Jacqueline D’Amboise remembers George Faludy
Jacqueline d’Amboise with George Faludy at a poetry reading of Faludy’s poems
at Hart House, University of Toronto, 1981.
Courtesy of Judy Young-Drache
George, Eric and I
Eric, George and I in our flat in 25 St. Mary's Street in Toronto around 1987. Photo by Suzanne Lauten
I met George Faludy at the First International Poetry Festival held at Hart House at the University of Toronto in the Fall of 1975. I “rescued” him, so to speak, from Al Purdy and Gwen MacEwan, who both had him cornered in the East wing near the kitchen. They were trying to prod him into going into the kitchen to “take” a bottle of Scotch. It was the last evening of the poetry festival, around eleven p.m. and as coordinator of the week-long event I was making sure there were no lingerers after the closing events. Once I heard the noises I went to investigate, only to find Al who had George pinned against a wall with both his arms and Gwen who was sitting on the bottom steps leading down from the East stairwell. Both were rather tipsy. I heard myself say: “What’s going on here?" George, in his black barnous and wild hair and with a thick Hungarian accent which only his son Andrew can imitate, said: “Please Miss! Can you help me get out of this place!” Although I had only briefly met Faludy I was sympathetic to his cause, so I went myself, and took a bottle of wine which I gladly handed over to them and sent Gwen and Al off on their merry way. I ordered a taxi for George and he bowed and kissed my hand. That was the first time any gentleman had kissed my hand. He then invited me to tea and I told him that he should only invite me if he was serious as I would definitely go. From that moment on we became fast friends.
A photo that I took of George in Budapest in 1989.
I wrote the following poem in 1988 just after George and Eric had left for Budapest. It was written at George’s desk, among his books and with his finches all around. George and Eric’s home was now my home. I had spent many hours there with them in heated or peaceful discussion of many subjects. We often met at 4 a.m. over tea in their kitchen. Then George would read a poem he was working on, Eric would share a translation or a passage he loved from a favourite book and I would read one of my poems or translations. I recall a long period when we would get together and talk about the poems George wanted to put into his Translation of World Poetry, a volume titled Test es Lelek translated as Body and Soul in English. We would meet as many as five times a week to compare notes. Eric discussed the nuances of the poems George had chosen from Japanese, German, Russian, Slavic Languages etc. as well as Latin and Ancient Greek. I provided translations I had done from the Chinese, Spanish, French, Italian into English. Of course, George was familiar with many of these languages but he sought out our ideas and suggestions for the book as well as those from others such as his son Andrew Faludy, son of George and Zsuzsa.
Before they left for Budapest I lived in apartment 1904 at 25 St. Mary St. When they moved away, I took over 1608. I lived in the company of their finches and mine which had come secretly as gifts from them during my absence. We had keys to each other’s flats and on a few occasions when I returned home from an evening out with friends there were finches flying about to greet me. I too supplied them with benjamina trees and a corner of my bedroom. I had inherited their Australian finches, which were mostly green and yellow, the songs of which were more cheeps than music. It seemed they were killing off the zebra, strawberry and other society finches. Thus I received them as secret friends in the night. George and Eric always teased me telling me they were mysterious gifts from an unknown admirer. But I knew where they had really come from. When the contents of our flats were combined so were our finches and I had a terrible time separating them as “my” finches were more aggressive. Eventually I put the Australian finches in an enclosure of fishing nets. The room was too small for all of us so they occupied the bedroom, George’s room, which I used as a study. I used Eric’s room, the living room as my bedroom and living space. It was quite extraordinary to live among their books and possessions. In many ways it was as though they had never left, and still is.
December 2009, Ottawa
For a Poet Moved Away
For George Faludy
Your tiny garden enriches my memory -
Earth you poured into great terracotta pots,
The ficus you planted there hanging with cuttlefish.
The companions of your crowning hours
Zebra finches sit on your typewriter with a solfège
Of intricate melodies to woo your poetry.
I miss the spirited cactus blossoming crimson
With the snows, at your sixteenth floor window,
The one that took four a.m. tea with us.
The space between our bodies is immense -
An ocean, a few countries to keep us in exile
Outside the lives we shared like a murmur.
But the thought of your Einsteinian hair comforts me
And your books, statue, photographs and the icon
Once your wife’s, are my allies to you.
Dawn comes too soon, I write to the morning stars.
My fingers would raise the storm of your longing,
Burrow through the hours back to your tableside.
I kiss the bronze brow of your likeness,
Turn back the leaves of your sonnets,
Would return to share your sweet cognac.
Your words are often my nocturnal lullaby
As I conjure them beneath the pen in your hand,
Calling out for love, against tyranny.
I summon you to our old apartment -
Our talks, our intimacy, our vanquishing flowers -
To the Canadian moonlight infused with your laughter.
A poet, literary translator, editor and literary consultant, Jacqueline d'Amboise has been published in numerous literary magazines, including Exile, The Malahat Review, Descant, and Canadian Literature. Mother Myths, a book of her poems, was published by Fiddlehead Press. She has managed and served as advisor to several poetry festivals and conferences across Canada. She has worked for the Canada Council and has taught French Language and Literature at the University of Toronto, York University and Ryerson University. At UBC, she taught poetry and translation in the Creative Writing Department, where she was also Director of the Literary Translation Program. She was George Faludy's "Reader" from 1975 until 1988, when he returned to Hungary. She now lives in Ottawa.
With George in Budapest in 1989
December 28th 2009