Sunday, July 20, 2008

ENDGAMES by MÁRTON KOPPÁNY

EILEEN TABIOS Engages

ENDGAMES by Márton Koppány
(Otoliths, 2008)

ENDGAMES is the purr-fect title for Márton Koppány’s collection that delivers an ACE of a serve to poetry’s attempts to write itself. I call the works (tennis-related) Aces since each delivers a sense of completely having said it all (whatever that it is) on the page. There’s no need here for the reader to mentally dither as to what the work means or where it’s going (much as one goes back and forth in tennis). Each work delivers its world complete, and one’s job as a reader/viewer is not to “complete” it with one’s subjective response (as is encouraged by some deliberately open-ended poem) but just to witness it … and marvel. Here’s one example, the poem “The Secret” in its entirety:
{([ )}]

The concept seems simple enough until I realized there’s no synchronicity in the order of the marks. That is, my eye first saw (my assumption of the poem to be):
{([ ])}

as such would manifest the parenthetical nature of the marks. But, out of order, they suddenly denote something else. And that something else is unknowable like a secret. Like, perhaps, Poetry.

Form manifests Content.

Inevitably, in my experience of attempting or witnessing others’ attempts to expand the possibilities—or explore the barriers—of text, the visual becomes more of a presence than in verse. For example, Pages 18 and 19 of “Graffiti 1-12”, which face each other, serve as a diptych. Page 18 is a page that is blank except for a black, rectangular border with nothing within the border. Page 19 is the same thing, except that there’s a handwritten “and” off-center and in the bottom half of the page. That’s another “Ace”! When one faces a blank page, or blank wall, one is often tempted to fill it in—e.g., viz graffiti. But to say “and” is to mark it by simply capturing the sense of something else without defining it. So that “and” also simply manifests the blank page/wall by inscribing the purity of blankness as possibility.

Elsewhere, Koppány uses collage and photographs to deliver more Aces. For example, “Ellipsis No. 5” features a chair standing on one leg, or with the number of missing legs the same as the periods that punctuation-ally manifests the ellipsis. “Ancient Ellipsis (Fragment)”, meanwhile, is the photograph of a boulder, presumably old and hearkening itself as a left-over from a once-larger mountain of stone. Thus, one sees not just the left-over boulder but the missing element of which it once was part, an element now able to be evoked only through the conceptual ellipsis.

I could highlight so many more examples of how each work is dead-on, with every single letter and image absolutely essential to the work. Instead, I want to share an excerpt from Karl Young’s essay (I call it “essay” since I think it’s more respectable than a “blurb”) on the book’s back cover:
Earlier works such as these depend on Koppány’s background in the dangers of language and existence: When a Hungarian Jew who lost most of his family to the Holocaust; lived much of his life under Soviet domination; now lives in an environment of Neo-Nazi resurgence, is extremely careful with his use of language, it should not be seen as simply a style or affectation. At the same time, attributing political motives to his economy of language reduces it and him to propaganda, the genre farthest away from his poetry.

Becoming aware of that background makes me look at these works in a new light, for example “Endgame No. 2” which, in its entirety, is the line
it is too late

The line is first typed out, then the second word “is” has a line striking it out in favor of a new handwritten word above it. But that new, handwritten word is, again, “is”.

So what makes this work poetry and not merely politics? Young says it as well as I can:
An exploration of the danger of existence without complaint reveals a larger personality. A completely infectious sense of humor which ridicules no one and degrades nothing makes sense of the inescapable circuits in which his work moves.

(Such also reminds me of one of the most inspiring books I’ve read, Victor E. Frankl's MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING. In fact, in a recent (synchronistic) conversation with the excellent poet Sharon Mesmer, I was reminded that Frankl, writing about his experience in a concentration camp, once said, "As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before.")

Certainly, I appreciated “Endgame No. 2” even before reading the back cover information which presented it in a different light. For it is Koppány’s witty playfulness (not decimated by his personal history) that makes his poems so effective. For me, fully transparent here in noting my relationship to the hay(na)ku, that play is most generous in his “Singing Iceberg” which presents a musical score for the letters “n-o-F or-m se-a-a-a-a-A rch? C h-e-c-k-k-k”. I read music a little and so was able to sing this work out loud. In fact, the ending “k-k-k” is featured by Koppány to show the “k”s in descending size order, with the first “k” the largest, the second “k” smaller, and the third “k” smallest of the three; this implies that whilst singing the letters one’s tone should lower in volume, too. This would be a great poem to deliver at a poetry reading! And this sound-poem was inspired, according to the “Author’s Notes” by one of Crag Hill’s hay(na)ku:
Scientists Discover Singing Iceberg

Scientists
monitoring earth
movements in Antarctica

say
they’ve found
a singing iceberg.

The
sound waves
cannot be heard

by
humans, a
frequency of 0.5 hertz

but
they resemble
a swarm of

bees
or an
orchestra warming up.

“Once
the iceberg
stuck fast, it

was
like a
rock in a

river,”
she said.
“The water pushes

through
its crevasses
and tunnels at

high
pressure and
the iceberg starts

singing.
The tune
even goes up

and
down, just
like a real song.”

I share Hill’s hay(na)ku in its entirety because it also describes what been going on through Koppány’s ENDGAMES— Koppány looks at words, letters and punctuation marks and deconstructs them into poems by dancing through their “crevasses/ and tunnels at // high / pressure” (I first typed “pleasure” for “pressure”).

With my eyes, ears and mouth fully satisfied with the experience of Koppány’s ENDGAMES, I closed the book absolutely in love with his Devotion.

*****

Eileen Tabios does not allow her books to be reviewed in Galatea Resurrects, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to Anny Ballardini’s review of her I Take Thee, English, For My Beloved in JACKET, as well as Allen Gaborro’s review of her The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes in the Philippine News.

1 comment:

EILEEN said...

Another view is offered by Tom Hibbard in GR #12 at

http://galatearesurrection12.blogspot.com/2009/05/endgames-by-marton-koppany.html