Interview with Endre Farkas, 9 February 2015

Posted by Felicity Tayler

A visiting scholar at the Oral History Centre observed that she had heard laughter resonating through the door throughout my interview with Endre Farkas. The interview begins with Endre correcting my pronunciation of his first name. Despite my efforts to imitate his articulation, I still manage to pronounce it “André,” with a Francophone inflection. Unfortunately, we didn’t circle around to an explanation for the name-change in the interview, so I will open with that anecdote, before returning to a reflection upon our lively conversation. In the imprint statement of his book, Romantic at Heart and Other Faults (1978), Endre states that his decision to change his name was a political one. The back-story to his shift in identity dates to the moment when his family arrived in Canada and a customs official transcribed his name incorrectly on the official documents. As the family was arriving from a communist country where it was impossible to question authority, the family accepted the name change until Endre revoked this interpellation by the state in the 1970s.

I thought that talking to Endre about the Sir George Williams Poetry Series would be fruitful because he invited some of the poets from the late 1960s series back to Montréal for a reading series that he organized at Véhicule Art gallery in the late 1970s. Additionally, he was a member of the loosely affiliated group, the Vehicule Poets, who had experienced the pedagogy of (and sense of poetic community encouraged by) Richard Sommer, George Bowering and Roy Kiyooka – the latter two being organizers of the fore-mentioned Sir George Williams Poetry Series. Although at first Endre told me his memories of the time were “hazy,” in the end, on the recording of the interview, we hear a description of his reception of Bill Bissett and Allen Ginsberg not as “readings” but as performances. This focus on the performative aspect of poetics is intriguing when considered in tandem with Endre’s detailed description of the material process of book production taking place on the modest equipment available for use through the printing cooperative at Véhicule Art. Links could be made between this engagement with the photographic reproduction technologies of 1960s and ‘70s print culture, his description of similarities between concrete poetry and the visual properties of projective verse, and the transcription of performance or musical scores onto the page.

Other highlights of the interview include a description of commune life in the Eastern Townships. Endre described how communal living had an influence on his early writing, and also reflects on anti-capitalist “lifestyle politics” and changing gender relations. The combination of Québécois nationalism of the 1960s, and the Farkas’ family’s earlier experience of conflicting socialist ideologies in Hungary in the 1950s adds layers to a generational story of “dropping out.”

Endre also reflected upon the challenges of traveling between social scenes and linguistic spaces, from Hungarian to English and French in Québec of the 1960s and 1970s. In the context of the heightened cultural nationalism surrounding both Québécois and English-language Canadian poetry, his experience of linguistic spaces manifests in his feelings of admiration for Francophone poets such as Gaston Miron or Michèle Lalonde because of their ability to reinvent national myths for a widespread public. This admiration extends as well to Françoise Sullivan as a signatory of the Refus Global (1948), although he reflected that, more than 20 years later, her choreographic work had a different effect on him. His description of the exhibition, “Brother André’s Heart” (1973) at Véhicule Art is striking. The exhibition, and a series of live performances, responded to the theft of a reliquary from the Oratoire Saint-Joseph. His memories point to overlaps between movements such as Ti-Pop, which sought to revolutionize Québécois identity through Pop art’s ambivalent engagement with the kitch objects of everyday life; and counter-cultural politics, which sought to reinvent expressions of individual subjectivity and forms of publicness that went beyond rights-based claims for equality under the law, or strict Marxist class-analysis.

Listen to the interview →

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