Paul Sohar is literally a born outsider. He drifted as a teenage political refugee from Hungary to the US where he abandoned his formal education with a BA degree in philosophy with chemistry as his minor. The latter subject turned out to be the basis of his daytime job with a drug company while he hoped to pursue his literary interests. He briefly served as the poetry editor of an incipient publication “Reject” that later changed itself to a much tamer “Literary Forum”. However, the practical side of writing did not suit Sohar’s temperament, and from then on he published his prose and poetry only sporadically until he was commissioned to translate contemporary Hungarian poetry. He enjoyed the challenge of writing vicariously and the opportunity to explore various styles standing behind someone else. In his naiveté he assumed that somebody else would see his translations through publication, but he soon learned that translation was not an ivory tower job either, and he had to go knocking on the doors of editorial offices to peddle his work. But at least it was much less embarrassing than touting his own stuff. It was a mission, the promotion of Hungarian culture in the English-Speaking World, and he approached it with much less diffidence and defensiveness. The response of editors was very encouraging (from Kenyon Review, Partisan Review, Seneca Review, etc.), but the academic types who usually reserve this field for themselves resented the intrusion of an outsider. The only excuse Sohar had for translating poetry was that he was – or claimed to be – a poet himself, and in order to prove it he had to get his own creations into print more extensively, however belatedly, building up more than 100 publication credits in the past 10 years (Chiron, Grain, Rattle, Sanskrit, etc). And finally, after eight volumes of translations, now he has a volume of his own poetry as well (“Homing Poems”, Iniquity Press, 2005).
Thus his commitment to multicultural literature turned out to enhance his own writing, poetry and prose, both in quality and quantity. And it also deepened his thinking, because the publishers of translations increasingly turned to him for background information on the foreign poetry he brought to them. He was forced to try and penetrate the minds and souls of his poets and beyond that, the intellectual currents that shaped the literature he dealt with.
Sohar’s open-minded, experimental approach to writing doesn’t always serve him well with editors who prefer material they can label and lump together with things they already know. In recent years “outsider art” has become a household word; why not “outsider literature” for writers whose work is outside any school of writing, who do not follow an MFA formula, who are self-taught and try to find their own way? That would be one category Sohar would feel comfortable with.
Interested in more stuff by Sohar? Check out www.writersalliance.net, a website dedicated to Darfur and related subjects. His latest book is “True Tales of a Fictitious Spy” (creative nonfiction from Synergebooks).