Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Glenn Gould contemplates Robert Zend

Glenn Gould contemplates Robert Zend on the back sleeve blurb of the jacket wrapped around From Zero to One. Zend: I do not believe in biographical notes: the poems should speak for themselves. All the rest is gossip.
Zend, born like George Szirtes, in that Hungarian hotbed of bards that is Budapest left Hungary in 1956 to live in Toronto, Canada. I lost everything except my accent, he says.
From Zero to One is a tribute to the great Hungarian writer, humorist and philosopher, and Zend's spiritual father, Frederic Karinthy. The collection was written in Hungarian and translated into English by the author and his good friend John Robert Colombo.
And so here is the back sleeve blurb from Gould:
If I were a gallery curator, Robert Zend would pose a problem.
"Where do you want the stuff to hang, boss," my assistant would ask, "in with the Mondrians, maybe?"
"No, I don't think so - the sense of line is similar, but there's more sense of humour in Zend - so try wedging them between the Miros and the Klees, and better set up an exhibit of Saul Steinberg in the foyer as a teaser."
If I were a symphony manager, the problem would be similar.
"Out of ze question," Maestro von Zuyderhoffer would declare. "I conduct no Zend before Bruckner, not even mit Webern to raise curtains."
"But, maestro, Zend takes the comsmos for a plaything, as does Bruckner, and wrings out of it an epigram, like Webern. However, I suppose we could try him on a chamber concert with early Hindemith, maybe..."
"Ja, besser."
"...and then, perhaps, Kurt Weill..."
"Viel besser!"
"...and finish off with Satie."
"Nein, kein Satie. Zat vun is not knowing secondary dominants, und ze vork of Zend is full of modulation."
Ah, well.
But if I were a book publisher, no such problem would exist.
Robert Zend could stand alone - his cynically witty, abrasively hedonistic, hesitantly compassionate, furtively God-seeking poems could mingle with each other, find their own program-order, and settle among themselves the question of what goes where and how much wall-space will be needed.
Gee, what an easy life book publishers must have.


  1. I don't know any Robert Zend, but poetry one could "hang between Miro and Klee" sounds interesting. I'll have to keep my eye out.

  2. As an example there's a lovely poem 'Telegram' dedicated to SF writer Isaac Asimov. It contains lines like:
    This is the first time
    tonight is the first time
    the first time in redcorded history
    that man will receive from another galaxy
    a message two hundred million years old ...
    the letters were elecetrical waves
    the electrical waves were sound waves
    the sound waves were light waves
    the light waves were radio waves
    the radio waves were cosmic waves ...
    this is the moment...listen...
    the long strip of paper snaked out of the machine
    the president tore it off and his eyes sparkled
    but immediately went glassy as he started to read:

    Wonderful! And there are also poems dedicated to Arthur C Clarke, Prof J A Molinaro (from where the quote at top of this blog comes from), Marcel Marceau, and Glenn Gould.

  3. I like the new look, Gwilym. Karinthy (Karinthy Frigyes in the Hungarian version) was a remarkably various writer. Hungary's greatest humorist and parodist, writer of sci fi, of an extraordinary account of his own brain operation, Journey Around My Skull - and, among still more things, the translator into Hungarian of Winnie the Pooh, a remarkably witty version too, as if Cole Porter had re-written Tim Rice.

  4. Thanks for the info George. I'll certainly try some Karinthy Frigyes. I want to read Journey Around my Skull. It sounds quite remarkable.
    I'm pleased that you like the new blog look for 2009.

  5. During the early 60's, driving across New Brunswick, on my way to Montreal, I happennd to catch Robert Zend interviewing Yevgeny Yevtushenko, on Late Night radio.

    They were talking about the power of beauty in poetry and life.

  6. If you're interested in knowing more about Robert Zend, check out the new Robert Zend Website. You'll find many of his works now available for purchase, for as long as inventory lasts. There's also lots of his visual art and audiofiles. In addition, electronic versions of both published and hitherto unpublished materials, including Zend’s magnum opus, Oāb, are available on the site by voluntary donation.
    His works have been practically unavailable since he died 30 years ago. Now you can access them! Enjoy!
    his daughter Natalie Zend


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