Author's page

Biography

1887 born in Érsekújvár (now Nové Zámky, Slovakia)
1899 drops out of school, becomes locksmith apprentice; works in Érsekújvár and Győr
1904 ironworker in Budapest factories and workshops; joins political struggles of traid unions, blacklisted; joins cultural activity of workers' associations; meets future wife, Jolán Simon (1885-1938)
1909-10 travels to Paris on foot
1912 first book published
1915-16 edits the first Hungarian activist periodical, A Tett (Action) until it is banned
1916 editor of Ma (Today), the periodical synthesizing avant-garde trends
1919 member of the writers directory; conflict with communist leader Béla Kun; arrested upon the collapse of the Revolution, released in December
1920 emigrates to Vienna, restarts Ma; publishes short-lived 2x2
1926 returns home; isolated within the movement of the avant-garde
1926-27 edits Dokumentum (Document) with Gyula Illyés, Tibor Déry and Andor
Németh)
1928-36 editor of Munka (Work) until it is banned
1936 imprisoned for the chapter "Commune" in One Man's Life, banned from public affairs for three years
1940 spends two months in prison for agitation against the state; marries Klára Kárpáti (1914-1986)
1945-49 editor of Új Idők (New Times, with József Fodor), Alkotás (Formation, from 1946) and Kortárs (Contemporary); all three are banned
1946 lives in Békásmegyer, Vice-President of the Hungarian Art Council
1947 Social Democrat member of parliament
1949 "inner" emigration, but cannot publish
1953 dismissed from the Party
1954 moves to Budapest
1956 returns to literary life; exhibition in Budapest, 1957
1960-67 exhibitions abroad
1967 dies in Budapest

Prizes:
1965 Kossuth Prize

The Horse Dies, the Birds Fly Away
1922

In 1910 Kassák set out for Paris on foot with a wood sculptor and, as related in his autobiography, arrived there in great poverty with another friend, Emil Szittya, the intellectual and vagabond. Yet it is not Paris itself as much as the experiences gained on the road that become crucial they offer the material for Kassák s long poem, which marks the beginning of Hungarian avant-garde poetry. The most important piece of Kassák s own poetry, it is comparable to and influenced by Cendrars s Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Jeanne of France , Apollinaire s Zone and Mayakovsky s A Cloud in Trousers , and is characterised by its brilliant structure and (to quote Miklós Radnóti) wild joy of free associations . In its original form, as it was first published in 2x2, the short-lived Vienna periodical, it was printed continuously, the consequent line breaks marked by asterisks. Miklós Radnóti wrote that Kassák wanted to explode form, yet from this tradition, he created a new form, the Kassákian form of Hungarian free verse. Because Kassák s free verse is a creation of form.

One Man's Life, autobiographical novel I-VIII.
1928-1935

It took Kassák eight years to compose his autobiography. The last two volumes could only be read in the first edition as they appeared in the Nyugat (West), because the subsequent book was to be censured, omitting (without notice) the volumes on the Károlyi Revolution and on the Commune. The last volume led to Kassák's imprisonment during the Horthy Era and remained taboo in the post-war political system. Ultimately, however, it was agreed to award the Kassák the Lajos Kossuth Prize, just two years before his death. Out of the eight volumes, the most appealing tend to be the last two as well as those written about his childhood and adolescence and about his first literary orientations following his trip to Paris. Kassák dropped out of school of his own free will (at the age of twelve) and became an apprentice locksmith. Free will and open mind are the key elements of his whole mentality. He describes with the same openness work, love, sensual experiences, the people around him or the solidarity he learnt in the workers' movement, looking at himself and at his own self-respect with an understated and humourless irony through the changing years. The story of his road to Paris can be read as the background for his long poem, The Horse Dies The Birds Fly Away. His literary inquiries and the development of his tastes make for absorbing reading, part of the literary history of the era, and yet the most amusing pages are the ones that relate the influences on his self-esteem as an artist. Andor Németh reviewed the last two (at one time omitted) chapters with a contemporary's eyes. Autobiographers, he claims, usually "wish to convince the reader; they will argue and debate, they will trim and cut events into their rational elements because it is not the imagination they wish to affect, but judgement. But the way Kassák presents his own political role in the last two volumes of his autobiography, as well as the events that are of crucial importance even historically speaking, is, or seems to be, so objective, so incredibly emotionless, as if he were looking at his own history from a distant star." These two volumes document the age, but Kassák also "bombards reality persistently and obstinately, flays off every illusion; he is relentlessly critical but not without hope. He does not take things to pieces with malicious destruction; he explores their structure and with the intelligence of the will, gives them a new form....Both in the actual and the abstract sense, on every page of the book he instructs one of the ethics of an attitude, which is not a mechanical application of a theory: its beauty and objective value are revealed in practice."

Collected Poems
1970

Kassák starts off as a lonely explorer, without traditions, following his own experiences as a reader; at first he speaks with the voices of Petőfi, Berzsenyi and the poets of Nyugat, but later he finds his true element in the form-breaking and form-making of the avant-garde, in expressionism, in surrealism and in constructivism. Behind his poems is the vision of a fine artist. After his one-hundred numbered constructivist poems (published in the volumes Világanyám, My World-Mother; Új versek, New Poems; Tisztaság könyve, The Book of Cleanness; and 35 vers, 35 poems) an elegiac song-like quality appears (from the volume Földem virágom, My Land My Flower, on). His later poems describe a lonely and misplaced person s resigned bitterness (as in the volume Vagyonom és fegyvertáram, My Wealth, My Arsenal).

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