Sound Odyssey by Gábor Lanczkor: Review

Sound Odyssey

Author: Gabor Lanczkor

Publisher: Poetrywala

Pages: 70; Price: Rs 300

Gabor Lanczkor is from Hungary – almost a Balkan, and almost Vulcan in his poetic enterprise. Since the title of the collection invokes Odyssey and the gamut of Greek mythology, one finds it apt to bestow a metaphor from that canon on the poet in question. Vulcan is the Roman god of volcanoes; of forges – forging the shield of Achilles to kill Hektor for example, and of metalwork. Lanczkor has tried to, in this work, forge a voice for volcanoes – those in nature, or in humans, or in chasms of sexual desires, or in an abyss of political or religious mires. Flowing under the surface of words is a seething of hot magma, flowing through its vulnerable terrains, and sometimes bursting forth into fire and ash. Lanczkor, the voice-over artist of these volcanoes, swims in the delight of finding the right resonance at times; at others, he struggles with his unpredictable master and contrives an obscure wall of words. When one is dealing with fire and desire, that flicker is inevitable – and that gives Lanczkor his style.

The book is divided into four parts – Table, Goya’s Deaf House, Sound Odyssey, and Coins from Amrita. While the first and the third sections create a – what Lanczkor would call ‘commissured tendon’ of politics, religion and sensuality –any modern artist’s preoccupations; the second and the fourth sections are curious biographies. Goya’s Deaf House is the biography of a house that 18th-century Spanish painter Francisco Jose de Goya dwelt in – of which he painted the walls. The ownership of the house changed, and the paintings were taken down from the walls onto frescoes. The poems are not about the paintings, or the walls, or the frescoes – but perhaps about what Julia Kristeva calls ‘monumental time.’ There is a time that passes by, a time that marks our decay, a time that marks the march of history, and a time that is monumental – that like a monument stands in a mute, and an acute silence to all passage.

The poems are about something happening on the lower floor, something on the upper floor, and so on –things happening in some other time. There is also dream time included. A man turns metamorphoses – much like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and it keeps reminding you that Lanczkor will keep speaking from some mythological time as well – into a goat. He and his beloved, a virgin, are killed, and carried like “dead mules”. She is no longer a virgin, just a saint from now on. This is a sharp critique of the cult of a virgin in Christianity, and of the prescriptions of abstinence, and of creation of saints after violent deaths of maidens across medieval Europe. In another metamorphosis, a ring found by a man turns into a woman who convinces him to go to a pilgrimage to Rome. Meanwhile, she kills his servants; he turns back from the harbour and kills her and himself. The narrative is abstruse, obfuscating and yet gripping – one knows sexuality and greed bursting like volcano through these metamorphoses.

Even more intriguing is the fourth section – Coins from Amrita. The epigraph to this section talks about Indo-Greek princes, from the time of successors of Eucratides who ruled over North West India in second century BC. This time, the quote from Ervin Baktay, tells, is extremely confusing, as it known only through its coins. The section that follows is about the famous Amrita Sher-Gil, who becomes the Indo-Hungarian princess, known only through symbols that her radical life and death create or evoke. The poet tries to get under her skin – there is even a hypnotist hypnotizing a seven-year-old Amrita aboard a ship, who later is confused whether hypnotizing a person for no fair reason is fair.

Lanczkor pulls the reader, hypnotises her, becomes the Vulcan, and starts speaking for Amrita, the volcano. He wades through her early life in a Hungarian countryside, under the parentage of a Sikh aristocrat and a Jewish Hungarian woman; her childhood love with Viktor; her life in Shimla; her open marriage; her loves and lovers; abortions – there’s a strange discomfort in the narrator here; her art and her sudden mysterious death at the age of 28. Her mother accuses Viktor of killing her and commits suicide a little later. And neither death surprises the narrator. He is prepared for volcano to turn ash. The poet struggles to deal with the powerful symbolism of this life, and tries to infuse it with melancholy poetry, and give it the hue of a quietly flowing stream. These two sections definitely evoke myriad curiosities in the reader – not just about Goya and Amrita, but the poet himself.

The translators, Rita Malhotra, Terry Varma, and Ashwani Kumar have done a great job – for even though it’s apparent there is a lot of cultural contexts that is lost in translation in a dense work like this – the poetic vision comes through.

The opening poem of the collection, in a way, sums up the poet’s vision – he sees himself as that point in his brain – where the myth of Genesis is commissure, is fused with the immediate time. The weight or deadweight of religion hangs on, defining and apparently refining life. The poet declares this weight won’t let him be a humanist. At another point, he pointedly tells that modern religion has killed the nymph of pagan time. To be a humanist, one perhaps needs to have the ability to turn into a goat and died with one’s beloved who is killed to be made a saint. It takes something else to transcend Adam’s taint.

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