"Poetry is still my favorite way to educate my soul. Words carry the appropriate space between them for my soul to meander in and learn new paths for being. The universe measures how much time we spend there and gifts those brave enough to walk a lyrical life.” -- Poet’s Corner by Emoke, Malaprops bookstore and cafe, Asheville NC--from wnc-woman.com/0804emoke.html.
( Emöke in Malaprop's bookstore)
Emöke Zsuzsanna B'Racz was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary and educated at Torokbalinti Elemi Iskola, Kaffka Margit Gymnasium, George Washington High School in NYC, and took her Pre-med degree at FDU/Madison New Jersey and Post grad classes at Yale. We in North Carolina, however, know her as the owner and manager of Malaprop's Bookstore in downtown Asheville.
What many readers may not know is that she's also a poet and translator. Her work has appeared in Webster Review, New York Quarterly, Magyar Naplo, Rivendell, APR,
Women’s Words, International Poetry Review, NC Literary Journal,Nexus,and Wordimage. Burning Bush Press of Asheville has published
Raising Voices 1997 and Every Tree is the Forest 2003, 2005, as well as Stories of the Seven-Headed Sewing Machine by Katalin Ladik: Translations, 2003.
Emöke has served as Guest Lecturer at Warren Wilson College:”Work as Art”
and George Mason University: "Politics and Poetry: Eastern Europe."
She lists as her hobbies "poetry, writing and translating, painting, traveling, tennis and contemplating in my garden."
I last saw Emöke in Gyor, Hungary, where she attended the European Premiere of the Alma Cantata, composed by Harold Schiffman, using poems from my collection Wildwood Flower She was heading out to Istanbul the next day!
Here is one of Emöke's most poems.
REMEMBERING MY AUNT JULIA
My aunt Julia was the mapmaker in the family
in other circles.
She walked in heavy work boots across the land
Cigarette hanging on her lips
bent under the wind and her mother’s scorn.
She idolized her older brother, my father
Followed him with hazel eyes in dark sun brown skin
That held her rage, quite un noticed.
Her words were always kind to us children
with warm hands on our foreheads
smoothed out our fears eased us to dream.
French words English words or Hungarian
She spoke and read while the ducks and geese had to be fed
Each night dinner on the table by eight pm
She loved reading almost more than breathing.
Birthed two girls, lost one within ten days
Morning Glory grew strong by her mother’s side
With each breath strengthened her child
for the same world that we all struggle with
to get a step ahead instead of side ways.
Can you tell which way she went?
I look in my heart to find the path
My aunt Julia scribed there
The poems that follow are from her most recent book, Every Tree Is the Forest(Asheville, NC: Burning Bush Press, 2002, 69 pages,www.malaprops.com, $20).
MARCH TENTH 1993
My Uncle Lajos came in a dream to tell me
that I had ancient drawings on my face
and, as far as he can tell,
there were important messages hidden
in the primitive drawings.
Pay attention to them, he said.
Thursday morning the angel came and visited
sweet milk on my lips
between my legs.
She sang among the water drops and
the shower rang with her strength.
We stood apart,
Your scent, your smile,
the way you bunch your sweater,
holding it together.
The way you avoid my eyes
The silence you observe
denies my existence,
What does that do to,
You bow your head.
You almost smile.
I look from afar.
Never crossing the Danube,
never meeting my eyes.
(The Danube at dusk)
Janice Moore Fuller reviewed Every Tree Is the Forest in Asheville Poetry Review, Volume 10,#1.
Lao-Tzu tells us that “Every being in the universe/ is an expression of the Tao” and “Each separate being in the universe/ returns to the common source.” Emöke B’Racz clearly embraces this principle, entitling her book Every Tree is the Forest and arranging the poems and illustrations in it with an awareness that diversity can be a source of unity.
B’Racz prefaces her book with an epigraph from Yeats: “If what I say resonates with you, it’s merely because we are both branches of the same tree.” The epigraph is well-chosen, not only because it echoes her Eastern philosophy but also because Yeats offers her the model of a poet who continuously and self-consciously reinvented himself. Never content to continue a successful poetic phase, Yeats was drawn by the anti-self he describes in A Vision into ongoing revisions and reversals. In each new poem and each of her paintings, B’Racz seems just as willing to keep recreating herself as an artist.
In letter six, Rilke asks the young poet, “Don’t you see how everything that happens is again and again a beginning…[how] starting is always so beautiful?” B’Racz, like Yeats, sees this beauty. Each poem in Every Tree is the Forest represents a new beginning — a new stanzaic form, a new subject, a new voice. Each poem in the volume is as distinctive as the trees of the title. What could be more different than the haunting aphorisms of poems like “The Fire” —
remembers everything —
the streetwise idiolect of “Change That Adds Up Wrong Makes Little Holes and Great Love” —
fifteen neetfin ifften
bigger booger baby
left a hole in ifften’s heart —
the tight imagism of “Teething” —
A brass and wood skull
full of teeth, intact,
channels where teeth line to root
the face, the hair, ears —
the long-lined narrative of “Hungarian Childhood” —
The knocking came at midnight in wintertime.
The room was warm and at peace with the night.
Two men brought in the cold under their hats,
grabbed most of the books and threw them into potato sacks —
and, startling us late in the volume, the megaphone shouts at the beginning of “504 Phone Calls” —
“WE OBJECT TO HOMOSEXUALS
USING PUBLIC anything FOR A STATE RALLY,
WE SHOULD BURN THEM,
WE BURNED THE WITCHES
WE CAN DO IT AGAIN”
And yet the book is able to contain them all, these wildly varied poems, just as it able to encompass B’Racz’s own paintings scattered through the book — vibrant illustrations as varied in style as works by Chagall, Van Gogh, and Kandinsky. B’Racz knows, like Yeats, that the quicksilver self is never static and the world isn’t either. Each incarnation, she knows, is as true as the next.
If every poem and illustration in the book is the Forest that is Emöke B’Racz, the book might also have been entitled “Every Woman is the Forest.” The book opens its arms to a wide range of beloved women — lovers and friends (Kim, Sadhu, Katalin); her mother whose “eyes always kept a lifeline to her children”; grandmother Sajtos Zsofia, whom she paints in “lavender blue, ostrich grey.” The feminine moon surfaces in the poems‚ images and in the circles and wombs of the paintings. In “She Gave Them Slippers so They Could Dance to Their Hearts‚ Content,” she remembers four women in a writer’s group gathered around a square table, smoothing its corners into a circle of dance. She also dedicates poems to more celebrated women artists — Irish poet Eavan Boland; the Prussian, anti-war painter Kathe Kollowitz. And in the final poem of the book, she honors Sappho, Christine De Pisan, Louise Otto-Peters, Elsa Honing Fine, reminding herself and all women artists that the work they do is “Not for Ourselves Alone.”
Even though women dominate the book, by the end of the volume the reader can’t help but remember how many men B’Racz has celebrated in her poems: her Hungarian father who was dragged away in the night “like a falling leaf in the eye of the storm”; Grandpapa Imre with “a breath of angel hair”; poet Lucien Stryk, reading words “captured with butterfly nets” at Malaprops; the anonymous elderly gentleman dancing through the bookstore in unmatched clothes.
Throughout Every Tree is the Forest, B’Racz widens and widens her scope in a generosity reminiscent of Whitman’s expanding sympathies in “Song of Myself,” the way he gradually enfolds within himself man and woman, butcher-boy and quadroon girl, “wombs and…father-stuff,” and “Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur’d.” In “504 Phone Calls,” B’Racz demands that we embrace male and female; gay, lesbian, and straight. She urges us to offer a blessing “of yellows, browns, blacks/ yes, those of the earth.” God, she reminds us, “is a wisp,/ a kindness that sparks between two people,/ lovers,/ mothers and daughters,/ brothers and sisters.” In fact, in a startling apocalyptic invocation, she prays to that wispy God to make “the human race to go extinct” if its members cannot stop plundering the literal forest in which they live, if they cannot learn to welcome all people into the human forest.
* * *
Emoke can reached at
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