Author's page

Biography

1935 born into a family of farmers in Vése, south of Lake Balaton
1955 post office clerk; imprisoned from August to November whilst still at high school for writing verse considered critical of the regime; works as a day-labourer, then as an accountant
1959-63 graduates in Hungarian and Librarianship from Teacher Training College, Pécs
1970-73 graduates in Librarianship from Loránd Eötvös University, Budapest
1959 librarian at the District Library, Nagyatád
1965 librarian at Teacher Training College, Pécs
1977 director of the County Library, Pécs
1982-1996 senior member of the County Library, Pécs
1975 on the editorial staff of Pécs's well-known literary magazine, Jelenkor
1999 senior member at Jelenkor
1992-93 member of the board in the Hungarian Writers' Association
1998 regular member of the Széchenyi Literary and Art Academy
1998 member of the Hungarian Digital Academy

His prizes include:
1973 Miklós Radnóti Prize, 1982 Attila József Prize, 1983 Janus Pannonius Prize, 1986 Book of the Year Prize, 1989 Graves Prize, 1990 Tibor Déry Award, 1991 Júlia Szinnyei Memorial Prize, 1991 MSZOSZ Prize, 1991, 93 Kortárs Prize, 1993 Sándor Weöres Prize, 1995 Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic, 1995 Pro Civitate Pécs Prize, 1997 Laureate of the Hungarian Republic, 2004 Kossuth Award

Three on the Fifth
1995

The incontrovertible masterworks of Bertók s oeuvre to date are the 243 sonnets that make up this book Three on the Fifth being a phrase that not only holds numerological significance 3 stands for the holy trinity, 5 is the traditional symbol of man but is also a key to Bertók s own variation on the traditional sonnet form, in which he expands the three quatrains and closing couplet with the title line, yielding a total of 15 (3 x 5) lines. More significant than such technical adroitness, however, is the reticence of the verse, its hiatuses, the different relations created by mutilations and new combinations of language and material. These compel the reader to become actively involved in completing and linking the poems as, bit by bit, they accrete their increasingly complex meanings.

Plank Spring
1998

After his enormous sonneteering adventure, Bertók chose a new form in this book, writing longer and freer lines. His poems, usually built around a narrative element, are characterised by sudden changes and associations brought together without further explanation, as in the metaphor of the title, "Plank Spring". His fellow-poet, László Lator, calls this poetry "a high-class lyre of general sensitivity...a reckoning of our human state". Whereas Bertók had filled his earlier, strict forms with fractured and incomplete syntax, now the gaps of associations are wedged into more regular sentences. Lator continues: "He still likes the palpable and the visible, objects and real situations, but seems to tear the poem free of them and pushes it above them, towards the abstract, the philosophical. Sometimes he goes even further, placing ideas, aphorisms, round, assertive verbs after one another, leaving the connection obscure"

February Knife
2000

Bertók s poetry does not belong to any school. Whilst he takes a classical stance to themes of transcendence and the universe, his unorthodox voicings transform the tradition in ways that are unique in contemporary Hungarian literature. Sonnets resurface in this latest batch of poems among the free-verse pieces and poems about the small events of everyday life in a set of 3 x 3 pieces of matchless quality. The other poems have tended to become longer, more expressive and explanatory, examining the difficulties of the post-sonnet: already he had said everything, and everything was a continuous repeating and guessing of first words and it was only the painful experiment of remembering their exact meanings Bertók has to fight to say the unspeakable: Ninety percent of the essence is absence. The rest is connection. The most eye-catching of the latest experiments to be found in February Knife, though, are the haikus, in which he harmonizes the classically unrhymed first and third lines. There are 81 of these haikus in all, adding up to 243 lines.

Little Threes
2004

In his most recent period Bertók has been writing haikus, and he calls these three-line, rhymed stanzas “little threes”. The poems are divided into three great cycles containing nine times nine haikus each. “Little threes” are self-contained but they can be read as the mosaic peaces of a longer poem. “Besides the powers of three,” writes another poet, Győző Ferencz, “the volume is held together by the writing situation; the poet is sitting at a garden table, watching the cycle of the seasons, the trees, the birds, the stones, brooding on life and scribbling his ‘nail-size poems’” (an expression invented by Kosztolányi). Ferencz calls attention to the possible danger of the short poems: “Seventeen syllables can be arranged into one, two or three sentences at most, and the number of grammatical or conceptual structures is finite. But this only makes an obstinate poet the more excited. At times Bertók makes the three lines dynamic by a crafty syntax structure, at times he fills it out with one calm remark; sometimes he concludes the poem, at other times he leaves it open. He asks questions, makes assertions, opposes an abstract statement with the image, or the other way round.”

Ants in Procession
2007

MAGVETO½, BUDAPEST, 2007. 120 PAGES Háromkák (“triolets”) and hosszúkák (“long’uns”) are just two of the small words that László Bertók has bestowed on the Hungarian language. The first is the name he gives to the classical three-line haiku that is undergoing a renaissance in contemporary Hungarian poetry, while the latter is a term he applies to the poems in the present volume. The poetic form that Bertók uses to document the footling bits-and-pieces of old age, or rather the bittiness and pieciness of things, consists of thirty or forty cohering lines. Lines of poetry march in procession in a deeply furrowed lyrical bloc, in this kind of fashion: “A black milky way, ants march from somewhere to somewhere else, / over the terrace, down the steps, off at the foot of the wall, / looked at from above (from on high) a blurring band, no more than / a dark tingling, both its start and finish indiscernible…” (from the poem ‘Black Milky Way, Ants March’). Bertók perceives the world in his immediate vicinity: ants, glow-worms, tinkling telephones, sharpened pencils, curtain-fluttering draughts, warm and cold weather fronts, old age as mundane experience. There is room for all kinds of things in the loose sentences of Bertók’s verses, spiked as they are with cross-references, parentheses, questions and subordinate clauses. Puddles and seas. An entire little world and an entire lived life. In Bertók’s intricate poetry, as the last line of the last poem says: “he is still able to laugh at himself.”

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