Girdle and Mirror | Kinga Fabó | translated by George Szirtes

Introduction to Kinga Fabó

George Szirtes

Kinga Fabó, Hungarian poet, linguist and essayist has written five books of poetry but I didn’t know her work until someone else asked if I would translate a couple of her poems. People do occasionally ask this — so few of us translate poetry from Hungarian after all — and sometimes there is time, and the poems are powerful enough to demand that at least I try. That was the case with these two poems that immediately struck me with their vigor, virtuosity and intensity. Both poems are about the conventional apparatus of womanhood and presentation, mirror and girdle being associated with the process of being appraised. It is actually the girdle that speaks in one of them: ‘This sorry item, all for some man to woo or bride them.’ The promiscuous mirror is born out of the same disappointment and fury at circumstances, but is less gendered and will wipe out any face before it. The poems are in effect dialogues with an invisible other, racy in diction, almost chatty, but at the same time metaphysical. It is the blend of fury and with that determine the emotional key, but it is the form and rhyme that lend both the sharp, hard-edged, proverbial, almost Villonesque quality I was trying to catch.

—in Modern Poetry in TranslationSongs of the Shattered Throat, 2017 No. 1

The Complaint of a
Worn-out Girdle

Kinga Fabó

How many women have I tortured? God,
How many! And how perfectly deformed
their bodies were as one by one they trod

the red carpet, swayed and posed
in gratitude to me, I who prefer a closed
door to the blatantly exposed

(and they pretend to disdain me even while
seeking my good graces, S & M style)
insist I serve them with a wide eyed smile.

Those who possess me seek the praise
– and might receive it – of the blank male gaze.
They use me and disparage me all ways

and yet are one with me, have flounced
about while in my steady grip
or slipped into me unannounced.

Talking of perverts, I am stuffed with them,
(this is where it comes to S & M),
it’s like being in a prison cell.

I am the stock where these mad bats from hell
work out. I work my magic well
and turn them out as new after a spell.

They undo me, as might anyone.
I am what they have done.
But why do they insist on carrying on

with me – the feeling isn’t mutual –
with me in particular!
Why pick on me when there are

plenty – women or worms – it matters not
happy to give them all they’ve got.
All clichés, you can stuff the lot

into one old hat and call it quits.
I’m not for clichés, not one fits.
I wish they left me alone, but it’s

hopeless, I am forced to serve.
I’m always different and will swerve
from following an alien curve.

Is this their thanks? This sorry item. .
All for some man to woo or bride them.
A pity it is to prettify them.

—Translated by George Szirtes

The Promiscuous Mirror

Kinga Fabó

Is it detached or all-forgiving?
We need a passport to get through.
It nods us past in quick succession
Just anyone, no matter who.
I can rely on its detachment
As I move from place to place.
All those languages it masters,
Wherever I dare show my face!
It’s no big deal who’s looking in it
As it serves its own blind grace.

It neither befriends nor breaks up with you.
Though when you’re pushed in front of it
Whether you’re plain or just plain gorgeous
It frowns and takes the brunt of it.
Could this absolute indifference
Be Absolute? (It takes no joy
In my bare flesh, nor is it bored.)
In all my phases I am simply
What seems to vanish then return,
Part of its cosmic unconcern.

The distance is too terrifying.
It could be less but it is clear
Some speck of me would still appear.
The mirror will serve us blindly
And whether harshly or quite kindly
Forgets at once. There’s little fuss,
Or major choice required for us.
It lets us do just what we want.
Mine drops me quick without a trace.
Mechanically wipes out my face.

—Translated by George Szirtes

Kinga Fabó

Kinga Fabó is a Hungarian poet. Her poetry has been widely published in international literary journals and poetry magazines including, in addition to Modern Poetry in Translation: Numéro Cinq, Ink Sweat & Tears, Deep Water Literary Journal, The Screech Owl, The Original Van Gogh’s Ear, Fixpoetry,, and elsewhere as well as in anthologies like The Significant Anthology, Women in War, The Colours of Refuge, Poetry Against Racism, World Poetry Yearbook 2015, Anthology of Contemporary Women’s Poetry, and others. Some of her individual poems have been translated into 17 languages altogether:  Albanian, Arabic, Bulgarian, English, Esperanto, French, Galego, German, Greek, Indonesian, Italian, Persian, Romanian, Serbian, Slovenian, Spanish, Tamil. One of her poems (The Ears) has, among others, six different Indonesian translations by six different authors. Her latest book, a  bilingual Indonesian-English poetry collection Racun/Poison was published in 2015. Fabó lives in Budapest, Hungary.

Read more of Kinga Fabó’s poetry:

the blue is drifting | 3 poems from Kinga Fabó
Sunday brunch Tuesday | Kinga Fabó
Celebrating International Poetry Month

Kinga Fabó on Twitter | Facebook

Poems ©2017 Kinga Fabó
Digital art ©2017 Michael Dickel


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