When You Became She
translated from the Hungarian, with an Introduction, by Bruce Berlind
ISBN 1-879378-09-4 (paper)
xii, 113 pages, $15
Imre Oravecz achieved recognition with his first book, Skin (1972), but it was the 1988 publication of When You Became She (its Hungarian title was September, 1972) that brought him wide critical acclaim, as well as notoriety. Individual poems had been appearing in periodicals for several years, and it was no doubt their erotic and personal subject matter that led to the edition being exhausted within hours after it went on sale. (A new edition was published in June of 1993).
Between Skin and When You Became She there were two principal collections, Changes in the Vegetation of a Landscape (1979) and The Book of the Hopi (1982). His longest and most ambitious project is a sequence of poems under the general title Szajla, the name of the village in northeastern Hungary where he was born in 1943.
Excerpts from When You Became She:
IN THE BEGINNING
there was you, there was there, there was then, there was blue sky, there was sunshine, there was spring, there was warm, there was meadow, there was flower, there was tree, there was grass, there was bird, there was forest, there was courage, there was determination, there was gracefulness, there was trust, there was giving, there was richness, there was pleasure, there was gaiety, there was laughter, there was song, there was talk, there was prayer, there was praise, there was respect, there was harmony, there was sweetness, there was cleanliness, there was beauty, there was affirmation, there was faith, there was hope, there was love, there was future, then the you became she, the there became here, then became now, blue sky became black smoke, sunshine became rain, spring became winter, warm became cold, meadow became swamp, flower became dry stalk, tree became ash, grass became stubble, bird became prey, strength became weakness, courage became cowardice, determination became vagueness, gracefulness became awkwardness, trust became suspicion, giving became selfishness, richness became poverty, pleasure became sorrow, gaiety became sadness, laughter became weeping, song became squawking, talk became stuttering, prayer became swearing, praise became cursing, respect became scorn, harmony became discord, sweetness became bitterness, cleanliness became filth, beauty became a toad, affirmation became negation, faith became doubt, hope became despair, love became hate, future became past, and the whole thing began all over again.
FOR QUITE SOME TIME
I'd been hanging out in your capital city's popular park for the purpose of getting a woman who would gratify my desire, and whom I could turn on and then, in turn, gratify, and, because my low-minded efforts weren't crowned with success, I was about to leave, when I caught sight of you in front of the exit, you were standing around on the sidewalk, next to a wall, you had a fall pantsuit on, a handbag in your hand, and you were waiting for someone who didn't come, but I didn't know that at the time, and, with the resolve of a hunter who's had a run of bad luck all day long, without hesitation I accosted you in your own language, as to a woman of that kind, not with the kind of words commonly used for a woman of that kind, but with that kind of intention, and the answer you gave to my transparent request for the exact time was so innocent and unsuspecting, that my intention, like a whipped dog, skulked away, and if I didn't sneak away after it, it was only because I was ashamed of myself and felt that I'd committed a serious mistake which I had to make up for, so I asked if you'd like to take a walk, you said you would, and you joined me, no questions asked, as if you'd known me for a long time, and while we were walking we talked about all kinds of things which I no longer remember, and we meandered in all kinds of streets and squares, whose names only the map preserves, and you were pure and defenseless, and I liked you better and better, and I no longer wanted to get a woman, you or anyone else, but only to be with you, to become like you, you who could make me forget that you were a woman and I was a man, and it was only after you'd lost that talent of yours that I wanted to again, and that I got you.
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