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She is her own paradox
by Cheryl Clock, St. Catharines Standard – January 2, 2013

In many ways, 56-year-old Eva Tihanyi — the little girl from Hungary who couldn’t speak a word of English in Grade 2, the woman who majored in English just to spite the kids who teased her, the teacher, the poet, the writer — in many ways she enjoys the surface contradiction that is herself.

Inside, however, there’s a deeper truth.

Her life as a writer took shape through a series of conspiring events. Was she born or made a writer? She often wonders.

On this day, Tihanyi the Niagara College teacher has been marking final projects in her Port Dalhousie condo since 4 a.m. She has escaped (happily) for a coffee to talk about a project of her own — Flying Underwater, Poems New and Selected (Inanna Publications, $18.95) — a collection of nearly 200 poems, her “greatest hits” of sorts.

Some have called her poetry lyrical grace. A dance of language. Tihanyi sees the world through metaphors. Likes juxtapositions of strange things. And she rejoices a good paradox.

Indeed, the very title of her book is a clever contradiction. “We all fly underwater,” she says.

Read: We can all be free despite the inevitable obstacles of life.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Tihanyi just six months old when her engineer parents immigrated to Canada. Tihanyi was raised by her grandparents until she came to Canada at age six, not speaking any English.

Through public school, she was bullied and teased for her poor language skills. In retrospect, her ambition to major in English, was likely a unconscious desire to prove them wrong, she says.

A determination fueled by: “I will learn the language better than anyone who lives here,” she says.

“I’ll have better grammar than you can ever dream.”

She was 14 when her parents took her on a six-week holiday to Europe. She returned, saturated with culture, and took her first creative writing class.

Since then, she’s explored writing in all its forms. Journalism. Fiction. Prose. She came to poetry through the nonsensical, whimsical rhymes of Dr. Seuss. Cat in the Hat is her favourite (Green Eggs and Ham a close second).

She enjoys the intensity of poetry. The musicality of words. “I’m aware of the sound of words. The consonants, the alliteration, all the ways words come together and flow.

“An artist plays with colours and different brushes and strokes. For me, words have that quality.”

Her grandmother, who also immigrated to Canada without so much as a word of English (Tihanyi would feed her Margaret Atwood poetry translated to Hungarian), was her biggest cheerleader.

“She encouraged my crazy wild dreams,” she says.

Her poetry is not autobiographical. Yet, she adds with a smile: “I don’t do that let’s-pretend-they’re-not-about-me thing,” she says.

In My Grandmother’s Gloves, she writes about her grandmother’s “flamboyant orange” gloves that I cannot bear to part with. For when I slip my hands into them, I am held, perfectly.

In Pier’s End — one of her newer poems, many of which are based in Port Dalhousie — she takes the reader on a serene walk to the end of the pier, then surprises them with a final thought: A cry of the unsafe heart, gnawed by its own wild teeth.

Tihanyi begins her poems in long hand. Written on paper with the smoothness of a fine-tip black gel pen. She transfers them to her computer only to adjust the spacing and stanzas.

She will next work on a short novel. But poetry will always be a part of her. Her own personal paradox.

“It’s just my way of being in the world,” she says.

“Poems would not exist without the life.”