I kept going and writing more and more poems. I figured out that through writing I can get rid of frustration and anger which piled up in me. So, writing also served as a therapy. Another thing, in the last year of the secondary school I participated in a competition in the hope of getting a grade 5 for literature at the end of the year. Though I got the grade I wasn’t content with my performance. This pushed me towards composing poems even more delicately and attentively. Afterwards, some of my poems were read out in the school radio, which gave me a bit of a reputation at the time. Then I continued writing even more seriously during my university years.
Your first volume is titled Búcsú rossz időben. Can you tell a bit about it?
In the 70s when I was a university student I had a teacher who published a few poems of mine in Híd. From that point I started to write poems on a regular basis throughout the following decades even until the end of the 90s. The poems written during this long period of time appear in my first volume. However, it was published only in 2011 when a publisher approached me and asked for the manuscript. Well, it is hard to define its characteristics since this volume embraces poems of three decades. Therefore, I would say this volume is more like a selection from those thirty years.
Örökvisszhang, your second volume has been published this autumn. How would you characterize the poems in the book?
It’s hard to do it because the poems are not cyclic, no connection can be perceived among them, really. The single link might be the topics they deal with or the mood they convey. My main purpose was to compose poems in an abstract way so that the reader might want to go on thinking about it. I was always about to find the most suitable word for each line in order to phrase in the most condensed way as possible. The poems of Örökvisszhang are often open-ended leaving the reader in uncertainty. They often end with a sharp cut – that might be the reason why I’m often told that my poems tend to evoke the feeling that they are unfinished or lack a real ending. Well, my intension is to encourage the reader to make their own interpretations and create connotations.
How came the title? What made you come up with this?
It reflects a personal experience when I travelled to Tihany to find and wake the “Tihanyi echo” up. I was shouting very hard when a man came to me and said “sir, the echo is eternal but cannot be heard” because the place was built in so the doesn’t exist anymore. Well, this event inspired the title, Örökvisszhang.
Do you ever interweave personal memories or experience into your poems?
Well, what I can say is that every piece of work is a fiction. But this fiction is also based on experience and personal sensation. Without some implication from the reality fiction cannot be born. At least this is what I believe.
What do you intend to convey through your poetry in general?
I am told to be a subjective poet. I don’t want to immerse in social justice or injustice and politics. I would rather capture and represent an ordinary man, a so-called “little man”. Be it a usual day, a feeling, a love letter or a walk along the streets. I tend to avoid political and social involvements.
In your opinion, what traits or skills should a good poet or writer possess?
Perseverance and dedication in the first place. Also, I think writing and creation cannot emerge without fantasy, although writing skills and the language cognition are also necessary. Of course, talent also plays a role in this to some extent, but in my opinion the factors I mentioned can be acquired. If someone feels the urge to convey something, for example, sentiments to other people these traits are essential in order to be outstanding. Poetry or literature in general has its task, to reveal itself in some way and it is the composer’s responsibility to communicate something.
What about your future plans? Do you plan to compile the third volume?
Well, I don’t have any certain plans at the moment. As far as the third volume is concerned, well, it is not impossible, but you know it depends on many factors – work, life, inspiration, and mood. We’ll see but actually I would try my hand at writing prose.
What genre would you be interested when it comes to prose?
Writing a novel, which is the king of prose, would be very difficult for me. I think I wouldn’t be able to write a whole novel. I’m not the type of person sitting in one place writing the same thing hours after hours. I believe I would definitely go for short stories. Short prose, as it is called.
I wish you luck and inspiration for your further work! Thank you!