Category Archives: poetry
Click the image below and go to p. 7 (for an enlarged view — so you can actually read the thing — click the white rectangular icon lower right):
Below is my reading, in which I present Robert Zend’s exhibited typescape, “Peapoteacock” and read “My Most Beautiful Poems,” from Zend’s book From Zero to One:
PS TEXTual ARTivity will continue as an annual event in Cobourg, and that’s great news!
Detroit is also home to Quill Puddle, a hand-made poetry magazine edited by James Hart III and Frances Barber. The evening of April 18 marked the launch of two double-issues of Quill Puddle (3-4 and 5-6), featuring poets Will Alexander, Kim Hunter, Rob Lipton, Ken Mikolowski, Christine Monhollen, Julie Patton, Chris Tysh, Dennis Teichman, Matvei Yankelevich, Barbara Henning, and myself.
Following a mesmerizing set by The Doll Hairs (James Hart III, guitar and vocals, and Frances Barber, vocals), Julie Patton gave an extended and stunning performance, accompanied by Will Alexander (keyboard), James Hart II (percussion), and Paul Van Curen (guitar). It was magical. I hope the recording came out well, because it would be a shame not to be able to revisit that dynamic performance.
The next day, I had the pleasure of visiting the Eastern Market, a large market area composed of many buildings, one of which is Salt & Cedar, a letterpress studio. New York poet and co-publisher of Ugly Duckling Presse Matvei Yankelevich arranged to convert the letterpress printing space into a bookstore and poetry reading venue for three months. It was a delight to meet and get to know Matvei, who is devoting his time in Detroit to enriching the already rich poetry scene there.
Thanks to Matvei, Salt & Cedar is (for the time being, at least) bookstore heaven, stocked by titles from Ugly Duckling Presse, Small Press Distribution, and others, including several Canadian titles – I noticed books by Sina Queyras and Nicole Brossard, among others. I purchased books by Clark Coolidge (88 Sonnets), Tomaz Salamun (On the Tracks of Wild Game – part of Matvei’s Eastern European Series within UDP), Swedish poet Fredrik Nyberg (A Different Practice), Matvei Yankelevich (Alpha Donuts), and Russian Absurdist Alexander Vvedensky (An Invitation for Me to Think). The last title was suggested to me by Matvei when I told him of my affinity for the work of Daniil Kharms, another Russian absurdist who, along with Vvedensky, tragically died in their thirties as a result of Stalin’s harsh persecution of writers.
People, Detroit is a happening mecca for poets and an open community for poetry in all its manifestations, written and performed!
I’m excited to announce (with the help of colourized Zend doodles) that Natalie Zend has created The Robert Zend Website. It’s a beautiful tribute to her father and a useful resource for anyone wishing to enjoy and purchase his books and art, and to learn more about his work. Here’s a screenshot of the home page with a link to the site:
Since I started writing about Zend, people have emailed me asking where they can find his work, as many titles are scarce and out-of-print.
The great news is that most of these are now readily available for purchase on The Robert Zend Website, for as long as inventory lasts. The titles include books such as Daymares, Nicolette, and From Zero to One. And of special note to aficionados of typewriter art and concrete poetry, Zend’s portfolio of sixteen “typescapes” entitled Arbormundi (1982), published by bill bissett’s legendary blewointment press, is now available.
The website is already a terrific repository of visual art and audiofiles. In addition, both published and hitherto unpublished materials, including excerpts from Zend’s magnum opus, Oāb, are available on the site by voluntary donation. And Natalie reports that much more will be uploaded over the coming months.
Soon after I began publishing Robert Zend: Poet without Borders, poet Mark Truscott wrote me to express his support of my project, saying that we need to take better care of our literary forebears. The website that Natalie Zend has created does just that, and helps to ensure that her father’s legacy lives on.
Please have a look, enjoy his creative effervescence, consider purchasing one or more titles and offering a donation for the free materials, and leave a comment in the guest registry.
Do you know any Zendophiles-in-waiting? Invite them to check out the website too!
Afterword: Citizen of the Macrocosm
Robert Zend admired Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy for his unwillingness “to accept any label, either for himself or for others”:
He didn’t identify with any group; he belonged nowhere, but this non-belonging meant for him an extremely strong belonging to Man, to Mankind, to Humanity.1
Zend similarly disregarded boundaries in seeking out like-minded writers and artists around the world, in shaping themes exploring the connectedness of all humanity and a cosmic sense of place, and in creating art using the most humble and mundane objects.
National culture is a fuzzy proposition, and this is true for the countries where Zend found kindred artists and writers. At a certain point, the idea of nation becomes merely a convenient rubric to demonstrate his cosmopolitanism. For example, within Canadian culture are the cultures of many nations. In turn, the cultures of those nations cannot be thought of as pure but are often congeries of contributions from many peoples across history. As Zend resisted the notion of labels and boundaries, my use of them here might seem to contradict his convictions.
But nations, perhaps especially one such as Hungary, whose language and culture evoke in many Hungarians fierce sentiments of belonging, are of course not totally artificial cultural constructs. And although Canada’s historical quest for a cohesive national culture has been eroded over the decades by the crosscurrent trend toward a national policy of multiculturalism, Canadian cultural protectionism has cast an enduring shadow on any debate on national identity.
Zend had Hungarian cultural roots, and part of his cosmopolitan Budapest heritage was also the thirst to look beyond borders to find literary and artistic kin worldwide. This desire was integral to the freedom that he so valued. In Canada, he had close ties to immigrant as well as Canadian-born artists and writers. Thus his Canadian heritage and legacy are based not so much on national identity as on multicultural affinities.
In the afterword to Oāb, he lists his “spiritual fathers and mothers” as well as “chosen brothers and sisters.” They include poets, artists, sculptors, short story writers, novelists, philosophers, literary theorists, actors, and filmmakers from Argentina, Canada, the United States, France, Austria, Germany, Ancient Greece and Rome, Romania, Flanders, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Hungary, Great Britain, and Belgium. In short, his tally of creative family is a model of interdisciplinary and cosmopolitan openness.
Zend was a Canadian original: born in Hungary and adopted by Canada, he wrote about both places. He was also a citizen of a broader community of writers and artists and wrote about realms of cosmic dimension. His cosmopolitan outlook is a part of Canadian cultural history. It is a remarkable achievement and an homage to what he most admired in other writers, artists, and cultures without regard to borders.
Thank you for reading my series on the life and work of Robert Zend — I hope you enjoyed it. It has been a great pleasure to work on this project.
A Special Announcement —
The Robert Zend Website
One important matter remains: in a few days, I’ll announce the completion of a significant project recently undertaken by Zend’s daughter Natalie Zend: The Robert Zend Website. This valuable resource provides information on acquiring his books and art and offers information to anyone interested in learning more about his remarkable life and work. Stay tuned . . .
Acknowledgements and Bibliography
Below is a list of heartfelt acknowledgements to the many people who have kindly assisted my research. Particular gratitude goes to Janine Zend, Natalie Zend, and Ibi Gabori, who so generously contributed to this project. Please do not hesitate to let me know if I have overlooked any person or institution.
And for anyone interested in the sources I used during my research, I include a Bibliography at the end of this post.
I am grateful for the kind assistance and generosity of the following:
The family of Robert Zend: Janine Zend, Natalie Zend, and Ibi Gabori
Rachel Beattie and Brock Silverside, curators of the Zend fonds at Media Commons, University of Toronto Library
Edric Mesmer, librarian at the University at Buffalo’s Poetry Collection and curator of The Center for Marginalia, and the other wonderful librarians of The Poetry Collection for their research assistance
Brent Cehan and other librarians of the Language and Literature division of the Toronto Reference Library
The librarians in the Special Arts Room Stacks at the Toronto Reference Library
The librarians at Reference and Research Services and at the Petro Jacyk Central and East European Resource Centre, Robarts Library, University of Toronto Libraries
Susanne Marshall (former Literary Editor for The Canadian Encyclopedia)
“Administrative history / biographical sketch.” Robert Zend fonds. Media Commons, University of Toronto Libraries, Toronto, Canada. http://mediacommons.library.utoronto.ca/sites/mediacommons.library.utoronto.ca/files/finding-aids/zend.pdf
Bangarth, Stephanie, and Andrew S. Thompson. “Transnational Christian Charity: the Canadian Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, and the Hungarian Refugee Crisis, 1956–1957.” American Review of Canadian Studies 38, no. 3 (2008): 295–316. General OneFile. Web.
The Book of Canadian Poetry. Edited by A. J. M. Smith. Toronto: Gage, 1943.
Borges, Jorge Luis. Comments on back cover of Daymares: Selected Fiction on Dreams and Time by Robert Zend. Vancouver: CACANADADADA Press, 1991.
———. Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings. Edited by Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby. New York: New Directions, 1964.
Botar, Oliver, to Janine Zend. Email. 9 April 2001.
Buzinkay, Géza. “The Budapest Joke and Comic Weeklies as Mirrors of Cultural Assimilation.” In Budapest and New York: Studies in Metropolitan Transformation, 1870–1930, edited by Thomas Bender and Carl E. Schorske, 224–247. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1994.
Catalogue. Országos Széchényi Könyvtár (National Széchényi Library) in Budapest, Hungary.
Cavell, Richard. McLuhan in Space: A Cultural Geography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.
Clarity, James F., and Eric Pace. “Marcel Marceau, Renowned Mime, Dies at 84.” New York Times. 24 September 2007.
Colombo, John Robert. Ottawa Journal. 11 May 1974. 40.
Day, Lawrence. “Re: Handbook 386(b) – Ken Field.” Chess Talk. 27 August 2008. http://www.chesstalk.info/forum/printthread.php?s=bea6d4e5851d02610f6670258010f473&t=375
———. IMlday. 23 September 2004. http://www.chessgames.com.
Donaghy, Greg. “An Unselfish Interest? Canada and the Hungarian Revolution, 1954-1957.” In The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: Hungarian and Canadian Perspectives, edited by Christopher Adam, Tibor Egervari, Leslie Laczko, and Judy Young, 256—74. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2010.
Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. “Hungary: The Great Depression.” Library of Congress Country Studies. 1989. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/cshome.html.
Ferrazzi, A. Portrait of Giacomo Leopardi. C. 1820. Oil on canvas. Casa Leopardi, Recanati, Italy.
“Fiftieth Anniversary of the Hungarian uprising and refugee crisis.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 23 October 2006. http://www.unhcr.org/453c7adb2.html.
Fifield, William. “The Mime Speaks: Marcel Marceau.” The Kenyon Review 30, no.2 (1968): 155-65.
Fleeing the Hungarian Revolution, Settling in Canada: Photos and documents of Robert, Ibi and Aniko Zend’s voyage November 1956 – April 1957. 1956 Memorial Oral History Project: Materials accompanying Eve (Ibi) Gabori’s interview, 31 March 2007. Prepared by Natalie Zend, 24 June 2007.
Fosler-Lussier, Danielle. Music Divided: Bartók’s Legacy in Cold War Culture. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007.
Frye, Northrop. Afterword to Daymares: Selected Fictions on Dreams and Time, by Robert Zend. Vancouver: Cacanadada Press, 1991.
Gabori, George. When Evils Were Most Free. Deneau, 1981.
Gabori, Ibi. Interview 01544-2. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute. Accessed online at the University of Toronto Library.
Gould, Glenn. “If I were a gallery curator . . .” Dust jacket of From Zero to One by Robert Zend. Translated by Robert Zend and John Robert Colombo. Mission, BC: The Sono Nis Press, 1973.
Hahn, Lionel / McClatchy Newspapers. Photograph of Marcel Marceau performing in Westwood, California, in 2002. Available from: The Seattle Times. http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2003899052_marceau24.html.
Hamlet. Directed by Lawrence Olivier. London: Two Cities Films, 1948.
Hidas, Peter. “Arrival and Reception: Hungarian Refugees, 1956—1957.” In The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: Hungarian and Canadian Perspectives, edited by Christopher Adam, Tibor Egervari, Leslie Laczko, and Judy Young, 223—55. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2010.
History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe: Junctures and Disjunctures in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Volume 1. Edited by Marcel Cornis-Pope and John Neubauer. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing, 2004.
Hungarian American Federation. “The 1956 Hungarian Revolution in Photos.“ The 1956 Hungarian Revolution Portal. http://www.americanhungarianfederation.org/1956/photos.htm.
Jones, Frank. “The first time I met Ibi Gabori.” Toronto Star. 29 February 1992. K2. ProQuest. Web.
Józsa, Judit, and Tamás Pelles. La Storia della Scuola Italiana di Budapest alla Luce dei Documenti D’Archivio [The History of the Italan School of Budapest, in Light of Archival Documents]. http://web.t-online.hu/pellestamas/Tamas/bpoliskol.htm#_Toc189916144.
Kafka, Franz. “An Imperial Message.” Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir. The Complete Stories. New York: Schocken Books, 1971. 4–5.
Karinthy, Frigyes. “Chain-Links.” Translated by Adam Makkai, edited by Enikö Jankó. http://djjr-courses.wdfiles.com/local–files/soc180:karinthy-chain-links/Karinthy-Chain-Links_1929.pdf.
———. A Journey Round My Skull. New York: New York Review Books Classics, 2008.
———. Tanár úr kérem [Please Sir!]. Budapest: Dick Manó, 1916.
———. Voyage to Faremido: Gulliver’s Fifth Voyageand Capillaria: Gulliver’s Sixth Voyage. Translated by Paul Tabori. London: New English Library, 1978.
Kearns, Lionel. By the Light of the Silvery McLune: Media Parables, Poems, Signs, Gestures, and Other Assaults on the Interface. Vancouver: Daylight Press, 1969.
Kieval, Hillel J. “Tiszaeszlár Blood Libel.” The Yivo Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. 2010. http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Tiszaeszlar_Blood_Libel.
Koehler, Robert. “Pantomimist Marcel Marceau in Performance at Segerstrom Hall.” Los Angeles Times, 11 February 1988. http://articles.latimes.com/1988-02-11/entertainment/ca-41839_1_marcel-marceau.
Kossar, Leon. “Canada Heaven for Hungarians.” The Telegram, 30 April 1957.
Kramer, Mark. “The Soviet Union and the 1956 Crises in Hungary and Poland: Reassessments and New Findings.” Journal of Contemporary History 33, no. 2 (April 1998): 163—214.
Lenvai, Paul. One Day That Shook the Communist World: The 1956 Hungarian Uprising and Its Legacy. Translated by Ann Major. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.
Leopardi, Giacomo. Canti. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010.
Lloyd, John. Portrait of Robert Zend. Cover of Beyond Labels. Translated by Robert Zend and John Robert Colombo. Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1982.
Luther, Claudia. “Marcel Marceau, 84; legendary mime was his art’s standard-bearer for seven decades.” Los Angeles Times, 24 September 2007. http://articles.latimes.com/2007/sep/24/local/me-marceau24.
Madách, Imre. The Tragedy of Man. Translated by George Szirtes. New York: Puski Publishing,1988.
———. The Tragedy of Man. Translated and illustrated by Robert Zend.
Magritte, René. Le fils de l’homme. 1964. Magritte Foundation. http://www.magritte.be/portfolio-item/fils-de-l-homme-2/?lang=en.
———. Radio interview with Jean Neyens (1965), in Harry Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, translated by Richard Millen, 172. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1977.
———. Les valeurs personelles (Personal Values), Series 2. 1952. Magritte Foundation. http://www.magritte.be/portfolio-item/les-valeurs-personnelles/?lang=en.
The Maple Laugh Forever: An Anthology of Comic Canadian Poetry. Edited by Douglas Barbour and Stephen Scobie. Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Publishers, 1981.
Marceau, Marcel. Comments on front inner dust jacket of From Zero to One by Robert Zend. Translated by Robert Zend and John Robert Colombo. Mission, BC: The Sono Nis Press, 1973.
———. Marceau, Marcel. “Marcel Marceau Paintings.” Encyclopedia of Mime. Available at http://www.mime.info/encyclopedia/marceau-paintings.html.
———. The Mask Maker./em> Available at http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7ffi4_marcel-marceau-le-masque_fun.
———. Portrait of Robert Zend. Drawing (medium unknown). Dust jacket cover of From Zero to One by Robert Zend. Translated by Robert Zend and John Robert Colombo. Mission, BC: The Sono Nis Press, 1973.
———. “This Drawing, Poem, and Zend During and After.” In A Bouquet to Bip by Robert Zend. Exile Magazine 1, no. 3 ( 1973): 121-22.
———. Youth, Maturity, Old Age, and Death. Film stills from 1965 performance. Available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5RLTZSrr4A.
Marcus, Frank. “Marceau: The Second Phase.” The Transatlantic Review 11 (1962): 12—18.
Marinari, Umberto. Introduction. Pirandello’s Theatre of Living Masks. Translated by Umberto Mariani and Alice Gladstone Mariani. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 3—26.
Martin, Camille. Entry on Lionel Kearns for The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2013. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/lionel-kearns/.
Messerli, Douglas. “Frigyes Karinthy.” Green Integer. The PIP (Project for Innovative Poetry) Blog. 30 November 2010. http://pippoetry.blogspot.ca/2010/11/frigyes-karinthy.html.
New Poems of the Seventies. Edited by Douglas Lochhead and Raymond Souster. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1970.
New York Café, Budapest. Photograph. Available at Famous Coffee Houses. http://www.braunhousehold.com.
Nichol, B. P. The Alphabet Game: A bpNichol Reader. Edited by Darren Wershler-Henry and Lori Emerson. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2007.
———. Art Facts: A Book of Contexts. Tucson: Chax Press, 1990.
———. “Calendar” (detail). Broadside. S.n, n.d.
———. Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer. Toronto: Coach House Press, 2004; originally released in Canada in 1974.
———. The Martyrology, Book 6 Books. 1987; reprint. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1994.
———. The Martyrology 5. 1982; facsimile edition. Toronto: Coach House Books, 1994.
———. Meanwhile: The Critical Writings of bpNichol. Edited by Roy Miki. Vancouver: Talon Books, 2002.
———. Merry-Go-Round. Illustrated by Simon Ng. Red Deer, Alberta: Red Deer College Press, 1991.
———. Zygal: A Book of Mysteries and Translations. Toronto: Coach House Books, 1985.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. “The Birth of Tragedy.” Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Translated and edited by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Modern Library, 2000. 1—144.
Nyugat 1938, no. 10. Budapest. Frigyes Karinthy memorial issue.
Pirandello, Luigi. Right You Are, If You Think You Are. In Pirandello’s Theatre of Living Masks. Translated by Umberto Mariani and Alice Gladstone Mariani. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 69—118.
———. Six Characters in Search of an Author and Other Plays. Translated by Mark Musa. New York: Penguin Classics, 1996.
———. Six Characters in Search of an Author. In Pirandello’s Theatre of Living Masks. Translated by Umberto Mariani and Alice Gladstone Mariani. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 119—67.
Priest, Robert, Robert Sward, and Robert Zend. The Three Roberts: On Childhood. St. Catherines, Ontario: Moonstone Press, 1985.
———. The Three Roberts: On Love. Toronto: Dreadnaught, 1984.
———. The Three Roberts: Premiere Performance. Scarborough, Ontario: HMS Press, 1984.
Q Art Theatre. The Tragedy of Man publicity poster. Montreal: Q Art Theatre, October – November 2000.
R., Patrick. Robert Zend. “Memorial.” http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=10862727.
Rippl-Rónai, József. Portrait of Frigyes Karinthy. 1925. Pastel. Petőfi Museum of Literature. Available from Terminartors. http://www.terminartors.com/artworkprofile/Rippl-Ronai_Jozsef-Portrait_of_Frigyes_Karinthy.
Robert Zend bio. Ronsdale Press. Available at http://ronsdalepress.com/authors/robert-zend/.
Robert Zend fonds. Media Commons, University of Toronto Libraries, Toronto, Canada.
Sanders, Ivan. “Karinthy, Ferenc.” The Yivo Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. 2010. http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Karinthy_Ferenc
Six Degrees of Separation. 1993. DVD Culver City, Canada: MGM Home Entertainment, 2000.
Sled, Dmitri. “Partisans In The Arts: Marcel Marceau (1923—2007).” Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation. 12 June 2012. http://jewishpartisans.blogspot.ca/2012/06/partisans-in-arts-marcel-marceau-1923.html.
Standelsky, Eva, and Zoltan Volgyesl. Tainted Revolution. Dir. Martin Mevius. The Netherlands: Association for the Study of Nationalities, 2006.
Stark, Tamás. “‘Malenki Robot’ – Hungarian Forced Labourers in the Soviet Union (1944–1955).” Minorities Research: A Collection of Studies by Hungarian Authors. Edited by Győző Cholnoky. Budapest: Lucidus K., 1999. 155-167. http://www.epa.hu/00400/00463/00007/pdf/155_stark.pdf
Sterne, Laurence. Tristram Shandy. Edited by Howard Anderson. New York: W. W. Norton, 1980.
Szabó, László Cs. Qtd. in “Frigyes Karinthy Author’s Page.” Publishing Hungary. Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum. http://www.hunlit.hu/karinthyfrigyes,en.
Szaynok, Bożena. “Stalinization of Eastern Europe.” Translated by John Kulczycki. Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, Volume 1. Edited by Richard S. Levy. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2005. 677—80.
Talpalatnyi föld [Treasured Earth]. Directed by Frigyes Bán. Hungary: Magyar Filmgyártó Nemzeti Vállalat, 1948.
The Toronto Mirror. Published and edited by Robert Zend. October 1961.
Troper, Harold. “Canada and the Hungarian Refugees: The Historical Context.” In The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: Hungarian and Canadian Perspectives, edited by Christopher Adam, Tibor Egervari, Leslie Laczko, and Judy Young, 176—93. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2010.
Ungváry, Krisztián. The Siege of Budapest: One Hundred Days in World War II. Translated by Ladislaus Löb. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC. “Hungary after the German Occupation.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. Last modified 10 June 2013. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005458.
Veidlinger, Jeffrey. “Stalin, Joseph (1879—1953).” Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, Volume 1. Edited by Richard S. Levy. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2005. 676—77.
Volvox: Poetry from the Unofficial Languages of Canada . . . in English Translation. Edited by J. Michael Yates. The Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia: The Sono Nis Press, 1971.
Wershler, Darren. “News That Stays News: Marshall McLuhan and Media Poetics.” The Journal of Electronic Publishing 14 no. 2 (2011). http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0014.208.
White, Norman T. “The Hearsay Project.” The NorMill. 11—12 November 1985. http://www.normill.ca/Text/Hearsay.txt.
Zend, Natalie. A Biography of Robert Zend. Unpublished manuscript. 8 March 1983. Personal library of Janine Zend.
Zend, Robert. Ararat. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.
———. Arbormundi: 16 Selected Typescapes. Vancouver: Blewointment Press, 1982.
———. Beyond Labels. Translated by Robert Zend and John Robert Colombo. Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1982.
———. A Bouquet to Bip. Exile Magazine 1, no. 3 ( 1973): 93–123.
———. Dancers. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.
———. Daymares: Selected Fictions on Dreams and Time. Edited by Brian Wyatt. Vancouver: CACANADADADA Press, 1991.
———. Eden. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.
———. Fából vaskarikatúrák. Budapest: Magyar Világ Kiadó, 1993.
———. Film poster produced for Hamlet, directed by Lawrence Olivier (London: Two Cities Films, 1948). Press and Publicity Department of the Hungarian National Filmmaking Company, 1948.
———. Film poster produced for Talpalatnyi föld (Treasured Earth), directed by Frigyes Bán (Hungary: Magyar Filmgyártó Nemzeti Vállalat, 1948). Press and Publicity Department of the Hungarian National Filmmaking Company, 1948.
———. From Zero to One. Translated by Robert Zend and John Robert Colombo. Mission, BC: The Sono Nis Press, 1973.
———. Genesis. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.
———. Hazám törve kettővel. Montréal: Omnibooks, 1991.
———. Heavenly Cocktail Party. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.
———. How Do Yoo Doodle?. Unpublished manuscript. Private collection of Janine Zend. Coloration is the author’s.
———. “The Key.” Exile Magazine 2, no. 2 (1974): 57-67.
———. LineLife. Ink drawing on paper. 1983. Box 10, Robert Zend fonds, Media Commons, University of Toronto Libraries. Adapted for digital medium by Camille Martin.
———. “Months of the Super-Year.” Exile Magazine 2, no. 2 (1974): 50.
———. Nicolette: A Novel Novel. Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 1993.
———. Oāb. Volume 1. Toronto: Exile Editions, 1983.
———. Oāb. Volume 2. Toronto: Exile Editions, 1985.
———. Pirandello and the Number Two. Master’s thesis. University of Toronto, 1969.
———. Polinear No. 3. 1982. Ink on paper. Private collection.
———. Quadriptych in Gasquette series. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.
———. Science Fiction. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.
———. Toiletters. N.d. Ink on toilet paper rolls. Private collection.
———. “Type Scapes: A Mystery Story.” Exile Magazine 5 nos. 3-4 (1978): 147.
———. Versek, Képversek. Párizs: Magyar mühely, 1988.
———. Windmill. N.d. Mixed media with thumbtacks, sewing pins, string, and paper on wood. Private collection.
———. “The World’s Greatest Poet.” Exile Magazine 2, no. 2 (1974): 55-56.
———. Zendocha-land. Unpublished manuscript, 1979.
Zend, Robert, ed. Vidám úttörő nyár (Happy Summer Pioneers). Magyar Úttörők Szövetsége (Association of Hungarian Pioneers), 1955.
Zend, Robert, translator and illustrator. The Tragedy of Man by Imre Madách. Unpublished manuscript.
Zend, Robert, and Jerónimo. My friend, Jerónimo. Toronto: Omnibooks, 1981.
“Zend, Robert.” Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. Edited by W. H. New. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. 1234.
Part 13. Gaskets, Thumbtacks,
Toilet Paper Rolls . . .
Robert Zend dissolved boundaries, or perhaps more accurately, ignored them. The preceding eight installments demonstrated two ways in which he did so: his international outlook and his exploration of humanity’s place within the cosmos.
In this last substantive installment, I’d like to show a third way. To create his visual art, Zend used technologies that were available to him, including the typewriter and computer. He also used whatever materials were at hand, including automotive gaskets, thumbtacks, and toilet paper rolls. Zend was also a prolific doodler, drawing his casual sketches (some quite intricate) on everything from Post-It notes to cocktail napkins.
I hope that you enjoy this visual feast of works by an extraordinary Canadian writer and artist. I think it’s fair to say that many of these have not been seen publicly for a very long time, possibly not since his death almost thirty years ago. The time is overdue for these visual works to reach a broader audience.
The display of works here is made possible by the kind permission of Janine Zend, who generously allowed me to view, photograph, and (in the case of the toiletters) video them.
The first time I was invited to the Zend home, in October 2013, Janine led me to the dining room table, where there was a box full of cardboard toilet paper rolls on which Robert Zend had drawn poems and designs. In his usual punning humour, he called these found objects “toiletters.” He created scores of these, also drawing on tape rolls, paper towel rolls, and mailing tubes. If it was cardboard and tubular, he drew on it. I knew that he was aesthetically versatile, but these took the notion to a new level. I immediately loved them.
After the arrival that afternoon of Janine and Robert’s daughter, Natalie, the two showed me upstairs, where they searched around for more such objets trouvés. In a closet they found a long mailing tube on which Zend had written a poem spiraling from bottom to top.
Spontaneously, Natalie began reading the poem while she and I slowly rotated the tube. It was a poignant moment, and I was mesmerized. I can only describe the poem as a spiritual crescendo, and as Natalie reached the top of the tube, it seemed all but inevitable that the poem would end on the word “god” or some such epiphany. Suddenly her voice halted, for the cardboard where the last word should have been had been roughly torn off. It looked as though the word had been gnawed off by a rodent. Then it hit me that the tear wasn’t caused by a mouse; it was classic Zend humour, building up anticipation and then thwarting it, in this case with silence at the height of an expected revelation.
His choice of found object, the humble cardboard tube, rings true in the context of his writing and other visual works. The toiletters bespeak an absurdist (and scatalogical) sense of humour and a love of doodling. And he was drawn to the circularity of the tubes as he was drawn to themes involving cyclical processes of creation and destruction as well as images of the uroboros. On reflection, the ultimate household throwaway seems a natural canvas for Zend.
I selected a few toiletters to give an idea of their variety and filmed them on a turntable (Fig. 1).
In a series of collages, Zend traced shapes with automotive gaskets, or “gasquettes” as he dubbed them in tongue-in-cheek eloquent French. More mundanely, he describes the objects as “automatic transmission valve-body separator gaskets . . . courtesy of Gabriel Nagy of Low Cost Automatic Transmissions, Ltd., Toronto.”1 Using these little machine parts as templates, he created highly stylized works such as the following two works in the Gasquette series (figs. 2 and 3):
The Humble Thumbtack
Zend found inspiration in quotidian objects like thumbtacks, pushpins, and string to create multi-media works such as Windmill (fig. 4), which manages to be simultaneously playful and haunting:
The three paper collages below (figs. 5, 6, and 7) show a range of Zend’s stylistic approaches in this medium. The lively motion and rhythm in these works have a musical effect, perhaps owing something to his background as a pianist:
Typewriter and Computer Art:
Typescapes and the Polinear Series
Scattered throughout this essay you’ve seen examples of Zend’s remarkable “typescapes,” such as “Stormelancholix” from Arbormundi (fig. 8):
In this installment I’d also like to present examples of different approaches he took to typewriter art. Oāb is full of playful experimentation with typed characters to illustrate the two-dimensional characters Oāb and Ïrdu exploring the possibilities of their world of paper and ink, as in “ÏRDU IMITATES THE SNAKE, OĀB THE PREY” (fig. 9):
and the following representation of the four creature-creators of Zend’s generational fantasy:
Zend was fortunate to live at a time when computer programs were being developed that allowed artists to take advantage of the possibilities of digital technology. Using such software, he created delicate works of parallel lines and concentric patterns, as in Polinear No. 3 (fig. 11):
An overview of Zend’s visual works would not be complete without a gallery of his doodles. I knew that Zend was a compulsive and prolific doodler, but it was not until I began researching his fonds that I began to understand the sheer number and scope of these off-the-cuff scribblings. His restless creative energy spilled over onto any paper product in sight, be it party napkin, doctor’s tablet, Post-It note, manila folder, or toilet paper roll — all were an invitation to play. If he ran out of paper, he would doodle on the back of a drawing he just made. Thirty-five years later, I was finding these little drawings scattered throughout the scores of boxes in the Zend fonds. Who says research has to be dull?
The doodles are by turns humorous, beautiful, erotic, abstract, and punning, and often a hybrid such as comic-erotic. He took especial delight in caricatures and intricate monograms. Sometimes his sketches turned into ideas for typescapes or other works, and sometimes they seem to be outlines for longer visual sequences. In the punning category, he created a collection of visual/verbal puns entitled How Do Yoo Doodle?, which he produced as coloured slides.
Zend was a paper hoarder – the wastebasket was his enemy. Janine points out that this may have been a reaction to having lost everything, including all of his poetry, during his escape from Hungary in 1956. How fortunate that after that loss he saved every scrap, and that after his death Janine took great care in archiving all of his papers, from the gorgeous and labour-intensive typescapes to the humblest scratchings on an envelope.
The following gallery contains a sampling that I gleaned from the Zend fonds as well as a selection from How Do Yoo Doodle?
Behold Zend’s doodles, like sparks flying from a creative mind that never seemed to rest.
You can hover your cursor over the image for pause, reverse, and forward buttons.
Next Installment —
Afterword: Citizen of the Macrocosm
Part 12. International Affinities:
Belgium (Magritte) and Japan
Robert Zend’s international openness was remarkable, especially during a time when a broad tendency in Canadian culture was to look within Canada’s borders for inspiration in order to foster a national cultural identity. As a cosmopolitan Canadian writer and artist, Zend found affinities and friendships not only in his home countries of Hungary and Canada, but also among a writers, artists, and cultural traditions around the world.
In the last few installments, I’ve discussed his aesthetic kinship with cultural figures in Hungary (Imre Madách, Frigyes Karinthy, and the Budapest Joke of Eastern European Jewish tradition), Canada (Marshall McLuhan, bpNichol, Robert Sward, Robert Priest, The Four Horsemen, Glenn Gould, and Norman McLaren), France (Marcel Marceau), Argentina (Jorge Luis Borges), and Italy (Giacomo Leopardi and Luigi Pirandello). In addition, after his move to Canada, Zend connected with immigrant writers and artists from Italy, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Japan, and Spain, sometimes engaging in creative collaborations with them.
The current installment, which focuses on Belgium (Magritte) and Japanese traditions (haiku and origami), will end my exploration of Zend’s international affinities.
In the next installment, the last substantive one in this series, I’ll show Zend as a multi-media artist who not only worked in more traditional paper collages but also used such unusual materials as thumbtacks, string, toilet paper rolls, and automotive gaskets, and exploited technologies such as the typewriter and the computer to create his visual art. In addition, Zend was a self-described “inveterate doodler,” the truth of which I learned from sifting through the extensive Zend archives at the University of Toronto. From this research, I’ve culled a variety of these sketches, from casual to intricate, poignant to humorous, as well as selected a few examples from his unpublished manuscript entitled How Do Yoo Doodle?.
An Eight-Ball for Magritte
Zend developed his own unique spin on surrealism, informed by an early interest in the fantastical in Hungary and nourished by his study of surrealism in artists such as René Magritte. Of the influence of the latter, most obvious is the portrait of Zend on the cover of Beyond Labels, designed by John Lloyd. The face of the formally-attired Zend is obscured by a large eight-ball; another eight-ball floats in the cloudy sky. The image bears a striking resemblance to Magritte’s 1964 self-portrait with signature bowler hat, Le fils de l’homme, face similarly obscured by an apple (figs. 1 and 2):
Magritte’s own words bespeak the themes of concealment and unknowability in his art:
Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.1
In Magritte’s statement can be heard an echo of Marcel Marceau’s concern with masks and with illusion and reality, and the passage also strikes a chord with Zend’s own literary and artistic themes.
“Climate,” for example, Zend’s prose poem dedicated to Magritte, is likely an ekphrastic poem based on any of several paintings by Magritte in which the separation between interior and exterior is either confounded or based on an illusion:
In the room in which I work it often rains. Sometimes the sun shines, but usually it’s twilight. Bright in one corner, dark in another, the weather can’t seem to make up its mind.
When I can’t take much more of it, I wander outdoors. The hills are gentle, the brooks are bubbling, the trees are whispering. Then I switch on the overhead light, turn up the heat, draw up a chair, sit down in front of my desk, and begin to work — until the clock tells me it’s time to quit.2
Weather incongruously occupies the writer’s room. And this weather is personified as fickle: it “can’t seem to make up its mind.” The writer seeks relief from the vagaries of the room’s elements and light by wandering outdoors through a soothing scene that is as clichéd — babbling brooks and rolling hills — as it is illusory, instantly morphing into an ordinary interior with overhead light, desk, and clock. In going outside and then inside, the writer has crossed no literal threshold, a clue that the divisions between indoors and outdoors, fickle and pleasant weather, and fantastical and quotidian are not literal either.
Instead, Zend renders a metapoetic image of the act of writing. The writer, disturbed by indecisive climate (perhaps a symptom of writer’s block), mentally steps outdoors into a calming, postcard-like scene, which seems just as unreal as the capricious indoors climate. The artificial banality of the landscape creates the degree of calm distraction that facilitates creative flow. But the results of that flow are not revealed, and the fashioned scenes of room and outdoors, of interior and exterior, themselves become the artifacts of writing, including the oddly mundane yet somehow apt ending: “until the clock tells me it’s time to quit.” Paradoxically, the poem’s subject (the writing of the poem) is both concealed and revealed in the act of writing.
Magritte’s Les Valeurs personelles (Personal Values) (fig. 3) is possibly the work that inspired Zend’s “Climate.” Like Zend’s poem, Magritte’s still life discombobulates the viewer’s sense of indoors and outdoors, and it subverts the normal utility of objects, as in the giant comb and wine glass. Magritte’s surrealism disturbs the normal context of objects (indoors becomes outdoors; small becomes gigantic), a feature of his work that informs Zend’s self-referential poem.
Lastly, in 1971, Zend wrote in Hungarian ten brief poems each entitled “Magritte,” which Janine Zend published in the posthumous collection Versek, Kepversek (1988). As far as I know, no English translation exists of these poems.
And this may be as good a place as any to point out that many other poems by Zend remain untranslated into English, which poses a problem for a more complete discussion of his work. A review in the Ottawa Journal of Zend’s first book of poetry, From Zero to One, praises efforts to translate and publish his poetry:
The poetry of Hungarian-born Robert Zend is surreal, brilliant, and witty. Zend’s fantasies operate between the twin poles of profundity and humour. John Robert Colombo believes (and with reason) that were Zend writing in English or French, he would be recognized as one of Canada’s leading poets: “But because he writes his witty, inventive, resourceful and extremely imaginative poems in his native language, he is known only to a handful of Canadians.”3
Since that time, a good deal more of his work has been translated, and some Zend wrote in English himself. However, much still remains untranslated, including three collections that Janine Zend published after Robert’s death: Versek, képversek (1988), Hazám törve kettővel (1991), and Fából vaskarikatúrák (1993). It would be a gift to Canadian and world culture if more of his works were made available to a wider audience. The republication of out-of-print editions would be a most worthwhile project, as would a collected or selected works edition.
Japan: “The Great Spirit of a Small Nation”
Some of Zend’s poems and visual works were influenced by Japanese poetic forms and cultural traditions, namely, haiku and origami. Among Zend’s unpublished manuscripts is a collection of haiku from the mid- to late-1960s entitled The Fourth Line. Zend states that although he is a “true admirer” of Japanese culture, he makes no claim to approaching anything “faintly similar to the perfection of the original Japanese haiku”:
Besides a lot of other faults, my biggest “westernism” is that I could not eliminate my ego-centrism from my transcendental approach to existence, although I would not give up keeping on trying. . . . Consider [these poems] only as efforts to understand and appreciate through experience the great spirit of a small nation, among the big ones.4
What the haiku in The Fourth Line might lack in formal orthodoxy, Zend makes makes up for in inventiveness, including the following variations:
- Riddles, puzzles which challenge the validity of the mind’s judgment of reality;
- moods, impressions, feelings which are lyrical expressions of my personal life;
- intellectual ponderings on the controversies of our space-age and social problems;
- Western three-liners which have nothing to do with the original concept of haiku;
- jokes, games, drawings, concrete experiments;
- philosophical statements;
- miscellaneous and unidentified.5
Below is a brief sample of poems from The Fourth Line:
Like a severed arm
left on the battlefield
you still give me pain
A cat was meowing
I gave him milk in a plate
Now I am happy
SUNDAY AFTERNOON MOOD:
A POEM IN WHICH THE POET TRIES TO EXPRESS
THE EFFECT OF THE WEATHER
ON HIS MOOD
Among Zend’s Japanese-influenced concrete experiments are works inspired by origami, including a vanishing origami sequence and a page of concrete poems that “folds” the word “origami” in various two-dimensional configurations (figs. 4 and 5):
In his variations on haiku and renderings of origami Zend approaches Japanese traditions with humility and admiration, yet also infuses them with a spirit of playful inventiveness that shows a range of approaches from lyrical to conceptual, and from linguistic to visual.
Next Installment — Part 13.
Gaskets, Thumbtacks, Toilet Paper Rolls . . .
Part 10. International Affinities:
France (Marcel Marceau)
L’Art du Silence
and the Language of Empathy
In 1955, French mime artist Marcel Marceau made his historic North American debut, beginning his tour at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and continuing with standing-room-only performances in most major cities in the United States. The tour propelled Marceau into international fame. In 1958, he made a triumphant return to the Stratford Festival, the venue that had kicked off the series of performances that not only secured his place as the most important mime artist of his time, but also established miming as an performance genre with a high degree of artistic and intellectual merit.
In 1970, Marceau once again returned to Canada to perform at the Stratford Festival. To commemorate his visit, Zend designed a chess set to be presented by the CBC to Marceau, an avid chess player (figs. 1 and 2).
The warm and reciprocal friendship that developed between the two men isn’t surprising. On a personal level, they had both survived Nazi-occupied countries and experienced profound losses during that period. Zend lost both of his parents to hostilities against civilians during the Soviet siege of Nazi-occupied Budapest, and his first wife, Ibi, lost both of her parents and other family members to Nazi concentration camps. Marceau lost his father, who was murdered in Auschwitz. Subsequently, he joined the French Resistance and helped many Jewish children escape to neutral countries; in fact, Marceau began miming in order to entertain the children and keep them quiet during their treacherous escape.1 And Zend was active in the resistance to Soviet rule during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Both Marceau and Zend understood well the consequences of authoritarian regimes founded on terror and hatred.
They shared a keen sense of humour and apparently also a love of the spontaneous sketch: Zend calls Marceau “a friend with whom I like doodling together.”2 And since they also shared a close personal, artistic, and spiritual bond, each refers to the other as his “chosen brother.”3
Zend was deeply affected by Marceau’s practice of l’art du silence in his creation of a mute clown, Bip, who in brief mimed narratives played out the dilemmas of an ordinary man faced with predicaments (fig. 3). Marceau ascribes Bib’s popularity to the fact that
Bip is a funny, sad fellow, and things are always happening to him that could happen to anybody. Because he speaks with the gestures and the movement of the body, everyone knows what is happening to him, and he is popular everywhere. . . . There is no French way of laughing and no American way of crying. My subjects try to reveal the fundamental essences of humanity.4
Of his art, Marceau noted, “It’s not dance. It’s not slapstick. It is essence and restraint.5
Zend felt an affinity for the “essences of humanity” within Marceau’s tragicomic everyman, Bip, out of his own concern with the erasure of superficial barriers between peoples to reveal their commonalities. He admired Marceau’s ability to create through Bip’s gestures alone a universal language by presenting distilled human nature in “style pantomimes.” Film and theatre critic Robert Koehler describes Marceau’s “style” pieces as “ambitious works” that might be “Bip’s fantastic dreams,” and that “often try to soar above the earthly plain.”6.
In one such style sketch entitled “Youth, Maturity, Old Age, and Death,” Marceau glides seamlessly through the trajectory of a human life in about three minutes, from curled fetus to shriveled old age and death. The general idea can be seen in the following montage of film stills from a 1965 performance (available on YouTube, for anyone interested) (fig. 4):
Marceau’s compressed arc of human life is reminiscent of Zend’s typescape Mutamus (We Are Changing) (fig. 5), which shows five stages of human life against the backdrop of an hourglass. It also recalls Zend’s 1983 flipbook animation entitled Linelife, which I featured in Part 1. of this series, and which I repeat below for any who missed it or would like to see it again (fig. 6):
Fig. 6. Robert Zend, LineLife, ink drawing on paper, 1983, Box 10, Robert Zend fonds, Media Commons, University of Toronto Libraries. Adapted for digital medium by Camille Martin. Copyright © Janine Zend, 1983, all rights reserved, reproduced with permission from Janine Zend.
Like Marceau’s ethos of embracing all humanity by appealing to commonalities, Zend’s poetry also dissolves boundaries between self and other, as in the following aphoristic poem:
When I talk about myself,
I talk about you, too.7
In just a few words, Zend creates an empathetic bridge linking two persons and acknowledging their common humanity.
And in “The Universalist,” dedicated to “the Style Pantomimist Who Can Tell Years in Minutes,” Zend celebrates Marceau’s ability to render the “essences of humanity.” The poem’s premise is reminiscent of Borges: a writer dreams of capturing “the history of the world in ten volumes” but is faced with the “impossib[ility] to know everything about all the peoples in all times.” He then tries writing successively less ambitious but equally detailed pieces: “a triology about three consecutive generations,” “a play about an interesting conflict,” and “one short story about one character.” But each time he begins a new project, he soon gives up in defeat because he realizes that the enormous scope of his subject exceeds his capacity to capture all of the details of world history in “a true picture.”
Then he tries to render “one of his moods in a short lyrical poem.” This also fails because he realizes that such a poem would always remain a “fragment,” unable to do justice even to one momentary mood in one human life, “for his mood rooted back into his childhood, into his family, into the culture which bore him, into the whole history of mankind.” At last,
after decades of not writing at all — when he was very, very old — one evening — after careful consideration — he took a clean sheet of paper and immersed his pen in the ink, and — as if he had just finished the magnificent life-work he had started dreaming about when he was very young — he dropped a tiny, little dot of ink onto the paper, and was satisfied and happy, because he knew that the little dot contained hundreds of billions of universes in it, complete with galaxies, and within the galaxies solar systems, and within the solar systems swarming life on each of the infinite number of planets contained in them. He was a god after the creation. No longer afraid of death.8
Within the microcosm of a drop of ink swarm macrocosms that in turn, viewed through an imaginary microscope, contain infinite microcosms. In his fantastical tale, Zend acknowledges Marceau’s gift of distilling complex human emotions and predicaments into a series of gestures, which in turn suggest infinite possibilities in the macrocosm of “all the peoples in all times.”
“I divide myself in two” (Marceau)
“and punch myself on the nose” (Zend)
The flip side of that universalism is Zend’s interest in Marceau’s renditions of masking and of the divided self. In one style sketch, Bip plays a mask maker who alternately tries on his masks of tragedy and comedy, performing various antics appropriate to the masks’ moods. But at a certain point he’s unable to remove the laughing mask. As Bip grows increasingly desperate to pry it off, his frantic gestures reveal the stark incongruity between the laughing mask and the tragedy of the situation (fig. 7). Finally, Bip blinds himself and is then able to peel off the offending mask. Marceau describes the sketch of the Mask Maker as showing, “through the use of his many faces, the problem of illusion and reality,” thus creating a “Pirandellian effect,”9 referring to the Italian playwright’s exploration of the human capacity for self-delusion and the construction of masks hiding a darker, unknowable reality. (This idea of the multiple masks of the self fascinated Zend and will be explored further in the section on Italian affinities, Pirandello in particular.) Marceau describes his performance in “The Mask Maker” as one of self-division:
I must detach myself wholly from my face. At the end, when he cannot wrench the laughing mask off, the face laughs and the body cries. I divide myself in two.10
Zend had the opportunity to hear in depth Marceau’s ideas on the mask when he produced a CBC Ideas program entitled The Living Mask in 1971, featuring conversations with Marceau.
Moreover, as an exiled immigrant, Zend himself knew intimately that “schizoid” feeling of being split by the impossibility of reconciling two different places, so his life was steeped in that feeling of dividedness. In “Spheroid Poem,” dedicated “to All Men in Marceau,” he writes of a self sometimes violently opposed to itself:
I sometimes met
myself on the street
and punched myself on the nose —
and I was mad at myself
for I wasn’t even sorry for myself —
sometimes I stayed home
and penned poems
which every hundred years or so
I will reread
and either like them
or dislike them.
I was often dissatisfied
and rebelled against myself —
I declared war
and in one bloody battle after another
I wiped myself out —
through boring years of peace,
I thought triumphantly about
my losing the war,
so I thought revengefully about
my winning the war,
so I thought triumphantly about . . .
and so on.11
The multiplicity of identities within the self are also explored in Zend’s poem “You”:
If I say “you”
it’s not you I think of
but rather the one I think of
If I say “you”
It’s not me I think of
but rather the one I am thinking of
If I say “you”
I’m thinking of one of my selves
in whom another self believes12
Zend’s repetition of the phrase “thinking of” becomes like a hall of mirrors in which not only is the “you” or other person unknowable but the self that thinks of the “you” is also unknowable, and so on, in a potentially infinite regression of unknowable selves thinking unknowable thoughts.
Portraits and Bouquets:
A Collaboration of Gifts
Following Marceau’s visit, Zend and Marceau continued their expression of friendship and mutual esteem. Marceau expressed his admiration of Zend in both words and art. He wrote that “[o]nce Robert Zend told me that I was a poet of gestures. Once I told him he was a mime with words. Robert Zend is a poet in every moment of his life.”13 Marceau also drew a fine portrait of Zend, published in the negative on the front dust jacket of his first book of poetry, From Zero to One (fig. 8). Before he became a professional mime, Marceau had first dreamed of becoming an artist. During his tours, he would often present quick sketches of himself to autograph-seekers.14 Marceau also created more studied portraits of Bip that often feature stylized suns with exaggerated starburst lines. It’s perhaps a sign of Marceau’s esteem for Zend that he draws his portrait with Bip’s characteristic suns exhibiting various emotions from joyful (high in the sky) to mournful (setting) – Marceau’s version, perhaps, of the Greek masks of tragedy and comedy. Also, it’s possible to see in Zend’s image a hint of Bip in the almost mutton-chop effect of the facial hair, a trademark feature of Marceau’s clown. The care that Marceau took with Zend’s portrait, with its delicate strokes and the meditative, slightly melancholic countenance, is evident.
After designing the chess set, Zend again paid tribute to Marceau in a thirty-one-page piece entitled A Bouquet to Bip, published in Exile Magazine in 1973 (fig. 9). The bouquet in the title likely refers to the single red flower absurdly sprouting from Bip’s crumpled opera hat. We have already seen some text from A Bouquet to Bip above. The following are some remarkable images from that sequence.
One of the most beautiful and poignant of these, entitled “The Family Tree of the Alphabet,” is a concrete poem consisting of letters in a connect-the-dot configuration of a butterfly (fig. 10). The image renders homage both to Marceau’s sketch “Bip Hunts Butterflies” and to George Mendoza, author of the children’s book Marcel Marceau Alphabet Book.
Zend’s butterfly shows an imaginary evolution of the modern alphabet originating from punctuation marks in the body of the butterfly and branching out into more evolved letters along its wings. The detail (fig. 11, above right) focuses on one branch of the letter “X” symbolically dead-ending in the swastika, which is topped with a cross as grave-marker.
Below are two additional concrete poems in Zend’s Bouquet series. To the left is a “nomograph” (a word probably coined by Zend) depicting Bip using the letters of Marceau’s name and dedicated “to a Friend with Whom I Like Doodling Together” (fig. 12). And the one to the right uses the letters in “The Title” to salute Pierre Verry, the “presenter of the cards” who walked onstage prior to each of Marceau’s sketches carrying a sign indicating the title (fig. 13).
Marceau wrote a three-page response to A Bouquet to Bip, which Zend included in the Exile Magazine publication. Two pages are reproduced below. At left is Marceau’s drawing of Bip showing his silent acceptance of Zend’s “bouquet” (fig. 14). Perhaps in response to Zend’s use of The Mask Maker in his tribute, Bip’s mouth is divided into a smile and a frown, echoing the masks of comedy and tragedy like the starburst suns mentioned above. And to the right is a Zend-like poem by Marceau (fig. 15).
Although their meeting was relatively brief, Zend’s friendship with Marceau was extraordinarily fruitful in their exchanges of poems and drawings. The ideas and feelings that raised Marceau’s miming to a subtle and ingenious artistic expression resonated with Zend’s own explorations of self and other and the tension between human universality and the divided self. Zend thrived on such creative interactions with other writers and artists, which produced within his own work sympathetic vibrations. Zend honours Marceau and, by extension, Bip by finding aspects of them within himself and creating work that is a spiritual collaboration and a testament to their friendship. A Bouquet to Bip is remarkable for being so openly and sincerely woven of their close and affectionate brotherhood.
Next Installment — Part 11.
International Affinities: Italy
(Leopardi and Pirandello)
Robert Zend – Part 8. Canadian Literary Cross-Pollination: The Three Roberts, Norman McLaren, Glenn Gould
Part 8. Canadian Literary Cross-Pollination:
The Three Roberts, Norman McLaren,
and Glenn Gould
Robert Zend the Nomad
gazing in like an acrobat
at the window in the sky.
This installment will conclude the sections on Zend’s Canadian affinities. The next ones will look at some significant international collaborations, notably with Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges and French mime artist Marcel Marceau. I’ll also show some Italian connections, such as his interest in experimental playwright Luigi Pirandello and cynical poet Giacomo Leopardi. And I’ll demonstrate the influence on Zend of Belgian artist René Magritte as well as Japanese traditions such as haiku and origami.
But first . . .
The Three Knights of a Roberthood:
Priest, Sward, Zend
During the 1980s, Zend participated in a remarkable collaboration with two Canadian poets who were also fellow immigrants: Robert Sward, an American poet from Chicago who lived in Canada from 1969 to 1985, and Robert Priest, a British poet who moved to Canada. Picking up on their admiration for one another’s poetry and the fact of their identical first names, they began performing together in poetry reading tours, calling themselves “The Three Roberts.” They also published a series of poetry anthologies of their work in themed collections: Premiere Performance, On Love, and On Childhood (fig. 1).
Sward and Priest performed their poetry together at CBC radio, where they met Zend. Sward recalls that Zend’s cosmopolitan outlook drew them together and inspired them. He relates that the sense of humour and playfulness of their personalities and poetry allowed them to play off one another during their performances and to serve as muses to each other.1
Each of the Roberts has a recognizable voice: Sward often writes from a personal and familial perspective steeped in his Jewish heritage; Priest’s poetry exhibits a zany sense of humour and the influence of popular British music such as the Beatles; and Zend explores the personal and fantastical with a cosmic vision. There is a warm accessibility to the work of the three that creates a coherence in their anthologies that, as Sward observed, placed them a bit outside the mainstream of Canadian poetry during that time.
Below (figs. 2 and 3) are a photograph of the three looking rather like a jolly barbership trip, and a set of silhouettes created by Zend to commemorate their friendship.
One of Robert Sward’s poems in Premiere Performance captures the spirit of good humour, rapport, and mutual inspiration of the “Roberts . . . / Robertness . . . / Three Knights of a Roberthood.” The following is an excerpt:
Robert Zend phones Robert
Sward. Ring, ring.
“Robert, this is Robert.”
“Is this Robert?” “This
is Robert, Robert.” “Yes,
Robert?” I say, “This
“is Robert, too.” “Ah,
excuse me, I need
to find a match,”
says Robert Zend putting
down the telephone
and rummaging for matches . . .
. . .
Zend translates serious things
into funny things
and funny things
into serious things.
He also translates himself
into other people, and
other people into himself —
and where does one of us end
and the other begin?
And where does Zend begin
and where do I zend?
I mean, end?
And what about Robert Priest?
Is he a visible man?
An invisible man?
Or the man who broke out of the letter X?
Is he a spaceman in disguise?
A blue pyramid? A golden trumpet?
A chocolate lawnmower?
An inexhaustible flower?
Or a reader who escaped
from some interstellar library?
Rock Musician in residence
at the University of the Moon?
And meanwhile Robert Zend
looks into his mirror
and sees not Zend
But Chicago-born Uncle Dog;
Half a Life’s History;
Mr. Amnesia; Mr. Movies; Left to Right;
Mr. Transmigration of the Soul;
The poet as wanderer;
A forty-nine-year-old human violin . . .
Robert Zend the Nomad
gazing in like an acrobat
at the window in the sky.2
Their first performance, at Grossman’s Tavern in Toronto in January 1984, was reviewed by Sheila Wawanash of Shades Magazine, a punk rock magazine:
[Their] poetry reading . . . was especially fine (by which I mean fun). . . . Three voices — and quite different kinds of approaches — broke up hieratic monotonies in “poetry” “readings,” while their (rough) conjugation of themes circled round and took off. Of course, it helps that they are all worthy poets and readers and much else besides; in their concluding, separate sections/performances, Priest sang some of his songs (which survived a solo acoustic rendition) and Zend showed the slides illustrating his long and abiding obsession with “action word” doodles, some of which were remarkably funny and beautiful.3
Although their collaboration was cut short by Zend’s untimely death in 1985, while they were together they formed a vibrant part of the Canadian poetry scene. And the sympathetic vibrations among the three during their performances and in their three anthologies is testament to their creative rapport and close friendship.
Norman McLaren: Musical Geometry
I cannot end the installment on Canadian influences and affinities without at least a mention of Zend’s admiration for the experimental films of Norman McLaren. Zend, who had worked in film in both Hungary and Canada, was fascinated by McLaren’s artistic and sometimes abstractly geometric animated films. Zend’s Linelife, a work that I featured in Part 1, most obviously shows Zend’s interest in McLaren’s avant-garde animations. As well, Zend dedicated to McLaren “The Three Sons (a fable of geometry),” involving the progeny of “Father Circle and Mother Circle.” The admiration was mutual: McLaren called Zend “a sorcerer par excellence.”
Zend’s experimentation with geometrical animation was brief and not sustained. However, the little gem of Linelife is one piece in the overall picture that I wish to build of Robert Zend’s openness to many different influences. Indeed, this little piece of animation bears an affinity not only with Norman McLaren, but also (as I will show in a later installment) with Marcel Marceau.
In addition, McLaren played a role as a kind of tutelary spirit in Zend’s development of his typescapes. In his creative essay “Type Scapes: A Mystery Story,” he imagines McLaren as a guiding force, encouraging him to overcome difficulties in his struggles to “tame” the typewriter. After some trial and error, Zend becomes frustrated:
I remember taking a coffee break. While sipping coffee and smoking my cigarette, I sulked: “Why do I have to make mistake after mistake?” Then suddenly Norman McLaren’s face leapt into my mind’s eye. I saw him bending over a “mistake” on a piece of film, with a loving smile on his face. What was this? I’d never seen Norman working with film, where did this memory come from? Then I knew. Last summer, I made a radio series consisting of 5 programs in which Norman not only spoke about his life, but every night a guest speaker talked about Norman’s art. The last of these speakers was NFB executive producer Tom Daly who gave a beautiful talk about the various worlds Norman had created in each of his animated shorts. Among other things, he said that whenever Norman made a mistake, he wasn’t angry, as people usually are, but that he contemplated the mistake and tried to take advantage of it so that many times a small mistake became the source of a great innovation.4
Zend had the epiphany that like McLaren, he could use his mistake to his advantage. He experimented by superimposing characters to create an almost infinite variety of textures, each with “a different soul” (fig. 4):
With this revelation, inspired by McLaren’s process, he went on to produce, in a feverish and concentrated period of creative energy, scores of typescapes whose hallmark is their subtle and overlapping textures with delicate shadings.
A Glenn Gould Scherzo:
Where to Put the Zend?
An admirer of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, Zend dedicated his poem “Symphonie Fantastique” to him; one of his doodles below (fig. 5) also pays tribute to Gould. His esteem was reciprocated: Gould called Zend “unquestionably Canada’s most musical poet.”5
And to conclude my installment on Zend’s Canadian lineage, I’d like to quote Gould’s homage to Zend in the following humorous quandary about the resistance of Zend’s work to categorization. Zend was not quintessentially Hungarian or Canadian or any other nationality. As Gould suggests, Zend is akin to many, yet he also “stands alone.”
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 cosmos 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 . . .”
“. . . and then, perhaps, Kurt Weill . . .”
“. . . and finish off with Satie.”
“Nein, kein Satie. Zat vun is not knowing secondary dominants, und ze vork of Zend is full of modulation.”
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!6
Next Installment — Part 9.
International Affinities: Argentina (Borges)
Part 3. Hungary: Childhood and Early Adulthood
Little has been publicly known about Robert Zend’s early years in Hungary, prior to the 1956 Uprising and his subsequent immigration to Canada. I’d like to begin the process of fleshing out this period of his life. Some of the biographical material from this period will help us to understand the shaping of his cosmopolitan outlook. In addition, some background on his life in both Hungary and Canada will help to contextualize my subsequent discussion of his international affinities and influences.
Robert Zend was born in Budapest, the only child of Henrik and Stephanie. Most sources indicate that he was born on December 2, 1929. However, there is some uncertainty about the date. Henrik, the youngest among many brothers and sisters, married late in life, so that Robert’s cousins were ten to twenty years older than he.1 Thus during his early years, Robert was often in the midst of adults.
Zend points out the irony of his given name. Henrik had wanted to call him James after his own father. But his brother-in-law Dori argued against it because it sounded so old-fashioned. Henrik didn’t like Dori’s suggestion of a common name for his son, who would surely be distinguished. Finally,
Dori proposed to him the name Robert which in those times and in Hungary was a modern, but very rare, almost exotic name. My father readily agreed because his favourite composer was Robert Schumann. Had he known that I would spend most of my life in North America where every second male is called Robert (or even Bob!), he wouldn’t have compromised so easily.2
Zend wryly observes that had his father favoured a different composer, his name might have been “Johann Sebastian Zend.”
Henrik, fluent in five languages, worked as a foreign correspondence clerk for a rice mill, and Stephanie was a homemaker.3 They were not well off, and after the birth of Robert, one month after the New York Stock Market crash of 1929, they faced economic difficulties and uncertainty. The ensuing global depression devastated the Hungarian economy: by 1933, Budapest had a poverty rate of 18% and an unemployment rate of 36%.4 Following a failed pregnancy, Henrik and Stephanie decided not to have additional children.5
Zend wrote about the sibling that he never had in a poignant story entitled “My Baby Brother”: he dreams that his parents have come back to life, and even at their advanced age they bear a son, who he imagines “will be a better man than me, a second, corrected edition of me.”6 Other works develop the theme of existence foiled, as in “The Rock,” a story about a dreamed Jesus who has missed his chance to be born:
Time was pregnant.
It was predetermined that he was to be born. The day and the hour and the minute and the second had been decided. The land and the city and the house assigned. The father and the mother chosen.
But something somewhere, something went wrong. His dreamer — in a higher consciousness — woke up with a start before dreaming his birth, and by the time he succeeded in sinking back into the dream again, the point was passed.7
And in “The Most Beautiful Things,” he ponders all of the art and life that remain in a limbo of unfulfilled potentiality:
My most beautiful poems are never written down
I am afraid to commit them to a prison of twenty-six letters
In the same way
the most beautiful statues on earth hide
in uncarved rock
The most beautiful paintings
are all crammed together in tiny tubes of paint
The most beautiful people will never be born8
In such works, it is as though a parallel universe contained all the possibilities that never came to fruition. Yearning for the unborn baby brother was not the only experience to which one could ascribe Zend’s sense of what he elsewhere calls “historical unhappenings.”9 As we will see, it was one of other events to come that would mark him with an indelible awareness of thwarted possibilities.
Robert’s early years held much promise. The foundation for his love of Italian culture and literature was laid in childhood. Henrik brought him to Italy at the ages of ten and twelve to stimulate the boy’s interest in learning the Italian language.10
Zend describes himself during childhood as a social misfit as he wasn’t interested in playing sports with other boys. As a result of his introversion, Henrik and Stephanie suspected that their son was socially stunted as well as intellectually slow, and planned to take him out of school after the fourth grade to apprentice with a carpenter. However, Robert began to display talent in languages and to demonstrate more than a superficial interest in literature. When he was seven, he impressed his teacher and classmates with his language skills. At the age of eight, the precocious boy recited from memory a 140-line poem by nineteenth-century Hungarian poet Sándor Petőfi.11
After Robert finished the fourth grade, Henrik and Stephanie reconsidered the plan to withdraw him from school to learn a trade. Having observed his talents and listened to the entreaties of his teacher, they were convinced to cultivate the boy’s intellectual gifts rather than apprentice him to a carpenter.
Robert began to play the piano by ear at the age of ten. Although he never learned to read scores, he excelled at imitating pieces he heard, such as Mozart’s “Turkish March,” and composing songs. Family and friends thought that Robert was destined to become a concert pianist, but even in early adolescence, Robert knew that he would be a writer.12
When Robert was fourteen, his father placed him in Regia Scuola Italiana, the Italian high school in Budapest, so that he could become fluent in a second language; there Zend also studied Latin and German. One of his professors was Joseph Füsi, a prominent translator of plays by Luigi Pirandello. Zend describes Füsi as a personal friend who encouraged him to write and translate.13
Childhood travels to Italy and studies at the Italian high school fostered in Robert an enduring love of languages. He went on to study literature in several other languages and twenty years later earned a graduate degree in Italian literature at the University of Toronto. His high school studies with Füsi likely influenced his decision to write about Pirandello for his master’s thesis.
Robert seems to have had a happy childhood, nurtured by caring parents who assiduously looked after his health, well-being, and education. Although they could scarcely afford it, they sent him at ages one-and-a-half and six to the beach towns of Grado, Italy, and Laurana, Yugoslavia, respectively, to recover from rickets (a bone disease caused by a deficiency in vitamin D). His father took him on two more trips to Italy to expose him to a different language and culture. And when Robert was in the seventh grade, they hired a private tutor to help him with Latin when his grades in that subject flagged.14
He remembers fondly that his mother spoiled him. However, she also tended to be over-protective, even accompanying him when he was fourteen to summer camp, where his father had sent him to gain a sense of independence. Teased about his hovering mother, Robert resourcefully wrote to her older brother, Dori, for help. His uncle understood the situation and quickly persuaded his sister to leave her son in peace. After her departure, Robert was able to bond with the other boys.15
Reminiscences of his parents and childhood surface in some of his stories and poems. In “A Memory,” he tells of a humorous (in retrospect) coming-of-age incident involving his father:
Once, at fifteen,
I made my poor
old dad so mad at me
that he chased me
around the table
till I caught him, finally16
And in “Madeleine,” he experiences a self-referential Proustian moment eating a madeleine and remembering himself at fifteen reading Proust in his parents’ “old apartment” in a “yellow house [on a] curvy little street.” He recalls the magic of his youth in Budapest, and “my mother, my father, my friends and my loves.” He decides to write his memoirs, to be entitled (in typical Zend brain-teaser fashion) In Search of In Search of Time Lost Lost.17
However, the peace of those years was shattered with Hungary’s turbulent entrance into World War II. The years from 1944 to 1945 saw not only the Nazi takeover of Hungary and the deportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews and others deemed undesirable by the regime, but also the Soviet invasion of Hungary (between October 1944 and February 1945) and its aftermath of rape, murder, and pillage. The Siege of Budapest by the Soviet military was one of the longest and bloodiest urban battles of World War II in Europe (fig. 4). The extraordinarily violent and chaotic transition from Nazi to Soviet control lasted about one hundred days and resulted in extremely degraded living conditions amid destruction, terror, disease, and starvation. Atrocities against civilians were committed by both Hungarian and Soviet forces. During the Siege, about 38,000 Hungarian civilians were killed. Thousands were executed outright by members of the Arrow Cross, the pro-Nazi Hungarian party.18
Tragically, Robert’s parents were among those killed during that brutal period.19 The shock and grief of his loss left a deep impression on him for the rest of his life.
In the semi-autobiographical story “My Baby Brother,” Zend directly addresses his parents’ death, interweaving with that event an account of his brother who died before birth. As mentioned previously, the story tells of dreamer who learns that his long-dead parents have returned to life and immediately become pregnant with a boy. Although he is excited at the thought of having a baby brother, he also realizes that this sibling will replace him and accomplish all the things he was unable to, such as becoming a “great composer” because “internal and external forces prevented me from doing so.” Like a Twilight Zone episode, the dream keeps returning to the beginning, and the details of his parents’ demise shift: they died in a camp, they were shot, their apartment was bombed. And he learns of their last words: hopes for their son’s survival. And since their deaths, he says,
they’ve been my guardian spirits, floating around me, saving me from death on ten or so occasions.20
The dreamer is trapped inside a tape loop, an endless rehearsal of variations on tragedy, not unlike the history of Hungary in the twentieth century. Finally, the dream ends with a scene of a tombstone whose inscription keeps changing. He’s not sure whose tombstone it represents: the baby brother he never had? Or perhaps the dead avenues of a life of foiled plans? The former emblematizes the latter, and from Zend’s multiple losses emerges the recurring theme in his writing of the “unborn child” who “knocks at the gates of existence,” “struggl[ing] to become,” but who ends up “freezing on the snow-fields of white non-existence.”21
The end of the Nazi’s brief but barbaric chapter in Hungary’s history was following by a protracted Communist totalitarian regime with its own institutionalized system of cruelty and deception. And although life was not easy during Budapest’s long recovery from the destruction and devastation of the war, Zend was able to continue his education. In 1949, he was admitted to Péter Pázmány Science University, where he completed three years of study in Hungarian and Italian literature, and four years of study in Russian literature. In addition, he studied German, Finnish, and classical languages.22
Soon after he began his university studies, he married Ibi Keil in 1950. Ibi and Robert had been drawn together by their love of classical music and literature. When they met, Robert was entertaining friends by playing a Mozart piano sonata. Ibi recalls that Robert was impressed by her ability to sing melodies from all of Beethoven’s symphonies. On one of their first dates, they attended a performance of The Tragedy of Man by Imre Madách, the famous nineteenth-century Hungarian poet whose long dramatic poem, as we will see later, deeply influenced Zend’s writing and art. And they also shared feelings of empathy for the tragic events of their youth: Robert had lost his parents to the war, and Ibi had lost her parents, younger brother, and other family members to the Holocaust. In 1944, at the age of fifteen, Ibi had been transported along with her parents and brother to Auschwitz. She managed to live through the horrors of Auschwitz and two other camps, but unfortunately her parents and brother did not survive.23
Although apartments were hard to come by, the young couple, assisted by an uncle of Robert’s, managed to procure a small place. They settled into their new life together as Robert continued his studies and Ibi worked at a factory while pursuing her own education to become a librarian.24
In 1953, Zend received a Bachelor of Arts degree as well as the official title of Literary Translator. One of his university professors was Tibor Kardos, who edited the literary magazine where from 1953 to 1956 Zend worked as a translator of Italian literature.25
For four years, from 1948 to 1951 (between the ages of 19 and 22), he worked for the Press and Publicity Department of the Hungarian National Filmmaking Company, the state-controlled cinema during the Stalin regime, where he edited films, designed and produced dozens of movie posters, and wrote film reviews.26 Although many of these films appearing from the state monopoly were vehicles for political messages, for a brief time early into the Communist regime, a variety of more sophisticated films was allowed, as the poster produced by Zend of Hamlet (1948, starring Lawrence Olivier and Jean Simmons) attests (fig. 6). In the same year, he also produced a poster for Talpalatnyi föld (Treasured Earth), the first film realized by the newly nationalized film industry in Hungary (fig. 7).
But working conditions were far from ideal, as many of the films approved by the state were monotonously devoted to praise of Communism and condemnation of its enemies. Moreover, Zend had to deal with narrow-minded and incompetent administrators at the Hungarian National Filmmaking Company. For Zend, the position was neither a creative nor a worker’s paradise. He made his job tolerable by entertaining friends with satirical reviews of the films with the most hackneyed ideological plots, and joking about the “waterhead” administration, so-called because “the department bosses seemed to have heads made of water.”27
Someone as outspoken as Zend was bound to come into conflict with officials, and before long he was blacklisted by the Communist administration, which meant that he was effectively barred from securing full-time employment. The event that triggered the blacklisting might seem innocent enough. The government had set up a wall on which the public was invited to write constructive criticism of government services and other socialist functions. Zend had written a bitingly satirical criticism of food that was served at a political event. The officials were not amused, and Zend was fired and prevented from pursuing any kind of meaningful career.28
To earn sufficient income to help support himself, his wife, and in 1956 their newborn baby, he had to patch together a variety of short-term and part-time jobs. For four years, he worked as a free-lance journalist. In addition, he did writing and editorial work for children’s and youth magazines, edited books for the Young People’s Book Publisher, wrote reports and essays for a teacher’s magazine, wrote for the Hungarian Radio, translated poetry and essays from German, Italian, and Russian sources into Hungarian, and worked with illustrators, artists, and printing shops.29 One of his editing jobs, for example, was a 1955 guide book for the Pioneers, a socialist youth group (fig. 8).
He loved writing for children, and a friend who edited the chilren’s magazine Pajtás (Pal) helped him to get paid for writing articles.30 Zend reports that his pen name, “Peeper,” was “extremely popular,” and he received fan mail from children all over Hungary.31 He also travelled regularly to visit schools around the country.32
Zend was also developing as a poet. He wrote his first poems at the age of nine and thirteen and began writing poetry in earnest when he was fifteen,33. A meeting with his literary idol, Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy, made a lasting impression on him.34. During the 1950s, he continued to write poetry, in these earlier years verse of a lyric nature.35
In 1956, Ibi fulfilled two dreams. After the loss of so many of her relatives to the Holocaust, she longed to start a family. After years of despairing that it might not be possible for her to have children due to the damage her body had sustained in Nazi labour camps, she finally became pregnant with a girl. In the same year that Aniko was born, Ibi fulfilled her long-time dream of becoming a librarian after passing her exams.36
For the Zends, the years leading up to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution were not easy. Money was so tight that Robert wasn’t even able to afford a typewriter, which would have cost the couple three months’ wages. Something as basic to a poet as a typewriter was a “lifetime ambition.”37 In February 1956, Aniko was born premature, and Ibi describes her during the first eight months as “very thin, very pale, and undernourished,” as the baby didn’t have the proper food and vitamins to thrive.
Discontent with Soviet rule was rampant, and during the summer and fall of 1956 it grew increasingly bold and vocal. Leafing through children’s books that she was placing back on the shelves, Ibi noticed that even the children were scribbling protests about the government’s hypocrisy:
Wherever there was anything praising Communism, the Russian army or the Kremlin’s might, the little children had written in, “It’s not true . . . All lies . . . We don’t want Russia.”38
In 1956, Robert was on the brink of publishing his first book, a collection of one hundred poems, with a dissident publishing company, when a landmark event in Hungarian history suddenly halted his plans.39 His and Ibi’s lives were forever and drastically changed as a result of the Hungarian Uprising against Soviet rule. Journalists and university students, encouraged by the June uprising in Poland against the Soviets, began openly to question and debate the future of Hungary. On October 23, students marched to the Parliament Building to voice their protest and list their demands for the sovereignty of Hungary, free elections, freedom of the press, and various individual freedoms severely eroded by Soviet rule (fig. 9). The demonstration ended in a massacre when government snipers and Soviet tanks opened fire on the crowd, leaving about one hundred students dead.
As a result of the massacre, widespread and violent protests erupted as outraged Hungarians witnessed the extent to which the Soviets were determined to maintain their grip on the satellite country.40 During the revolt, which lasted from October 23 to 28, 1956, Hungarians engaged in fierce battle with Soviet tanks and soldiers. Victorious citizens clambered onto captured Soviet tanks and waved the Hungarian flag with the detested hammer and sickle cut from its center (fig. 10).
By October 28, Hungarian fighters had suffered heavy losses but appeared to have been successful: the tanks withdrew from Budapest and the citizens enjoyed a few days of freedom from Soviet aggression. Ibi remembers the kettles that people placed on street corners to collect money for the widows and children of those killed in battle (fig. 11), and that there was a euphoric feeling of solidarity and mutual trust.41 As the Soviet government officially admitted mistakes in handling the uprising and announced its intention to negotiate with Hungarian officials regarding Soviet military presence, the prospect of a sovereign and independent Hungary, free from Soviet interference, was openly celebrated.42
However, unbeknownst to Hungarian civilians, on November 3 Khrushchev approved Operation Whirlwind, a Soviet military invasion of Hungary involving sixty thousand soldiers. Early in the morning on Sunday, November 4, without warning, hundreds of tanks rolled into Budapest in a swift and brutal crackdown on the Hungarian Revolution (fig. 12), assisted by the AVO (Hungarian secret police). Many Hungarians actively resisted with guns and Molotov cocktails. It was an extremely perilous time: thousands of Hungarians were killed by superior Soviet power, and the dreaded AVO ruthlessly tortured their own compatriots whom they deemed to be enemies of the socialist state. The Soviet Minister of the Defense estimated that within three days the soldiers would have the city under control; in fact, the Hungarian insurgents kept fighting until November 11.43
It was also a perilous time for Zend, who had been producing and distributing leaflets encouraging Hungarians to revolt.44 If he were discovered and arrested, he could have been severely punished as a traitor.
Furthermore, Ibi recalls her feelings of anxiety when accompanying the Soviet invasion came a renewed wave of antisemitism with ominous slogans appearing on walls such as “Icig, Icig,45 most nem viszünk Auschwitzig!” (“Jews, this time you won’t even have to go to Auschwitz!”), intimating the possibility of a return to the days of the Arrow Cross terror of 1944—1945.46 Such threats, as well as serious antisemitic incidents, which were occurring in small Hungarian towns as well as in Budapest, sent a chill of fear through the surviving Jewish population in Hungary. In some cases, mobs roamed the streets of small towns attacking Jews and their homes and businesses.47 This danger as well as the Soviet invasion were factors in the Zends’ decision to leave Hungary.48
Escape was possible if risky: if people walked all or part of the way, they faced the risk of hypothermia and exhaustion as it was the onset of winter; they were also in peril of being captured or shot by AVO border patrols. Hungary was bordered to the north by Czechoslovakia, and to the east by the Soviet Union and Romania. The main directions toward freedom were to the west, toward Austria, or to the south, toward Yugoslavia. The vast majority of the 200,000 Hungarian refugees fled to Austria.49
Zend could envision the bleak and undignified future for writers and other intellectuals in Hungary. Indeed, after the Soviets regained control of Hungary, many writers were arrested and sentenced to many years in prison, and in January 1957, the Writers’ Association and Journalists’ Union were disbanded by the Soviet-controlled government.50 Zend did not want to live under a regime in which his every word would be scrutinized and subject to state censorship. As he writes in Beyond Labels, the refugee Hungarians crossed the Atlantic
to get away from the land
where there wasn’t enough room for us
in the houses and on the streets —
where armies every decade changed their shirt colours
and massacred us again and again —
where even the trees eavesdropped on us
whispering behind our backs —
where at night what was left of our souls
kept on trembling in fear —51
As to his own decision to go into exile, he states,
I chose to leave my country rather than publish party-line poetry or publish dissident poetry and be jailed, or deported, or silenced afterwards.52
For a brief window of opportunity, he and his wife and eight-month-old baby had the chance to escape westward into Austria. A close friend, István Radó, had created fake identification papers for the escape of twenty to thirty persons, and invited Robert and his family to join the group. Fig. 13 shows the card he forged for the Zends, certifying that their apartment had been destroyed, rendering them homeless, and authorizing travel.
Ibi still vividly recalls the events of their escape.53 She and Robert joined István’s group in a covered truck and hired driver. The mood was somber as she watched the cobblestones retreating through the fog as the truck drove the group of friends away from Budapest and toward Austrian border. They proceeded along back roads, taking advice along the way from fellow Hungarians about which routes were blocked by the Soviets.
In the event they were stopped by Soviet soldiers, Robert and István had written a letter in Russian addressed to the soldiers (fig. 14), pleading with them to let them go on their way: “Dear Soviet Soldier, We are all ordinary Hungarian workers. Fathers, mothers, children, families, who lost everything—shelter and furniture, earned with hard labour. None of us fought against you. We are not fascists or partisans. We love you as you are also workers—providers for your families. We don’t like capitalists or imperialists. Our only wish is working in peace another twenty-thirty years. Our lives now are in your hands. If your hearts are opened up to love and you also love your family, you will help us and get our gratitude. We call on you, dear Soviet Soldier, help us! In the name of our children!!! Ordinary Hungarians”54
Fortunately, they didn’t have to use the letter, as they made their way toward the border unchallenged. However, the driver, after having promised to convey them to the border, stopped a few miles short of it and refused to go any farther. Despite feeling betrayed, the group paid him the agreed-upon fee and were compelled to walk for a few hours the rest of the way through rain and mud.
They had to face one last danger when, just before arriving at the Austrian border, they were halted by a guard, a young Hungarian who had been conscripted into service to prevent his fellow countrymen from escaping. Fortunately, one of their group managed to talk (and bribe) the young man into allowing them to go peacefully on their way, persuading him that their homes had been destroyed and reassuring him that when the situation in Budapest had calmed down, they would return to Hungary — after all, he reasoned with the guard, they were patriotic Hungarians and would not desert their country forever. The bluff and bribe together softened the guard, who allowed them to continue. Finally the group crossed the border, where Austrians approached them with words of welcome and led them to American and Canadian Red Cross shelters and warm food. Such was Ibi’s relief at their safe passage that she fell to her knees and began laughing uncontrollably.
Canadian and American immigration officials were stationed at the refugee camp, conducting preliminary interviews. Although the Zends had a choice of immigrating to either country, their decision to go to Canada was determined during their interview with the Americans. In 1956, McCarthyism was still casting strong suspicion on any American deemed to be associated with the Communist Party, and thus the American interviewers wanted to know the Zends’ affiliation with and allegiance to the Communist Party of Hungary and the Soviet Union. Ibi, who had been raised in a poor family, was able to get a college education and become a librarian due to the assistance and subsidy of the Hungarian Communist government. If she were to lie, denying that Communism had helped her to achieve her dream, the Americans would accept her as a political refugee.
But the flip side of life under Communism was a web of lies, a suppression of truth in order to maintain a façade of harmony and prosperity. Ibi, weary of such deception, refused to conceal from the Americans her gratitude for the benefits she had derived from the Communist educational program in order to satisfy them that she would be an acceptable immigrant. Thus Ibi’s sense of integrity sealed the Zends’ decision to go to Canada.
From the border Red Cross camp they traveled by train to Vienna, along with other refugees, where they stayed until their immigration paperwork was processed and they were ready to travel to their destination (fig. 15).
In Vienna, many voluntary agencies had quickly organized to provide relief for the refugees, such as the National Catholic Welfare Conference, the Lutheran World Federation, the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the World Council of Churches, and the International Rescue Committee.55 Individuals also took the initiative to collect donations on the street to help the refugees (fig. 16).
At the Canadian Embassy, the Zends obtained visas to enter Canada (fig. 17). Before moving on, they stayed in Vienna for a few days, spending time with friends whom they knew they would not see for a long time, such as Skutai Ibolya, with whom Zend had worked at the children’s magazine Pajtás (Pal) in Budapest, and István Radó, who had organized the Zends’ escape and who was headed for the United States with his family (fig. 18). Zend would remain friends with Radó for the rest of his life, often flying from Toronto to visit him at his home in Los Angeles.
Taking the next step on their journey to a new country and home, the Zends gathered their few belongings in a cardboard box, took a taxi to the Vienna train station (fig. 19), and made their way to Liverpool. There, they boarded a Cunard Line ship, travelling towards a freer but uncertain future in Canada.
Next Installment: Part 4.
Canada: “Freedom, Everybody’s Homeland”
Part 2. Dissolving Labels and Boundaries
Being a poet does not depend on the geographical location of the poet’s body, or on the political system under which the publisher functions, but on the linguistic and literary value of the poems.1 —Robert Zend
Robert Zend (1929–1985) was a Hungarian-Canadian avant-garde writer and artist. As a young man of twenty-seven, he escaped his native Budapest during the 1956 failed Hungarian Uprising against Soviet rule and immigrated to Canada as a political refugee. He settled in Toronto, where he lived until his death in 1985. So nationality-wise, his life was divided into two parts: childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood in Hungary; and the rest of his life in Canada.
According to the convention of hyphenating nationality, Zend was indeed Hungarian-Canadian. However, considering his profound distrust of labels, the classification might have seemed an attempt to delimit him as a poet and human being. Because of his cosmopolitan outlook, I’ve come to think of him as a citizen of a realm expanded and enriched by his own generous sense of a borderless community of kindred poetic minds. And it is this generosity in his international affinities and aesthetic vision that I hope to develop in this essay.
It could be said that Zend had a somewhat conflicted relationship with nationality. Arriving in Canada as a political refugee, he celebrated the freedoms that had not been available to him in Soviet-controlled Hungary. And as an exile, he explored themes of alienation, loneliness, loss, and nostalgia for his native country — not unusual for immigrant writers.
On the other hand, having survived war-torn Europe, where totalitarianism and zealous nationalism had fostered a culture of xenophobia, racism, and hatred, and having seen the cruelties inflicted by the Nazi and then Soviet rule in Hungary, he understood all too well the catastrophic consequences of labeling people. He developed a distrust of boundaries, be they political, social, or aesthetic.
During World War II, more than 500,000 Hungarian Jews died as a result of the Nazi regime.2 And the Soviet Union, for all its propaganda of unity and egalitarianism, often used xenophobic fears to control the population, and under Stalin promoted an antisemitic campaign of murder and persecution.3 As well, many thousands of Hungarians labeled as “imperialist enemies” of the state were imprisoned, deported to forced labour camps, tortured, and executed, to say nothing of the more than 2,500 Hungarians killed during the 1956 Hungarian Uprising.4 Zend’s experiences of these brutal regimes provided cautionary models of zealous nationalism and racial paranoia and hatred.
One of Zend’s most poignant statements about labelling is in a speech for a panel on exile at the 1981 International Writer’s Congress. He speaks of totalitarian governments coming to power in Europe during the 1930s, which “began simplifying and polarizing the labelling of people”:
All labels — whether they were dignifying or humiliating — were meted out to certain groups, not because they did something good or evil, not because they deserved a reward or a punishment . . . but merely for circumstances beyond their control . . . like having been born into a rich or a poor family, into an Aryan or a Jewish family.5
From his experience of that catastrophic era in European history, Zend had developed a strong conviction of
the complete senselessness of labelling people according to nationality, place of birth, date of birth, religion, class, origin, sex, age, the colour of skin, the number of pimples, or whatever.6
So it’s not surprising that his life’s work dissolves boundaries, and in this essay I will explore three ways in which he did so.
First, his outlook was international, starting with his high school and university studies of Italian literature and readings of world literature in Hungary. And after Zend’s arrival in Toronto, Zend sought not only Canadian affinities but also artistic and literary friendships and inspiration around the world, perhaps most significantly with Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges but extending to writers, artists, and traditions in other countries such as France, Italy, Belgium, and Japan. Zend, no respecter of cultural boundaries, enthusiastically sought out the literature and art of other nations.
Indeed, Zend’s first poetry collection, From Zero to One, reveals something of his cosmopolitan openness. He shows his indebtedness to Canadian influences with poems dedicated to Raymond Souster, Marshall McLuhan, Norman McLaren, Glenn Gould, John Robert Colombo, and professors of Italian studies J. A. Molinaro and Beatrice Corrigan. The dedications of other poems demonstrate Zend’s affinities with cultural figures from the United States (Saul Steinberg, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke), France (Marcel Marceau), Belgium (René Magritte), Hungary (science writer Steven Rado, actor Miklós Gábor, and artist Julius Marosán), and ancient Greece (Plato). The title of the book comes from a poetic essay by Frigyes Karinthy, who, as I will explore in greater detail in an upcoming installment, was an important Hungarian literary influence. And the dust jacket bears an exquisite portrait of Zend by French mime artist Marcel Marceau.
His tributes to writers and artists sometimes takes the form of collaboration, strikingly in the case of Borges and Marceau, and ekphrastic poems, as in his response to the paintings of Belgian artist René Magritte, Hungarian-Canadian artist Marosán, and Spanish-Canadian artist Jerónimo.
Secondly, his writing thematically dissolves geographical, political, and social boundaries to explore humanity’s place within the cosmos as well as fantastical realms that often involve dreams and time travel. He writes more traditionally about such subjects as romantic relationships and the dilemmas that he faced as an immigrant, but many other works develop philosophical concepts about the connectedness of all persons to one another and to the universe.
Thirdly, Zend was a polymath, and he used whatever materials were at hand to create works that are multi-genre and multi-media. During his twenty-nine years in Canada he wrote poetry, essays, fiction, and plays; created collages and concrete poetry; used found objects such as cardboard tubes for creating three-dimensional visual poetry; and researched, wrote, directed, and produced over a hundred cultural documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC). He was also a musician, filmmaker, and self-described “inveterate doodler.”7 A multi-media artist and chess player, he designed a chess set to be presented by the CBC to Marceau during his 1970 visit to Canada.8 And some of his works defy classification, such as the two-volume multi-genre Oāb (1983, 1985).
Zend’s cosmopolitan attitude is rooted in childhood and early adulthood experiences that nurtured in him an openness to cultural influences regardless of national boundaries. For Zend, love of city, region, or homeland, or of the culture associated with those places, is accompanied not so much by feelings of pride as by the desire to seek out affinities with writers and artists without regard (as he puts it) to “nationality, place of birth, date of birth, religion, class, origin, sex, age, the colour of skin, the number of pimples, or whatever.”
Coming Up . . .
The next two installments of my essay will highlight some major events in Zend’s life, giving biographical context to what follows, as well as offer an overview of his published works.
The last installments will be devoted to the heart of my endeavour, in which I trace some of Zend’s literary affinities and influences, with special emphasis on his roots in Hungary, his transplanted roots in Canada, and his alliances with writers, artists, and cultural traditions worldwide, with particular emphasis on Argentina, France, Italy, Japan, and Belgium. And in some of the samples from his writing, you’ll see some of his cosmic and fantastical concerns. As well, I’ll reveal ways in which his visual work crosses boundaries of genre and discipline.
A Note about Cosmopolitanism
My use of the term “cosmopolitanism” refers to a historically situated discussion in Canadian culture that came to the fore during the 1940s. The debate between the proponents of a national, nativist literature and the advocates for a more cosmopolitan view intensified when A. J. M. Smith threw down the gauntlet in favour of the latter in his 1943 anthology, The Book of Canadian Poetry. Post-World War II, this debate defined two overarching trends in Canadian poetry criticism: the desire for a national literature rooted in autochthonous themes and imagery, versus a more cosmopolitan spirit of poetry aware of currents of thought in international modernism and embracing their influence. While it is not my purpose to enter into a detailed theoretical and historical explanation of these trends, I wish to set the stage for the strong view of nationalism that gained steam with the aftermath of the Massey Commission since the 1950s, as this is the historical period that Robert Zend entered when he immigrated to Canada in 1956. My use of the term “cosmopolitan” to describe Zend’s cultural outlook does not in any way denigrate regionalism or nativism in content or aesthetic approach (or imply that Zend did so); neither does it suggest that Zend, as a political refugee from Hungary, did not admire and absorb lessons from the literature and art produced within Canadian borders. I hope to demonstrate in my analysis quite the contrary.
Next Installment: Part 3.
Hungary: Childhood and Early Adulthood
Preface with Portraits
All images of work by Robert Zend are copyright © Janine Zend, all rights reserved, reproduced with permission from Janine Zend. Family photographs are reproduced with permission from Janine Zend, Natalie Zend, and Ibi Gabori.
Welcome to Robert Zend: Poet without Borders, my illustrated exploration of the life and work of the Hungarian-Canadian avant-garde writer and artist. The slide show above consists of photographs from Zend’s family and creative life as well as artistic portraits and self-portraits.
This project is the result of several months of research, interviews, and writing. It has become very dear to me, and I hope that you will enjoy the results. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post installments, including biographical sections about Zend’s life in Hungary and Canada, and sections about his Hungarian literary roots, Canadian cross-pollination, and international affinities and influences.
I’ve had the pleasure and honour of speaking with members of the Zend family (Janine Zend, Natalie Zend, and Ibi Gabori) and of viewing texts, artworks, and other artifacts and memorabilia in the private collection of Janine Zend, for which I offer my deepest gratitude. I’ve also had the opportunity to research the extensive Zend fonds at the University of Toronto Library’s Media Commons. I’d like to thank curators Rachel Beattie and Brock Silversides, who had to put up with many a yelp of joy as I found such priceless artifacts as a photograph of Zend playing chess with the great French mime artist Marcel Marceau — on a chess set of Zend’s own design. These conversations and experiences have greatly enriched my understanding of the life, mind, and work of Robert Zend, for which I am very grateful.
As I worked on this project, I became acutely aware of my limitation of not knowing the Hungarian language. There are works by Zend in Hungarian that are as yet untranslated into English, and many documents in the Zend fonds that are written only in Hungarian. Nonetheless, I am fortunate that so much was either written by Zend in English or translated into English by him, often with the assistance of John Robert Colombo and others. I sincerely apologize in advance for any errors or omissions in what follows, and encourage correspondence from anyone with greater knowledge on the subject than I. If what I have written stimulates interest in Zend’s life and work, then I will consider my primary goal to have been accomplished.
The next installment, which will appear on this blog in a few days, will feature the premiere of Linelife, a previously unpublished visual work by Zend to be presented in digitalized form as a short animated film.
If you’d like to receive notification of these installments on Robert Zend, please use the email subscription feature to the upper right. And please kindly spread the word to anyone who might be interested. Your comments and feedback are most welcome.
Next Installment: Part 1.
of a Rediscovered Treasure
I am grateful for the kind assistance and generosity of the following:
The family of Robert Zend: Janine Zend, Natalie Zend, and Ibi Gabori
Rachel Beattie and Brock Silverside, curators of the Zend fonds at Media Commons, University of Toronto Library
Edric Mesmer, Librarian at the University at Buffalo’s Poetry Collection and Curator of The Center for Marginalia, and the other wonderful librarians of The Poetry Collection for their research assistance
Brent Cehan of the Language and Literature division of the Toronto Reference Library
The Librarians in the Special Arts Room Stacks at the Toronto Reference Library
The Librarians at Reference and Research Services and at the Petro Jacyk Central and East European Resource Centre, Robarts Library, University of Toronto Libraries
Susanne Marshall (former Literary Editor for The Canadian Encyclopedia)