Author's page

Biography

1943 born in Budapest
1966 studies Philosophy and Literature at Budapest University of Art without completing his degree
1981-85 editor of the underground journal Beszélő
1974 freelance writer
1975-88 his poems became "politically unacceptable" as a result of his activity in the Democratic Opposition. Three collections in samizdat. Founding member of SZETA, the fund for helping the families of the poor
1989-2000 editor of the journal Holmi
1990 awarded the József Attila Prize
1996 receives the Soros Foundation Award for his Oeuvre
2000 dies in Budapest

Major Prizes:
1986 Európa Publishing House's Quality Prize, 1988 Prize of the Kelemen Mikes Society, the Netherlands (Ass. for Hung. Art, Literature and Science in the Neth.), 1989, 1994 Tibor Déry Award, 1990 József Attila Prize, 1991 Book of the Year Award, 1992, 1996 Soros Foundation Oeuvre Prize, 1996 Lajos Kossuth Prize, 1997 Nicolaus Lenau Prize

Explanations for M.
1971

An outstanding intellectual poet, one of the greatest figures of 20th century Hungarian poetry, György Petri “is a distinctive new voice in Hungarian poetry: his grotesque, often bitterly sardonic approach to conventional values is coloured by a strange fascination with death.” (George Gömöri and George Szirtes) He became the voice of “the 1968 generation”, its lost illusions and sense of absurdity. This generation, growing up in an ideologically monocultural era, sought its world philosophy in a true reading of Marx. The defeat of the civil rights movements and the snuffing out of the radical left wing and its hopes for change in 1968 provided the tragic experiences that inspired Petri’s first volume. One of Petri’s critics, Géza Fodor, has called him “an anachronistically romantic poet in an anachronistic age”; Petri’s pessimism derives from the contrast between his radically high ideals and the disappointment of reality. Although he aims to get rid of the personal, his poetry is characterised by a strong, suggestive personality looking at the world from a detached, existential stance but also absorbing it sensually, as his images reveal.

Eternal Monday
1981

The political repression in the Eastern European communist countries led to a new, more political phase in Petri’s poetry. Unwilling to cut 15 of his poems from Eternal Monday, he published it in samizdat. The grotesque element helps the poet to come to terms with the long-ago suicide of his great love, Sára. “Sexuality is often the glass through which Petri discloses the nature of freedom. The same is true of death. As the final limit on freedom, death is evoked by Petri with a morbid physicality and black humour that recall the medieval world. His view of sex is more ambivalent. It focuses the bleakness of the human condition: the temporary nature of our attachments, failures of communication, the mutability of the body, our ultimate loneliness. But it is also an instance and emblem of personal freedom: an activity pursued for its own sake, necessarily private, which no authority has power to control.” -Clive Wilmer, translator “I don’t consider myself an ‘engaged’ artist, in the original sense of the word. Politics plays just as important a part in my life as women, good cigarettes, alcohol and my private passion, cooking. Politics is a determining factor of my life.” -György Petri

What They Think
1985

This new samizdat book opens with a more detached, objective tone lacking in metaphors, dealing with old age (“The Body”, “Elegy”), to be perfected in the next book.

Something Unknown
1990

Here Petri gets closer to nature as he distances himself from the world. He remains sceptical about the political changes (as in “About Plot No. 301”; “Don’t Say No”). This important book comprises the existential-love poem (“So That I Reach the Sunlit Streak”) marking one of the turns in the oeuvre. “Hungarians probably need him more than he needs Hungarians; whether you acknowledge him or not, you always need a foul-mouthed prophet who will tell you the truth about yourself. Petri has an important function in Hungarian literature, and it would be a pity if he renounced it in order to relax in his private Tusculanum.” -George Gömöri.

As Long As Possible
1999

Petri’s last publication in his lifetime was conceived when he was mortally ill. Uncertain of the time he has left, he speaks in his poems in a settled and simplified voice, concentrating on what is existentially significant. Eating, drinking, recipes, walks, messages and love (the Mari poems): the often diary-like texts take into account the facts with the simplicity of conversation yet with a black humour as well. We read the merciless reckoning of the poet who never knew self-pity but does not deny suffering.

Works of György Petri I. Collected Poems
2003

The editors of the volume (András Lakatos, Pál Réz and Szabolcs Várady) paid special attention to Petri’s oeuvre, to the order of György Petri’s poems as they appeared in his lifetime. Besides these, the book comprises all the poems published and all that the editors considered finished and in harmony with Petri’s aesthetic ideal. Their sequence is explained in the postscript. New material is to be found in the “Last Poems” (1999–2000) published by the poet in periodicals (continuing “As Long As Possible”) and in the Appendix that contains “Early”, “Omitted” and “Posthumous Poems” and a separate cycle of “short satirical poems, rhyme plays, fragments”. The result is some 120 so far unpublished items, 70 poems so far uncollected in book format and 25 early poems. “Petri’s Collected Works reinforce one’s feeling that his poems were woven from the same fabric. His poetry gains by quantity. While it is the natural fate of many great poets that the bulk of their poems are sifted out, it would be frivolous aestheticism to prepare a best-of-Petri. It is not only the fact that the voice, the gestures, the ductus of a major poet is recognisable (to the level of self-parody, which not rare in his case), but there is the exceptional homogeneity of his poetic material.” -Sándor Radnóti

Works of György Petri III. Collected Interviews
2005

“The interview, the recorded conversation was among György Petri’s favourite forms of self-expression, and when he had the chance, he often used them, or provided such occasions as an interviewer himself. It is the logical outcome of the historical circumstances governing publicity that he had the chance to do so mainly after 1989; out of all the collected interviews only four were conducted in the previous two decades of his career, and one of these belongs to the end of the 1990s, another appeared in the Hungarian emigrants’ literary periodical, Szivárvány (Rainbow). This collection comprises all of Petri’s interviews in Hungarian that have been published, grouping into separate units those that were conducted with him and those he conducted.” (From the Editors’ Note)

Works of György Petri IV. Prose, Drama, Poetry, Diary and Miscellaneous
2007

The thicker fourth volume was supposed to contain the poet’s prose writings; however, it now comprises all the material that turned up after the manuscript of the previous volumes had been closed. Out of the personal and occasional writing, confessions, journalism etc., a longer, if fragmentary part called “Explanations for M.P.” stands out, in which Petri, similarly to Lőrinc Szabó, writes commentaries to the poems of his first book.

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