I met Dénes Krusovszky in the student translators workshop associated with the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, where he was a resident in fall 2013, along with thirty-three other writers from around the globe. As happened that year with Hungarian, whenever a writer hails from a language not spoken by any participating translator, he’ll prepare basic English trots of his work for his chosen English-speaking counterpart to make literary however she sees fit. Of all the residents’ writing samples Dénes’s resonated with me most, so on match day I asked him whether he might possibly consider letting me translate some of his work maybe please! And happily enough, he agreed.
When asked what one aspect of his verse he hoped to preserve in translation, Dénes specified his intermediary register between colloquial and high literary, so we worked hard to strike that balance. Our roundabout process went like this: I’d compare his trot with two others spat out by online translation algorithms, triangulate to his likeliest intended meaning, and then explain my rendering to him such that he could grasp what I’d stylized perhaps in error and attempt a refined explanation, and I could attempt a refined stylization. As a result, I feel that only he and I could have produced the accented “Accent” we did: a hybrid fantasy of two brains in compromised communication.
Of course, I would prefer to translate from a language I speak. Or rather, I would prefer to speak Hungarian, the better to translate it. For me, the pleasure of translating poetry lies in building a soundscape that harmonizes in form and content with the original wherever possible. I can’t do that from Hungarian: I can only look for parallel punctuation and repetitions or variations in the words, which, in the end, is really only pattern recognition. Really what I do with Dénes’s texts is high-level rewriting: the highest level, maybe, but still rewriting: an intra- rather than interlingual conversion. But there is, and I have, faith in that as translation, too.
The contemporary movement in which Dénes writes, he told our workshop, has been called the New Serious, and in “Accent” you’ll recognize this in the speaker’s feelings of shame and inadequacy, and in the shadow of the Holocaust that falls darkly on the last stanza — and on his homeland to this day. Some readers find the juxtaposition of genocide with YouTube too jarring to qualify as lyric, but the fact remains that the world of the Second World War contrasts starkly with that of 2013, when the Hungarian-American cellist János Starker died at age eighty-eight after a long and distinguished career. Krusovszky’s “Accent” is a reminder that the Holocaust has lost none of its potency in the intervening decades; that it so refuses to pass into history as to prefigure the obsolescence of what at the time of the war would have seemed unimaginably futuristic technology; because the horror of genocide exists outside of time: is ageless like music and poetry, unlike its victims, survivors, and us.about the author