Curriculum Vitae

There is a movement out there, a starry-eyed wordsmith’s movement. I read about it on Tammy’s blog just a day or two ago.

All it requires is that you find a poem: you copy it out; and you put it in your pocket, to share.

Would you know where to start? To find that one poem which has captured your spirit, which says it for you the way no other can? I wasn’t sure.

And then, a poet found me.

I was so tired yesterday I actually googled ‘tired’, And found his poem, ‘The Tired Man’.

Attila Jozef:  a Hungarian poet whose words are East European; sparse; utilitarian; and utterly startling.

This extraordinary man, who lived only a short spell between 1905 and 1939, did not write himself an autobiography or even an obituary.No: he left us, alongside his poetry, a letter to prospective employers.

The year he died – tragically and far too young – he wrote a curriculum vitae.

It reads like a story. A hard, uncompromising tale.

He was born in Budapest with a gloriously proletarian background. His father was a worker in a soap factory who left his son at the age of three, his mother a Hungarian peasant girl. His country was troubled: by economic hardship, strikes and later a brief flirtation with communist government.

“I helped my mother as best I could,” he writes. “I sold fresh water in the cinema, I stole firewood and coal from the Ferencvros goods station so that we should have something to burn. I made coloured paper windmills and sold them to children who were better off, I carried baskets and parcels in the Market Hall, and so on.”

He was a member of the masses. His family was excruciatingly poor, and his mother died of cancer; and so the children were fostered through the National Child Protection League.

His foster father ignored Attila’s name. He said it wasn’t a name. He renamed the young boy ‘Pista.” This astounded me,” Jozef tells his prospective employer in this strangest of curriculum vitae, “I felt they were casting doubt on my very existence.”

Not a name, a number. A tiny grain of sand amongst the People.

He dreamt of becoming a secondary school teacher and was helped by a relative- and second jobs- to study at a good secondary school. He got to university. But his training as a teacher was cut short. No one who wrote those poems, said Professor Antal Horger of Szeged University, should be in charge of the education of the impressionable young. Jozef had already been prosecuted for blasphemy in court, and acquitted.

Jozef continued to write, and to support himself financially with his poetry. His life seemed a haphazard series of ways to make a living and short-lived spells at various universities.He became dogged by depression, and attempted suicide became almost a habit.

Finally, shortly after he wrote his idiosyncratic, tempestuous CV in 1937 he took himself to a railway track and was run over by a great locomotive on its way to somewhere. The inquest concluded it was Jozef’s own decision to end his life.

His life was ended. But those words: their life had only just begun.

I love Jozef because he is as far away from sentiment as Siberia is from Paris. His words are integrity itself. They speak of life without the frills, in all its raw colour, utilitarian. For a man born in 1905, they are 21st-century clear.

The iron horse which took his life had significance for him: the lit windows a metaphor for the good moments in life:

“I live by the railway line. Many trains
go past here and, time and again,
I watch the lighted windows fly
through the fluttering fluff-darkness.
So through eternal night
rush illuminated days
and I stand in each cubicle of light,
I lean upon my elbows and am silent.”*

Each poem he writes is a window on something, offering up a thumbnail sketch in stark modernist clarity. He even offers one on his own mental illness, so clear it pierces my heart:

“My eyes jump in and out, I’m mad again.
When I’m like this, don’t hurt me. Hold me tight.
When all I am goes crosseyed in my brain,

don’t show your fist to me: my broken sight
would never recognize it anyway.
Don’t jerk me, sweet, off the void edge of the night.”*

And so there will be a poem in my pocket, after all. I didn’t find it: it found me.

A Tired Man
Solemn peasants in the fields
straggle homeward without a word.
Side by side we lie, the river and I,
fresh grasses slumber under my heart.

A deep calm is rolling in the river.
My heavy cares are now as light as dew.
I’m not man, or child, “Hungarian” or “brother” –
lying here is just a tired man, like you.

Evening ladles out the quiet,
I’m a warm slice from its loaf of bread.
In the peaceful sky the stars come out
to sit on the river and shine on my head

Picture source here


59 thoughts on “Curriculum Vitae

  1. Emily Dickinson:

    If I can stop one heart from breaking,
    I shall not live in vain;
    If I can ease one life the aching,
    Or cool one pain,
    Or help one fainting robin
    Unto his nest again,
    I shall not live in vain.

  2. There’s still a beauty to his words and his life’s tale went straight to my heart. Poetry always seems so inaccessible to me but I love its cadences, its rhythms, its music and its images. 🙂

    1. I think that is precisely how poetry is best accessed, IE: just like Monty Python, it goes straight to our unconscious without necessarily passing the logic circuits. We don’t know why we love it: we just do. It stirs that ancient seat of the emotions, the amygdala, speaking in sensations and vivid sights. I feel sure Jozef would love your response today 🙂

  3. “When all I am goes crosseyed in my brain…” What a great line! Good poetry always puts into words what I can’t seem to say.

  4. ~ Robert Frost

    The Road Not Taken

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

  5. Wow, that was timely. I have to write a CV for the first time in my life, and my rebel impulse to write it in my own way is now properly confirmed. Lou Mello quoted Emily Dickinson above; I’m grateful to this young poet, Attila Jozef, for his gift of support today, and to you for carrying it in your pocket. It’s a small gift in the big scheme of a life as brutal as his was, but that’s the point–even in the terrible, dark grip of depression, we can shed light in ways we can’t imagine. Honesty seems to be the filament.

  6. So many writers, poets, and artists are tortured souls. It’s almost as if, looking for truths to share, they see the vast gaping holes between the illuminated windows.

    In time, it becomes “too much” to bear.

    1. Yes. On my darker days. Other days, I’m in the flow of life. Chaos recedes. Harmony prevails. Peace surfaces. Happiness reigns.

      I prefer the comfort of the latter to the discomfiture of the former. 😉

  7. Rik Scott shared this with me yesterday. It seems appropos of nothing:

    How many existentialists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Two.

    One to screw it in, and one to observe how the lightbulb itself symbolizes a single incandescent beacon of subjective reality in a netherworld of endless absurdity reaching out toward a maudlin cosmos of nothingness. ~ Anonymous

  8. Remarkable. The one thing that depresses me is that the road to great art so often seems to be misery.
    It is strange how certain poems ‘speak’ to one, sometimes for no reason other than the way the words flow. One such will be featured in my ‘Y’ post in due course.

  9. Wonderful work by your Hungarian – all new to me – compelling imagery.
    My poem is this one by Kobus Moolman – called Home :

    If I could build you a house

    o love I would fetch you a

    waterfall for the front door

    windows of the lighest wind

    and walls as deep as shadows

    Silence would cover you

    from summer’s lightning and twilight

    light the way to your bed

    Is there anyone who wouldn’t want to receive that poem?

    1. Paul, this is a beautiful piece of writing. The sort of thing I would want to write to my loved ones on a card, as well as carry it around in my pocket 🙂 Thank you.

  10. A wonderful poem to have in your pocket, Kate. I think that poems have a mind of their own at times, taking their time to come looking for us. A Tired Man speaks to most of us at different times, but it does speak clearly, doesn’ it?

  11. Poetry is a pocket-sized cosmos, so this is a perfect idea. The poem in my pocket today is a love song:

    the hammock was touched
    with dew this morning, tonight
    a danger of frost

    under vernal stars
    tangled, defying cold with
    goose down, cotton, skin

    swinging, rocking, lulled
    towards sleep by inky dark and
    sweet whispered secrets

  12. I was not familiar with this poet, Kate, but his poetry is tragically compelling to read! I only learned of “pocket poems” this week myself, from another blogger. I love the idea. I follow a couple of poets who are marking their very personal and deep grief with poems that pull me into their sadness. Their poetry is a vehicle for expressing deep pain and I’m always profoundly touched. I enjoy being introduced to the story behind the artist. Thank you, Kate. Debra

    1. That’s the thing with poetry, Debra: it lives somewhere between music and prose and employs al the shortcuts to the unconscious that one finds in music. Like a passage straight to the heart of us. And it can be elating, but it can also be devastating.

    1. It is. It does not seem quite fair that someone with that much to offer was here for so short a time. Then again, perhaps some people are truly meteoric: short lived but brilliant while they are here.

  13. Mine is on a postcard in my diary.

    NATURE WALK – By Colette Bryce

    If only my bag had been large enough,
    I would have brought the lonely men in parked cars
    by the river. I would have brought the woman
    dabbing kohl tears with the heel
    of her hand. I might have brought the ancient couple
    who read each word on the YOU ARE HERE
    board, then turned and ambled on, heads
    a little upward-tilted showing
    an interest in everything.

    I would have brought the coping stone
    from the twelfth pier of the original bridge, and the 4.06:
    from elsewhere, curving (glittering) carefully across.
    And all the busy people on it; all their coats
    and phones and wallets. I might
    have brought the restless gulls that dropped
    like paper boats on to the water. And the burger van,
    the girl inside with greasy hair,
    her quite unsolvable crossword.

    And put them all on my nature table,
    and fashioned little cardboard signs:
    a small display that would speak in a way
    about loneliness and life spans, parked cars and rivers.

    I bought some bark, and a couple of conkers,
    one still half-encased in it’s skin like an eye.

    found on line here:
    Colette Bryce

  14. Gosh, Kate, I have goose-bumps all over…such profoundly touching poetry. Thank you for reminding me of its power, along with Tammy of course. I think I shall revisit some soon 🙂

  15. I went to write a post about tired this week… needless to say it didn’t turn out anything like this! Kate, you have a knack of discovery, and for prompting us all to share.
    So much petry in one post 🙂 Thank you

    1. I wrote more than usual: but his words just say so much I was hard put to limit myself to this much, Speccy!

      Of course, there’s more than one kind of tired. It meant one thing to him on the side of that river, but I suspect you know another kind of tired all together….

  16. absolutely love his last stanza…it has a hush about it, wrapping warmly around a tired mind. Thank you so much for sharing your find, Kate ~

  17. I love this.. evening ladles out the quiet.. gorgeous language.. I think students at my school once carried poems in their pocket. It’s quite a wonderful idea.. a great way to beautify our world!!

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