Borbély was born in Fehérgyarmat, up near the Ukrainian and Romanian borders, on 1 November 1963 and died in nearby Debrecen on 19 February 2014, aged 51. Internet references we saw say he "took his own life" but not why or how. The poet, who is remembered for tackling other genres as well, including essay, drama and short fiction, may not have written a suicide note.

In this new book are found abundant selections from his last two books, "Final Matters" and "To the Body". The original Hungarian text is set on the left-hand page and the English version on the facing page. Translator Ottilie Mutzet provides a lengthy afterword that places the poems in literary, historical and biographical context, calling the collection "a blasphemous and fragmentary prayer book ... that challenges us to rethink the boundaries of victimhood, culpability and our own religious and cultural definitions".

In "Canary Yellow", Borbély presents himself as a Jewish girl wearing the canary-yellow star imposed by the occupying Nazis, and sent with her mother and grandparents to the ghetto and then by cattle wagon to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The narrative ends at "The last station of selection. From here, the path led to the gas. The patience of God keeps watch – over His gate."

In "On Margaret Island", the narrator is again female, and after sex with a soldier she gives birth to a premature baby boy that dies in 48 hours. Nine years later, and with the assistance of an Infertility Centre, she is pregnant with twins. One is stillborn and the other lives for eight hours. Six months later, pregnant again, this becomes a breech birth, the baby girl living for two and a half weeks in an incubator before succumbing to a brain haemorrhage.

Finally, after this excess of grief from Borbély, a happy ending with the successful birth of a baby boy, now one and a half years old, happy and strong. "On Margaret Island" concludes: "To accept humiliation, so that the vanquished too may prevail. I am not bitter about the past. Such was my fate."ű

"Virginity" is a tale of regret after a college girl’s abortion. Thirty-three years later, with four children, she thinks back to the one she murdered. "I don’t know why I didn’t allow you to be born.Today you’d be thirty-three. Where are you now? Today the reasons seem nonsensical. Today what I did seems irrational. You’d be my wonderful little girl, my boy. Would be. Please forgive me, for all eternity. Amen."

Szilárd Borbély

The above poems come in semi-prose style. Other selections are more abstract, more "poetic", such as the following:


In Death’s final snare,
In its infinite final Hour,
the stars playfully swim.

The bacchanalia resounds as
carousing through the pub
the Angels wander drunkenly.

Weeping, they lament the Christ,
who was born here,
freezing into blood. Slowly,

immersed in reverie, on the road
to Emmaus. Alone, like a pointing finger.
In which there is no mercy!

Borbély is said by the Poetry Foundation to be widely acknowledged as "one of the most important poets to emerge in post-1989 Hungary". His works include the novel "The Dispossessed" and the poetry collection "Berlin-Hamlet". His poems appeared in English translation in the magazines "The American Reader", "Asymptote" and "Poetry". Among his many awards was the Attila József Prize.

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