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103 Poets out of 100,000 in Hungary


Every country has its own character. In Hungary, the political powers successfully ripped the country apart and tore it into two opposing sides, and family, friends and colleagues have been fighting ever since. Even art and literature have not been spared from either a conservative or a liberal way of thinking, performing, creating or existing.

This unruly mob has also insisted on politicizing poetry, and we figured that participating in the organization of 100,000 Poets for Change in Budapest would gives us an opportunity to present poets of every stripe on the same stage, representing only themselves and not the associations, political parties, or hunting, fishing, hitchhiking or any other kind of godforsaken clubs to which they might belong.

We started organizing a bit late, in August. Maybe that’s why it grew so exponentially.

Three of us sat down for a drink (I was drinking my flagship beverage, a spritzer of dry white wine and soda water) to figure out what to do, how to do it and what we hoped to achieve. We agreed at the end to fix an appointment with the head of the Museum for Contemporary Art (Műcsarnok).

Jump. Strum. Strum. Pling. Pling

They liked the idea, we got the space, and not just an ordinary empty room (forgive me Peter Brook), but a large hall in the midst of an exhibit about Hungary’s quintessential art rock band, Bizottság (Committee), from the 1980s. A stage was then prepared for the event and the members of Bizottság, now in their sixties, agreed to come to our poetry event among the artifacts they created in the last 40 years, their paintings, sculptures, photos, album covers, instruments and anything one can.

And after a lengthy coordination period that included emails, calls, letters by post and personal appointments to coax the poets into participating, we had a list of over 100 sundry and diverse poets ready to do their deeds.

That day we had a film crew that recorded every minute from three in the afternoon till one in the morning. We had two technicians who ran the boards and fixed the stage if it was needed. We had a computer wizard who broadcasted the whole event on the Internet live.

And we had Ferenc Juhász, the oldest and one of the greatest of Hungarian poets, who agreed to go on first to read. His poem, “The Boy Changed into a Stag,”is widely translated. It was nearly a full house and it remained so during the entire event—ten straight hours during which we had a fantastic time.

Gabriella Nagy, whose job was to gather the poets, also had two young poets who volunteered to help us out. Otherwise, it was Ági Bárdos Deák, an activist and underground diva, and myself who ran the show.

We were well aware that a long event won’t hold people in their seats forever. So we agreed to provide a little breathing space to the audience and invited musicians to play between groups of five or ten poets and to wake up those who dosed off or wanted to leave due to too much poetry, which can be dry, if you know what I mean.
But lo and behold, we had a saxophone player, we had a jazz musician who brought an alphorn and played a duo with a jazz guitarist. We had a folk band that sang poetry. And we had more, including Eszter Takáts with her guitar and Peter Müller Siami, a legend in Hungarian underground music.

We also had Meenakshi Dora Bittner, a Hungarian dancer who is a performer of Bharatanatyam dance from India, and she danced us a poem.

We had English, German, Japanese, Serbian and Spanish speaking poets. And let me point out Iván Tabeira from Uruguay, whose performance got the biggest applause, was faithful and ever changing. We must have had over 3,000 people in the house, free drinks to go round, and just as many who followed the event on the net.

Around nine o-clock Central European time our computer wizard connected Michael Rothenberg, the brain behind the “scheme,” via Skype and he shared his thoughts with us for a few minutes.

Public interest in the event was so broad that I personally gave at least five interviews and my fellow organizers did the same. The event was widely talked about on social media and internet magazines, blogs and who knows where else, in addition to several daily papers, weekly magazines, televisions and radios. Only the tabloids were missing—no harm there.

What we experienced was unique. Almost every poet we invited came and performed for three to five minutes. They received no fee, unheard of in Hungary. We had poets paying for their own fare from their own pocket to come from their distant villages. In Hungary, if you get invited to participate in a poetry event, you get paid. Not this time. We had Ferenc Buda, another old and great poet who put everything aside and traveled three hours to read for five minutes because he said that it was worth it.

What was he talking about? Well, when we called a poet on stage, all we said was his or her name, nothing else. We didn’t say how many prizes and grants they won, how many books they published, how many languages their poetry had been translated to, what association or club they belong to, what their titles are in those clubs, for we had a few poets who were the heads of some very important institutions. They didn’t care; moreover, they came because they felt (I assume) that this time togetherness for peace was more important then their privileges and titles.

Before I forget, I must mention that the Műcsarnok sits to the side of Heroes Square, a place for national celebrations on certain occasions. The same day we had 100,000 Poets for a Change, the government organized a military event and kept us in the dark until the last day. Usually this event takes place at a different date, but some “too smart” officials changed that date. So we had to ask them to conduct their parade when they promote sergeants to become officers at another time.

They said no. But finally after several attempts to convince them, they gave in and held their initiation parade around ten in the morning. Still, it lasted for several hours and the guards, actual members of the anti-terrorist brigade who surrounded the area, let poetry lovers in, as if they knew the magic word, that we had to get to them, to our future audience now, via word-of-mouth communication in the last  two days that was 100,000 Poets for Change.

                 Gabor G Gyukics


it has nothing to do with …
(in memoriam Ira Cohen)

say farewell to all the previous notions
walk among sleeping crocodiles
towards the center of colors
not withstanding to the magnetism of mysteries
below the crowds of nothing
under the skies of unnamed entities
along the chords of the infinite circle

with silent lips
with goggled eyes
with storming calmness inside your skull
your defenseless cells lead your invisible steps
across the forbidden zone

yellow fog feeds
your leftover body