Szilárd Borbély was born in Fehérgyarmat, Hungary in 1964. After finishing his military service he studied Hungarian language and literature at Lajos Kossuth University in nearby Debrecen, specializing in the Baroque period and early nineteenth century. His first collection of poetry, »Adatok« (1988; t: Data), was published while he was still a student. Borbély has been working as a teaching assistant and lecturer at the faculty of old Hungarian literature since 1989. In his study »A Vanitatum vanitas szövegvilágáról« (1995) he looked at the »texture« of Kölcsey’s poem »Vanitatum Vanitas«. He received his doctoral degree in literary studies in 1998.
Borbély’s poetry is marked, on the one hand, by his academic concern with textual forms and on the other hand – increasingly – by religious motifs and traditions. He recalls that even in childhood: »I was only preoccupied with metaphysical questions. The physical world didn’t interest me. What drew my attention were angels, death, God, and the Last Judgment as well as various forms of redemption. For instance, chocolate and other sweets.«
Franz Kafka and János Pilinszky are among Borbély’s influences as are the contemporary authors Miklós Mészöly, Péter Nádas and Péter Esterházy. In works such as the long poem »Hosszú nap el« (1993; t: Long day, away) and »Mint. minden. Alkalom« (1995; t: Occasion. like. Anything) stylistic playfulness prevails over the existential dimension that is also to be found there. Gábor Schein comments on the collection of poems »Ami helyet« (1999; t: Place of what): »In order to approach these texts one must accept a poem as a spatial entity, built from linguistic elements or – more precisely – from physically conveyed expressions and (even more important) of their relationships. So it is that the texts literally become textures, fabrics, in which a representative strength is also inherent.« In »Halotti pompa« (2004; t: Funeral pomp) Borbély wrote about a burglary at his parents’ house during which his mother was killed and his father seriously wounded. For this work he reverted to Baroque styles and motifs from »ars moriendi« and interwove numerous references to the Apocrypha as well as Jewish enlightenment and mysticism, i.e. Hasidism. »Given that it seems we have reached the end of an era of rationalism, it may be worth casting a glance backwards to the movement of Jewish pietism«, Borbély remarked.
The author has also emerged as a translator from German and English, translating Rumyana Zakharieva, Monika Rinck, Hendrik Jackson, Robert Gernhardt and Durs Grünbein among others. He has been awarded the most coveted Hungarian literary prizes, the Tibor Déry Prize, the József Attila Prize and the Füst Milán Prize. He lives in Debrecen.
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