cover image Become a Message: Poems

Become a Message: Poems

Lajos Walder, trans. from the Hungarian by Agnes Walder. Upper West Side Philosophers (SPD, dist.), $19 trade paper (218p) ISBN 978-1-935830-30-6

Walder (1913–1945) might be a little-known mid-20th century Hungarian poet, but that has little to do with his talent. Having only published two books, during the 1930s, Heads or Tails and Group Portrait, his complete works are now available in English for the first time thanks to translations by his daughter, Agnes. The impetus behind the endeavor is clear: the poems are unmistakably modernist in their concern with the mythic and metaphysical, at a time when industrial warfare had decimated Europe and threatened to do so again. But there is also a quiet solitude that permeates these pages. Nothing is too big or too small to be noticed, and this transcendence of self allows Walder to make grand gestures without sounding archaic or pompous: “I am the last ambassador/ and the last despot/ of ideology-free/ European literature.” Walder endows smallness with heavy meaning, propelling the poems forward and giving them heft. One minor flaw is that, as this is a life’s work, there is only the poetry to guide the reader; no annotations provide background or direction. But the poet’s concern with humanity is clear. “Become a whispered message,” Walder implores readers, because “apart from thieves and murderers/ there are also human beings.” [em](Sept.) [/em]