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Réka Nyitrai — Touchstone Distinguished Books Award Winner 2020

Réka Nyitrai is the recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2020 for her volume While Dreaming Your Dreams (Valencia Spain: Mono Ya Mono Books, 2020).

Commentary from the Panel:

Réka Nyitrai’s while dreaming your dreams/mientras sueño tus sueños is the debut collection by a poet with a powerful and distinctive voice. These are haiku of an inner world that have deep intuitive appeal.

Nyitrai prefaces her collection with the title haiku, which appears in English and Japanese and sets the tone:

while dreaming your dreams
sometimes I can hear
the blue beasts grinding their teeth

Her poems are then presented in three sections, taking the Japanese of each line of this haiku to mark each section and provide context for the poems that follow.

There is a surreal quality to many of Nyitrai’s haiku. They can surprise you with an unexpected turn:

spring wind —
what a feather may know about
the pit

They can be magical:

lullaby in her open mouth swarming fireflies

Some reveal an edgy humor:

my ex-boyfriend a mothball in my pocket

Or foreboding, as this opening to the final section:

high noon the black dahlia leans toward the scissors

Followed by:

an octopus
in her father’s lungs . . .
first autumn rain

This is a haunting image, both deeply moving and terrifying, as anyone who has watched a loved one struggle to breathe can attest.

The blue beasts are never far, and the book closes with:

memories of her father’s fist
a dragon at the bottom of the lake

With the exception of the title poem, each haiku is in English and Spanish, and the way the poems are presented is unusual. We learn in the opening pages that while Nyitrai dreams and writes in English, her intent in these poems is to transcend a specific language. In “Note on the Translations,” readers are asked not to read these works as English poems translated into Spanish. They are “to be read as a book with poems, and reflections of those poems. Reflections one of the other, as in a dream.” For Nyitrai, language represents the reality that lies beyond it.

an ex-lover’s voice
snow patches
in my right amygdala

la voz de un ex-amante
trozos de nieve
en mi amigdala derecha

The English and Spanish poems are not shown one after the other, as they are presented here. In the book, they appear on each page as reflections of one another, whichever way the book is held. If the English haiku is at the top, the Spanish haiku mirrors it, upside down, much as one’s reflection would appear at the edge of a lake.  It’s a provocative point of view and provides another way to convey the idea that they are “something only glimpsed” as if in a dream, similar but not identical.

Presenting haiku in two languages both expands the reading audience and invites us to reflect further on Nyitrai’s many-layered dreams. The book’s innovative design is by Danny Blackwell, who is also the editor.

while dreaming your dreams/mientras sueño tus sueños is a deeply engaging collection by a poet with an original voice. Read it, and read it again. This is a book that rewards time spent with it.

See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Congratulations! How often does a debut collection of poetry come out with such a original voice and expands the form in new ways…not often. I always welcome surrealism in poetry so this is a must read for me. Also, congratulations to Danny Blackwell on editing and the great layout! Definitely deserves a Touchstone.

  2. “Réka’s haiku encourage us to turn to surrealism as a way to embrace uncomfortable truths.”
     —Alan Summers
    Founder, Call of the Page

    Delighted to have been asked for a quote before it was published!

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