Reading for Rush Hour:
A Pamphlet in Praise of Passion
By Thomas Ország-Land
This pamphlet follows on from Thomas’ earlier, ground-breaking work writing and translating an anthology of poems entitled Survivors: Hungarian Jewish Poets of the Holocaust’ (Smokestack, 2014). Some poets included in it, such as Miklós Radnóti, are becoming anthologized and widely quoted in Britain; but others such as Tamás Emőd, György Faludy, Eszter Forrai, and Hanna Szenes are still much less known. The book gives them a voice in English for the first time and foregrounds the uncomfortable truth that, during the Second World War, many Jewish Hungarians died not at the hands of the German Nazis but on forced marches perpetrated by the regular Hungarian Army.
One poem in the pamphlet, ‘The Lion Tamer,’ asks who among us is behind the bars and who behind the mask. One line in this piece – ‘I have outfaced the adulating crowd’ – puts me in mind of Frost being acquainted with the night. Thomas, who survived the Holocaust as a Jewish child and participated as a journalist in the 1956 anti-Soviet Budapest uprising at the age of 18, has got as close to that night as most would ever wish to be. This is a poet who knows the value of life.
In the title poem ‘Reading for Rush Hour,’ the cast of characters includes ‘reliable Richard’ with his ‘tranquilized, loyal wife I ( cannot help knowing)’ and ‘Orgie Porgie… so well imitating the shades in the money profession/he managed to die of repression.’ And we meet ‘Thomas Wonder-Land, Esq.,/a master of gaining the gullible graveyard’s affection/for any truth without actually being a liar’ and ‘property agent Alec so good at selling/he can disregard the essential use of a dwelling.’
Where have these characters emerged from? ‘Reading for Rush Hour’ becomes reading the rush hour.
The work is quite formal, with a strong sense of rhythm and rhyming as well as humour in the treatment of even very serious themes. In ‘Life Insurance,’ for example, the narrator requests ‘a policy to answer every threat/in life from passion, treachery and debt.’
My verdict: A very enjoyable and well-rounded pamphlet from this poet and distinguished translator.
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