I want to swing for the fences – interview with Balázs Mohácsi

In June 2019 Balázs Mohácsi (1990) was the artist-in-residence in Novi Sad, as a part of the literary exchange program between Novi Sad and Pécs, established under the auspices of the Foundation “Novi Sad 2021” and the European Capital of Culture. Balázs is a poet, literary critic, translator, editor of Jelenkor and Versum, and PhD candidate of the University of Pécs. In 2018 he published a book of poetry: Hungária út, hazafelé (Jelenkor, Bp.). He lives and works in Pécs.

During his stay in Novi Sad we met up with him and discussed his poetry, its social and aesthetic dimensions, as well as its relations to the city of Pécs, and the Hungarian literary scene in general. We also discussed the publishing situation in Hungary, literary magazines, and the effects that the title of Capital of Culture had on his city.

For Rhizome: Stevan Bradić

Rhizome: Ok: one two, one two… It’s fine

Balázs Mohácsi: All right

R. Hello

BM. Hello


R. I was reading your poems last night, and was, I think … I noticed something that seems to be very important to you, and it’s the relation between your city, Pécs, and your poetry.

BM. Yeah.

R. And I particularly liked the end of the poem where you said… you talked about restored facades of buildings that remained demolished, and you say “it’s like a signifier without a signified”… you describe how the city has changed, and you basically write it down, analyze it, discuss it. So, my first question would be then, how do you see the relationship between your poetry and your city?

BM. Yeah, well, it’s really important, as you said. My first and (yet) only book, titled Hungária út, hazafelé (Hungária street, on the way home; Jelenkor, Budapest, 2018) is more or less about the city or about a city. Of course many or most references come from my hometown, Pécs, but I tried to write the book that it won’t be provincial. I’d like to think, that there are layers in my texts, those everyone can understand, who is willing to step into this textual city – and of course there are other layers, those speak mainly to the locals, or who knows Pécs a little bit.

In our previous conversation I told you, that in the 70’s and 80’s there was a really flourishing cultural scene in Pécs. The importance of some of the artists could be considered only local, but there are many who became famous nationally or even internationally. And there are examples, that without a “local hero” the better known figures of the next generation won’t be nowhere (such “local heroes” are in my opinion Győző Csorba, István Pákolitz, László Bertók – it’s a shame, but their poetries are sinking into oblivion). It’s important for me to get to know the tradition of my city, so I consider it a mission, that I discover these artists (writers, painters, sculptors, musicians) for myself. And through this experience I also get to know and improve myself.

R. It seems to me, sorry to interrupt you, that there is at stake, in your poems, some kind of poetics of space as well.

BM. Yeah

R. Because the city was arranged in a certain way in the past, and then certain things happened, we call them here “transition”, but it has other names as well … so things changed substantially, and they are still changing, and your poetry seems to notice this, to reflect this, and it also reflects your position within all of these … symbolic and physical transformations.

BM. Yeah, of course, the so-called transition is my tradition as well, but in a way, I grew up in a world that was full of promises for me … my parents always told me about the stuff happening before, and what opportunities I’ll have. And then, of course, these promises were broken. Of course these changes could be translated to the language or fabric of the city: buildings going up and down, institutions emerging and disappearing, places getting renamed, etc. But also to get back to my previous thought, there are those buildings, streets, sights etc., those I can’t imagine without some literary connections. One of my favourite open-air pubs is mentioned in one of Lajos Parti Nagy’s poems, when I look to the western hills of Mecsek, I remember the poem of Béla Meliorisz: Makárhegyi versek (Stanzas about the hill Makár) and so on. Anyhow, most of the spacial changes in the structure of Pécs I find disappointing and alienating, I feel many decisions weren’t in the best interest of the citizens and not according to the great promises – and I’m not alone with my opinion. As far as the politics of my writing goes – it is about these broken promises. And, for example, it’s about the failures and the promises of 2010 as well, the year when Pécs was the European Capital of Culture. That was the biggest promise for me, that for a brief period of time I thought I’ll be living in Europe (laughter), and right now I just feel that we are backing up from Europe.

R. Ok, ok. How does this reflect in your poetry?

BM. Well, you know … after 2010 when the Prime Minister Orbán was elected, re-elected really, there was a big boom of political writing. And I don’t want to write like that, because it’s didactical, but I feel it is important to reflect on this stuff, in a way, but more in the manner of the politics of the everyday. But I really don’t think it would be good if I got into the nuances because I don’t know how much the Serbian readers are acquainted with the on goings of the Hungarian government and politics.

R. Somewhat acquainted, because we are neighbors, and certain things we do follow. Ok, I’m guessing we don’t know all the details, but we have some knowledge of social dynamics in Hungary. I think some of us particularly followed the CEU situation, and protests in Budapest, and obviously the migrant crisis and the situation on the border. So, I think some of the readers are acquainted with that. But some of them even more, because a part of the population in Vojvodina is, obviously, Hungarian, and I suppose that at least some of them follow the Hungarian politics closely. So, you can be as detailed as you want, or as much as you think is interesting.

BM. Well I don’t think any of it is interesting, I’m just tired of the Hungarian politics (laughter).

R. Ok, this is why I asked you how does it reflect in your poetry. My impression was, since we are talking about politics, that there is an intense social awareness in everything I’ve read that you have sent me. But it is reflected, not as a kind of “news” comment, but as a poetical thought about space, about past, present, about the sensory, literary and so on.

BM. So yeah, it does not reflect in a very direct, “anti-government” way, but you know, obviously, how the Orbán’s government is trying to alter our sense of past, our history, or the way how this history is told, that is affecting me deeply. At least I think about it very much. I don’t know how it reads in my poetry, because as I said, sometimes I write these things, and then I just delete it because I find it didactic. Or you know, after 8-9 years of FIDESZ governance I don’t want to write another piece that’s about the way I (or we – those who can be considered the political minority or opposition maybe) feel.

R. Yeah, too banal, simplifying.

BM. Also, I think, there are some segments of my writing, that in an earlier stage reflected on something, but then I worked with it so much that it doesn’t really anymore. It reminds me of some political s*it, but maybe not the reader, or just in a broader sense.

R. But how do you usually write? I mean, what is your experience of writing?

BM. It varies how I write. Sometimes a poem “comes to me” in whole. But as I became (I like to think) more and more self-aware in my writing, these occasions became very rare, because I’m second-guessing myself. (Unfortunately right now this second-guessing came to a point, that I find all my new writings bad or uninspired – so the main task for me in Novi Sad is to cope with this, and try to find a new verve. (Although it’s difficult and nerve-wracking, because I feel the age and the circumstances we live in, those are bad and uninspired, and disappointing and disillusioning – and I’m writing about that. But I just can’t decide if I’m correct to second-guess myself, or if my poems are accurate.)

R. This is a new situation, but how was it when you were writing your book?

BM. When I was writing my book, I used to write notes: images, ideas, sometimes only words I wanted to incorporate. And because I knew from around 2015 or 2016 that my book would be mainly about a city in general and/or about Pécs in particular, I was collecting qoutes I could use: from authors important for me, but I was reading some urbanistics as well, or I was reading about paintings or sculptures those are important for me (etc.). And then at a point I would sit down to write, and I would pick from these notes and qoutes, and I would arrange them into poems. Since about 2013-2014 (since I was studying avant-garde literature in the university) my own writing became more and more avant-garde-like as well, so with this collage-montage technique I could incorporate many pieces of my tradition, and doing so I could build my own pseudo-canon. Nowadays I try to renew my writing. I’d like to keep that kind of vivid, energetic language and/or imagery that comes with the avant-garde poetics, but I feel writing free verse, building up and collaging together these sometimes longer poems in free verse – I feel it’s easy.

R. But it seems to me that there is never an easy way out, if you want to do a good job.

BM. I mean, okay, writing a (good) poem is never easy, you have to have a sense of rhythm and pace, you can’t put everything to everywhere, you have to think it through, and so on. But this kind of writing does not interest me, well, I wouldn’t say anymore, but right now. I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I want to experiment, I want to swing for the fences. Right now I’m trying to write sonnets. I feel it’s easier to write a good poem in free verse, than in a strict form. And I don’t want to go for the easy. So now I’m trying to write good sonnets. And I have to say, it’s very difficult. Even if sometimes I’m allowing myself to step away from strict rules (for example if I decide to write without rhymes, or I decide not to write 10-11 syllable lines, but longer or shorter, or without iamb or trochee etc.). So it’s difficult even if I take the form in a more modern or experimental way and I give myself allowances.

R. Of course it is difficult, but only in a particular manner, to write in fixed forms. My experience with it was that the more you practice the easier it gets, because in a way, like with everything else, it is a matter of internalization of external, alien, form. After a while, you can talk in sonnets, or alexandrines, or hexameters, or whatever. This of course, is still not good poetry, but rather a prerequisite for writing in fixed forms. I, on the other hand thought, why waste time on all this practice, when there is a whole universe of linguistic and social forms which I also have to internalize and deal with. My approach to writing, at this point anyway, is to start from a mistake, from something that would be usually disregarded by people who write as bad or inept, and then I make it into a successful poetic sequence. It gives me great joy to do the wrong thing and then to get away with it.

But could you now tell me a little bit about how your poetry fits in contemporary Hungarian literary scene?

BM. All right. That’s an easy one. (laughter)

R. How would you assess it? And what are the voices that you see as relevant, and where do you see yourself?

BM. Ok, so, of course there was and there are different kind of poetics parallelly, I’m only outlining “my lineage”. So in the counterculture of the socialism during the 70’s and the 80’s there was a wave of neo-avant-garde that partially turned into postmodern. And after the transitions, in the 90’s there was a second wave of postmodern poetry as it emerged from the counterculture and got canonized. You can say, this wave lasted until around the second half of the 00’s. After that there was a change, with the newcomers, essentially, the poets who were born in the 80’s, and well, we tend to call them “New Seriousness” – I think it’s similar to the term “New Sincerity”, which is used to describe certain post-postmodern or metamodern ambitions in the American literature. My initiation into contemporary poetry happened by reading these “new serious” poets, so I feel, I come from that kind of poetry, but I am also a generation younger, so I also try to step away, try to go over them, or behind them, and my thought was that maybe it can be done by implementing the avant-garde poetics, which is actually, of course, recycling of avant-garde poetics. So, I would say I fit in, in a broader sense, in the mainstream style of how the younger poets of my generation write, but also I am a bit different. (laughter)

R. Ok (laughter)

BM. Who wouldn’t say that, of course? “I’m original, but not odd”.

R. But when you said you try to re-utilize the avant-garde legacy that seems to me somewhat similar to what postmodernism did, and at the same time quite different from what the historical avant-garde did, which was a radical split in some way. So, is this return to the avant-garde also a return to postmodernism, in your own way, or is it a departure in different direction?

BM. Well in the Hungarian poetry I think it’s a departure, since our postmodern style of writing wasn’t that political. Because, after the 1989, and the …

R. Fall of the Berlin Wall? Breaking of the Soviet Bloc? The transition?

BM. The transition, yes. After the transition many of these poets who started their career in the 70’s and 80’s – often very close to neo-avant-garde poetics –, they felt they needed to step away from any kind of political writing, and in my opinion, their writing became a kind of l’art pour l’art. And also, the tradition, the legacies they were re-utilizing were more of the aestheticist kind.

R. I understand. We had somewhat similar situation here, in the 90’s, at least in one, albeit significant, part of the literary scene.

BM. In any case, it was not this radical avant-garde stuff. And in this sense my poetry is a departure. Of course, I think it can be described as postmodern, or post-postmodern (laughter)

R. So we talked a little bit about the writing scene in Hungary and in Pécs in particular, but you also work as an editor in a literary magazine. Could you tell me from this perspective how things function in Hungary, how publishing works? Is it hard for a young poet to publish? What are the options there? What are the magazines you would rely on?

BM. The literary magazine I work at is called Jelenkor. It was founded in 1958, and it is one of the oldest in the country. It’s really interesting, because there are two other ones that have the same patina and they are stationed in Szeged, Tiszatáj, and the other one is in Debrecen, called Alföld, and it’s, well, funny that while most of the literary scene concentrates in Budapest, no literary magazines of this stature exist in the capital. There obviously are literary magazines there, but they are younger. There were very good literary magazines after the transition in Budapest, and all of them went bankrupt. So, this means ironically that the writers who usually move from the countryside to Budapest, they are sending back their writing to the countryside, if they want to publish in the most prestigious periodicals. You know in a way I find this sad, because this leads to the withering of the smaller literary scenes and also to the struggling of these prestigious publications.

R. And as far as the publishing of poetry books goes, what was your experience?

BM. All right … I waited about two years maybe to get published, and this is ordinary length. But nowadays I hear rumors that this period is getting longer, that the bigger publishing houses are saying they can publish the recently accepted manuscripts only after four-five years, which I find insane. It really can mess up not just the author’s writings and dynamics, but in the long term even the literary scene can be altered by such manipulations.

Of course most of the writers don’t make their living off publishing books, but we really have a vast network of literary magazines, so you can earn quite fair money with publishing in the magazines. For example, Jelenkor is a monthly periodical, so there are those better known authors who publish in our magazine twice or thrice a year…

R. I was wondering – so this is something quite different form Serbia – here hardly anyone can make living either by publishing in magazines or by writing poetry books – perhaps with prose the situation is somewhat better, but that is a different discussion.

BM. Well I don’t mean you can live off it as a king, but …

R. You can make some kind of living?

BM. Yes, it can be half or third of a monthly salary, if you’re capable and lucky. Of course this is about the very bad and low Hungarian salaries as well. I’m talking about 100-150-200 euros maybe, and naturally this isn’t a regular income. Anyhow in my early twenties, as a student when I could publish a few of my poems or translations or reviews the royalty always came in handy. Just like nowadays.

R. It is still significantly more than you can earn here.

BM. I read that in the USA for example, when you can publish once a year in a magazine, it is good, and that is normal there. I cannot imagine that in Hungary.

R. But how is than culture financed? Do you rely on the sources from the EU, Hungarian government? How does this institutional scene work?

BM. Jelenkor is mainly funded by the government. We have a cultural foundation, and without it we would have gone bankrupt, probably in the 90’s.

R. But there is a support from the government for the culture in general and poetry in particular.

BM. Yes. It is not so generous, but you can make it. And of course, you can ask for funding from the city, and there are projects you can rely on…

R. How did this Capital of Culture title influence the literature in Pécs? What kind of benefits did you have from it? Did it help the literary scene? And in what ways, if so?

BM. Well, I really don’t know, because when Pécs was the Cultural Capital I was really young and not that deep into the literary scene yet. But of course, we have a similar residency program, there were some anthologies, and I remember there were some really interesting book launches and talks that year. With Jelenkor we have international contacts, but it is through the Višegrad Foundation. We have Slovenian, Croatian, and Slovakian contacts. And every two or three years we have a thematical issue on those literatures, and naturally, stuff from Hungary gets published in those countries. But if I remember correctly, it began before the Cultural Capital project. And of course, Jelenkor was one of the bases of what qualified the city to be the Cultural Capital. You know, almost all of the major writers published in our magazine … Sándor Weöres, Miklós Mészöly, Péter Esterházy, Péter Nádas, Zsuzsa Takács were our esteemed authors … László Krasznahorkai, Krisztina Tóth… I do not want to start dropping names.

R. Sure. Apart from writing poetry, you are also an academic. How do these two things intersect in your life? Do you rely on it?

BM. Yes of course. Well, I’ve been writing poetry since I was a teenager, but in the scene I began as a literary critic, and in this wave of the “New Seriousness” I reviewed many of the poets. So of course, as I think of it, it must have had a deep impact on my writing. And I am writing my thesis on Hungarian avant-garde, and it is a great impact as well.

R. What would than be your favorite poets? I am not talking about influences here. I am simply asking, what do you enjoy reading?

BM. Well I enjoy really everything, regardless of poetics. Just as we talked [last time], if it’s good, it’s good. So, it is really funny, because when I reviewed the last book of Lajos Parti Nagy – one of the major poets of the 80’s–90’s postmodern wave – I gave him a bad review, but I really like his poetry, and I gave him a bad review because I was disappointed.

R. That is fair, I think.

BM. He is really great … I always become shy when you have to tell names, because many of them are now my friends, and I really don’t want someone thinking that I am only mentioning them because we are on good terms, but I really like the poetry of Dénes Krusovszky and Márió Z. Nemes. They are these “New Seriousness” poets. The poetry of Dénes is somewhat influenced by the New York School kind of sub-surrealism (not that surprising since he’s translating Frank O’Hara or John Ashbery), Márió’s writing is quite carnivalesque, pseudo-mythical. You know it’s very difficult for me to read poetry just for fun, not that I don’t enjoy them, but poetry is work for me. In Hungarian poetry there are only a handful authors I can still read just for fun. Beside that of course, I read a lot of English poetry.

R. You also translate from English.

BM. Yes, I translate, and mainly from the US.

R. But you also translated Paul Muldoon [an Irish poet from Northern Ireland], whom I also did translate, some of his poems and essays.

BM. He is really interesting, but I am not prepared for translating him. At least those of his poems that are written in strict form are really difficult. I did W.S. Merwin who died recently. And right now I am reading these female authors – perhaps I have mentioned earlier that we are planning to do a feminist theme issue with the other magazine I am editing called Versum [an online magazine specializing in the Hungarian translations of world poetry]. There are some great female writers in Hungarian literature, but somehow, I don’t resonate with them. I don’t know. Meanwhile I really like the writing of Adrienne Rich and Eileen Myles and Margaret Atwood, so I read them now a lot. I’ve translated Saeed Jones who is really good Afro-American queer guy, and his volume of poetry, titled Prelude to Bruise. It had great impact on me. Also, I was delighted because many of the readers resonated with it very well. With the poems of course, I couldn’t publish the book, because in Hungary that is almost non-existent, to publish a translated volume of poetry.

R. Why do you think that is?

BM. Of course, it is because of the capitalist book markets.

R. But you also said there is some support from the state for the magazines and publishing.

BM. Yes, but it is not for translating.

R. That is interesting.

BM. You can publish translated books of poetry only if it is funded by the EU or if it is funded from the country that you are translating. For example, the US does not have this kind of funding.

R. Of course, they don’t care because they get translated either way.

BM. Yes, and because English is the new lingua franca many just read the original, but without translation I don’t think cultures can affect each other. You know, before the transition there was a really great scene of poetry translation, but these book series went away after the transition. And for at least a decade now, we didn’t have any major translated poetry, aside from Seamus Heaney, who is a Nobel prize winner, and whose translations the Irish paid for. But you know, we don’t have Ashbery, O’Hara…

R. We don’t have O’Hara either, I have translated several of his poems for Rizom a while ago.

BM. We might have O’Hara in the future, but I don’t know what is going on with the rights. They are trying to get that published. So, I know that it is translated already, the aforementioned Dénes Krusovszky translated him and András Gerevich, who are really great translators, and both of them are colleagues of mine at Versum. But they can’t get the rights. I think O’Hara’s rights are with his sister or some other relative, and she is old and does not care for that (laughter).

R. That is unfortunate.

BM. I don’t know properly what is going on (laughter). But aside from the shameful situation in translated poetry in general, the poetry of US is in even worse shape. We just don’t know the American poetry.

R. Ok – I would like now to wrap things up “with a bang” rather than “with a whimper”. What do you think that poetry can accomplish today?

BM. (laughter) Oh man!

R. I mean, you write poetry, I do as well, many people write, and some of that poetry is actually quite good, but at the same time, you have mentioned the capitalist system that does not really favor the things that are not really profitable, and so on, and so on…

BM. Yes.

R. So, we still write it. Why do we do it? Or to be more precise: why do you do it?

BM. I write because I cannot not write. But you know what poetry can accomplish? In Hungary slam poetry got in really late, only a few years ago, five, six years perhaps. There was a big bang five, six years ago. I have to say, I’m not that fond of the genre. But right now I sense that many younger people were affected by it, and I find that great. Although sometimes I feel they don’t read after, and they should read. So, before I was talking about mainstream poetics, I meant that as a poetic language that everyone speaks, and when I talk about slam poetry being mainstream, I mean commercially mainstream. And there are some very good slam poets, but sometimes I fear that they use that for venting their fears and whatnot, their anger. So, I feel that this is something that poetry can achieve, to get younger people to speak up, anyway just to talk about things, and hopefully to read, which is very important.

R. Is there an audience for poetry in Hungary?

BM. For some there is. For example Péter Závada was just now at the Rotterdam poetry festival and he was a guest alongside Charles Bernstein and Patricia Lockwood (actually Patricia’s poetry is also one I like). He began his career as a rapper, but his father is a writer so he has strong connections to the literary scene, and then he began to write slam poetry, and then poetry, and he has great audience, a really vast audience. Of course, he is commercially successful. A similarly commercially successful poet is Márton Simon. You know I don’t stint them of success, but meanwhile there are other really good poets who should get greater audience as well, but just don’t get it.

R. But apart from enabling young people to speak up, which is obviously an important role that poetry can play, if it does not reach the wider audience it doesn’t seem to accomplish much. This does not have to mean anything, obviously.

BM. But now, we were talking the other day about Lyotard and the postmodern condition, and he said that [in the postmodern condition] anything that does not produce [valorize] capital should not exist [has no legitimacy]. All right. But I imagine for example, a Hollywood chick-flick film would produce [valorize] capital, but sometimes I imagine that even those films could not be made without good literature.

R. Absolutely!

BM. You know, to have the culture for the “masses”, you need to have the culture for the higher class (laughter)

R. Well that was a bit elitist. (laughter)

BM. But you know I don’t mean this.

R. There is this French director Antoine Vitez who said “aristocracy for everyone”. That is how I think of it sometimes. We have to say certain things in a particular way, and this might be difficult or complex or uneasy or even traumatic, but it has to be said in that particular way, because every other way would be forgery, and so on… And these articulations are impossible within the mainstream discourse. But do we accomplish something with that? I don’t know, it is difficult to assess the effects, we don’t have the instruments, or so it would seem.

BM. Yes, you know I always laugh that they say that avant-garde literature is or was incomprehensible. Then I read it and I just understand it, what was written a hundred years before me. So, well, maybe we just don’t write for today, but for the future. Whether there will be a future, I don’t know this (laughter). In these times of climate catastrophe, I don’t know if there will be a future (laughter).

R. Yes. And every other kind of catastrophes that follow… I am uncertain from my own perspective about what we can accomplish. Or, perhaps, I think that we can accomplish much, but at the same time we don’t have a way to (or most of us doesn’t have a way to) access the wider audience which I think could read, given the opportunity. But the entire media eco-system is formed in such a manner that they never, never approach poetry in any shape or form, apart from the lyrics to the songs. Which is still some kind of poetry.

BM. Yes of course.

R. And in that sense, I think that entire “human civilization” is impossible without poetry, in a wider sense. The fictions, the narratives, the metaphors, we cannot exist without them.

BM. Actually, it’s a good thing that you brought up music and lyrics, because, well, when I was in high school, I had a band, and I began to write because of that. And you know, one of my favorite Hungarian lyricists, actually he’s from Pécs as well, András Lovasi from the band called Kispál és a Borz is very poetic. Or I have to mention Beck Zoltán from 30Y (a Pécs band as well), who sometimes publishes short stories in our magazine. (I have to tell this fun fact: because there are so many bands in the city, there’s this slogan, that Pécs is the Liverpool of Hungary. For five years now in every January we have a one-day showcase festival called Made in Pécs, where local bands get 20 minutes of concert time at 6 frequented pubs of the downtown, and there are more then 120 participating acts. It’s a crazy and lively day, one of my favorite every year.) Anyhow, back to Lovasi: I would describe his style of writing as postmodern, in a way that he utilizes what he reads, and there are all these references, and you know, there were poets I read because of him, and that is also an accomplishment.

R. I agree. I think in this context here, we had, in the 80’s and late 70’s and early 90’s, we had lyricists, front men and women of different rock bands who were rather well read, or much more familiar with poetry than most of people playing music today, and they did write really decent lyrics, some of them quite complex, or even hermetic, and they were very popular, and still are to this day. This somehow seems to me has either disappeared, or exists in some hidden pockets. But not only here, you might say that in other places, in the States, or Britain, [quality] literature was much more present within the popular culture than it is today. And there was some kind of synergy. Not to mention the 60’s and all that politically engaged popular music. People read and sang at the same time… in a way. But what happened in the last 30 to 40 years, that things went downhill. Even when you focus on the lyrics alone, you cannot hear anything on that level of complexity or engagement. Or hardly anywhere.

BM. Yeah, in Hungary I think … of course I don’t know, or even if I listen to Serbian or Yugoslavian bands, I don’t understand any lyrics. My father liked Bjelo dugme.

R. Obviously they were big, and still are big, they had reunion couple years ago.

BM. Yeah, so I know that music, and it’s great, even musically it is great. But in Hungary, this kind of post-punk, new wave of the 80’s had in my opinion the biggest and/or longest effect. For example, one of our major poets is István Kemény, his poetry benefited from those lyrics deeply. Or take the aforementioned lyrics of András Lovasi, that are very complex and rich in enjambements, and if you read the poetry of the younger generations (myself included) in their line-breaks you can discover the effect of Lovasi’s enjambements. You know I often collage parts of lyrics into my poems. And I think that it is hardest to translate these kinds of references, that you wouldn’t know were coming from lyrics, and of course other artefacts. You cannot know if I am referring to the statue I like, but when you pick a part of a lyric it resonates with the audience who knows it’s from lyric. And fortunately, there are still some good bands who are writing good lyrics, in my opinion, in Hungary.

R. Maybe I’m too harsh.

BM. Well you know, all the counter-culture went away, and I think that is the reason for the change you are talking about. In Hungary some kind of counter culture is coming back of course.

R. That sounds good, I guess.

BM. Yeah, maybe.

R. Also in Serbia there is some kind of counter culture, but interestingly, things moved from rock and roll to hip hop, and there I see interesting things, obviously in slam as well, but both of these mediums are in a way limited by their own generic structure. They can relate certain ideas, I think, very well, and to the wider audience. And it also depends on the quality of the artists themselves.


R. Ok, these were the topics that I wanted to talk to you about. We are neighbors [Serbia and Hungary], and have been, forever, and I always had a feeling we don’t know enough about each other. I think language is one of the barriers that needs to be overcome.

BM. Of course it is, but in my opinion, it is also the nationalist politics of my country (laughter)

R. Mine as well, I’m sure. I would like to end our conversation with promises of future cooperation.

BM. Yeah, I hope that there will be some cooperation as we talked about last time.

R. Thank you very much!

BM. Thank you.


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