Translator’s Note

Timea Balogh

I first discovered Simon’s work in Budapest in the summer of 2017, when a friend of mine shared on Facebook one of his most well-known poems, “3:45 AM,” from his first collection, Dalok a magasföldszintről (Songs for 3:45 AM). I fell for the simple images and sparse language Simon uses in that poem to express the speaker’s love for a lover he deems himself unworthy of. “Before Sleep” comes from that collection, and is marked by the same sparse language, a consistency in his oeuvre. When I spent last winter in Budapest, Simon had just returned to the city from a residency in Krakow, where he wrote the majority of his latest collection, Rókák Esküvője (Fox Wedding), including “On Good Things,” which he was inspired to write after reading the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz. Simon and I sat down several times that winter, for hours at a time, to review my translations. Simon himself translates from English to Hungarian, and is huge aid in helping me bring the most out of my translations; we often debate the meanings and uses of Hungarian and English expressions. It’s an immense gift for a translator to turn to the original author to ask what he meant by a particular line, where the idea came from or what his intentions were in creating an image — I’ve joked several times with Simon that I’m glad he’s alive to argue with me in person about my translations.

Márton Simon belongs to the generation of contemporary Hungarian writers who came of age after the fall of communism and forged a style of poetry dubbed by literary scholars as new seriousness, marked by a straightforward treatment of interpersonal relationships and simple language. New serious poets do not often engage with politics in their written poetry, and Simon is no exception to this. While his written poems are not overtly political, he often finds as many ways as he can in his slam poetry to tell the far-right, ruling party of Hungary to go to hell.

Although Simon rejects the opinion that Songs is partly a collection of love poems, partly a collection of poems mourning the loss of his mother, this descriptor of his first collection is nonetheless the popular assumption about him and the work with which he entered the Hungarian literary scene. His second collection, Polaroids, is formally innovative and largely influenced by Japanese literature (Simon holds a BA in Japanese), and is a collection of one-, two-, and three-line verses which maintain the stylistic simplicity, emotional sentimentality, and dry, sometimes crude humor which marks all three of his collections. The poems in Fox Wedding are his longest to date. In it, however, readers can still see traces of the listing style he mastered in Polaroids; “On Good Things” is a perfect illustration of this.


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