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This report is taken from PN Review 136, Volume 27 Number 2, November - December 2000.

Györgi Petri: i.m. Clive Wilmer

The poet György Petri has died at the age of 56. To many of his fellow Hungarians he was the most original poet of his generation and something of a national hero. In many respects, however, his work was not typically Hungarian.

For most Hungarian poets, politics are inescapable. Petri was no exception to this rule, but the usual rhetoric of his native tradition - Romantic, nationalist and libertarian - was for him fatally compromised by its association with Communism. Drawing on foreign ironists such as Eliot and Cavafy, he developed a much more indirect approach. Rejecting inflated language of all kinds, he wrote in a style that was harsh, spare and colloquial, sometimes to the point of coarseness. He eschewed overt expressions of beauty, pathos and idealism, as much in his disarmingly frank love poems as in the political satires. What moves us in his work is its evident truthfulness. In 1989, as former Communists wept for the crimes of the past, Petri wrote: 'My eyes are dry. I need them for looking with.'

Petri was very much an urban poet. He died in Budapest a few doors away from the house he was born in in 1943. His family was Serbian and partly Jewish in origin. His father, who worked in the book trade, disappeared during the war; his mother had a civilian job in the army. In several poems he recalls the political events of his childhood, notably the doomed revolution of ...


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