Péter Simon: Hommage á Attila József
Working, working, working, dreaming, wasting time, working, wasting time, dreaming, working. There must be a rhythm to this, some powerful discipline of disciplines like the key to all mythologies, but it's what I've known most of my life, and it's random.
I spent this morning writing a poem on the traces of Attila József's A város peremén, whic you could translate as At the Edge of the City, or On the Periphery. There are many translations of it. Here is the beginning of John Bátki's:
On the city's edge where I live,Over sixteen verses of six lines each, József paints a picture of an industrial quarter. It's part elegy, part protest. There are a number of translations, including Bátki's, but it wasn't a translation I wanted to write but a new poem, a kind of echo. It should be in the same form and maybe it would have a touch of John Davidson's Thirty Bob a Week, that begins:
when sunset comes caving in,
like so many tiny bats
soot floats down on soft wings
settling into a crust of guano
a hard and thick skin...
I couldn't touch a stop and turn a screw,This is not what I was going to do this morning but last night I was in London to hear Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri present an excellent and moving programme of poetry, partly Clive's own work and partly Clive and George's translations from the Hungarian. But even before that I was meeting Gyöngyi at the HCC to talk about an anthology of poems for József, to be commissioned from various British poets. She asked me if I too would do something, to write not exactly a translation, but a response to one of József's poems, and I immediately thought of A város peremén.
And set the blooming world a-work for me,
Like such as cut their teeth -- I hope, like you
--On the handle of a skeleton gold key;
I cut mine on a leek, which I eat it every week:
I'm a clerk at thirty bob as you can see..
I say immediately because I hadn't been thinking of it at all before. But I thought about it on the train home and this morning I sat down to draft a poem titled In the Banlieue, which suggested the right sort of outer suburb. Yes, sixteen verses, and yes, the same rhyme scheme, even roughly the same metre. And so it began. Now there are sixteen verses, as planned. It has been through four or five drafts but I am at the stage where I keep changing my mind. Here is the beginning as it stands.
In the Banlieue
After Attila József’s ‘A város peremén’
We live on the edge of town
in a banlieue of the time,
in a square of the imagination
haunted by crime,
and when we are dead and buried
we’re buried in quicklime.
We’re scum in the eyes of the world,
drunks, addicts, whores, and pimps,
but for any dozen of us that sways
another dozen limps.
We’re not the housing the state invests in
but the dumps on which it skimps.
Once inner city slums were home
and that was far from great,
but it was clear we wouldn’t last
in realms of real estate.
They threw us into this shanty town
and they could hardly wait.
Don’t come to us after dark, sir.
Madam, avoid the street,
there are some of us lurking here
you wouldn’t want to meet,
and certain words in our loud mouths
I don’t care to repeat...
Not quite right, not yet. And there are the other twelve verses. I write fast when I write such things, ninety-six lines in place within two or three hours, but then come the corrections and eventually I am confused so have to let it alone. I will return to it, maybe tomorrow. And then again the nightmare that it may all be no good.