Friday, October 7, 2011

An Anthology of Romanian Poetry

Of Gentle Wolves.

“ What Should you understand?
A biography
that hangs on my words like
a ton of dynamite”

Helena Stefoi.

This is part of a poem by Helena Stefoi, a poet  born in 1954 in Suceava county,  Romania, and her  poetry has a tough cutting structure and an aggressive style described as typical of the poetic voice of Romania around the 1980’s. This style was perceived as the poets only true  weapon and defence against the stark background of fear and alienation prevalent in Romanian society. This poet and several other Romanian writers (Ioana Craciunescu, Ion Morar, Liviu Ioan Stoiciu ) featured in the book - Child of Europe (A New Anthology of East European Poetry) published in 1990 by Penguin International Poets (Ed: Michael March), which covered the whole of east Europe. The editor basically drew a line and used that as his criteria for who was in the book. The Romanian poets published in this book were all subject to communist rule under Nicolae Ceausescu, who’s regime was characterized by an increasingly brutal and repressive apparatus and, by some accounts, the most rigidly Stalinist regime in the Soviet bloc. It was also marked by a pervasive cult of personality, nationalism and a deterioration in foreign relations with the Western powers as well as the Soviet Union. This led eventually, to Ceausescu’s government being overthrown in the December 1989 revolution, after which he and his wife faced a hastily organised televised trial which ended with their execution. A year later Child of Europe was published.

Move on twenty years, and Martin Woodside, editor of “Of Gentle Wolves - an Anthology of Romanian poetry”, was researching the material for this collection, at the same time as this  country marked twenty years since the revolution of '89. Now a nation free of dictatorship and censorship, however also gone were  the state funded publishing houses with their massive press runs of  poetry books, eagerly awaited by a readership hungering for such work, in the preface of, Child In Europe Michael March wrote;

“ Communist regimes were ripe for poetry. They even printed it at their own expense. There were numerous literary journals and young poets were published. Censorship was not acceptable, never enviable; but it was recognisable. With the lessening of borders, materialism will replace longing and poetry will suffer”.

This left the contemporary poets operating bedroom presses & websites, the majority working in relative obscurity at the margins of society. Into this picture steps, Martin Woodside and Calypso Editions, an artist-run, cooperative press dedicated to publishing quality literary books of poetry and fiction with a global perspective. They believe that “By unearthing literary gems from previous generations, translating foreign writers into English with integrity, and providing a space for talented new voices” they can create an imprint that is committed to publishing books that will endure in both content and form, books that can serve as physical artefacts of beauty and wonder in a world of digital saturation. Excellence being their only criteria. Martin states in the Translators notes that;

“In any anthology, there’s more left out than kept in, and this book
stands as no exception. The poems here present a snapshot of
Romanian poetry, one that gestures to a single truth: Romanian
poets have been re-inventing poetry for as long as they’ve been
writers from various generations working in various modes who
all combine a strong grounding in tradition with the desire to
innovate and the will to persevere.”
And like a good snapshot, you want to find out more beyond the image fixed on the slide, here are two of the fourteen poets in this wonderful Anthology

Summa  Ethilica - Radu Vancu

Once I wished with all my heart, almost religiously,
to become a committed vodka drinker.
I would have given even my soul for this.

My alcoholism reared from the most respectable cultural
each glass of vodka made me think,
above all, of Thomas Aquinas:
40 per cent liquid hell in iridescent light
forced me to see the meaning of
integritas, consonantia, claritas.

Then suddenly you appeared before me,
Cami, you painful teetotaller.
Your missionary ways converted me to the monotheism of hops.
Alcohol would now cap off at five per cent
I resigned myself to this ethylene ice age
because our love prefers proletarian sand in the urethra,
cultivating in its place class hatred for the artistocratic cirrhosis.
The only Marxist accent of a mystic love.

I remember more of Thomas Aquinas
having only my ever expansive belly
to seriously rival the Angelic Doctor.
But I accept this in good grace,
because I have gone far enough to desire
to be a good man, not an interesting one.
For that, now, I would surely give my soul.

Born in 1978 in Sibiu, Radu Vancu is a poet, literary critic and translator. He has published five books of poetry - Epistles to Camellia (2002), Biograph litteraria (2006), Happy Monster (2009), Sebastian in a dream (2010) Memories for my  father ( 2010). He  also published two essays, one  on the work of one of the foremost contemporary Romanian poets, Mircea Ivanescu, called, Mircea Ivanescu - Poetry Absolute Discretion (2007), the other - on the poetry of Eminescu – Eminescu, Three essays(2011). Together with Claudiu Komartin, he was a  contributor to the anthology, The Most Beautiful Poems in 2010 (2011), he is also a Lecturer at the Faculty of Letters and Arts and editor for magazines “Sibiu”, "Transylvania" and "International Poesis."

The “integritas, consonantia, claritas.” line in the poem comes from a Thomas Aquinas quote “Ad Pulchritudinem Tria Requiruntur Integritas, Consonantia, Claritas.”,  I looked this up, via the usual means, and found this translation by James Joyce "Three things are needed for beauty: wholeness, harmony and radiance".  Radu  Vancu finds it in the “40 per cent liquid hell in iridescent light” but he is saved from this by someone who converts him to a “monotheism of hops”.  Through this he comes to understands the correct path to follow, and the realisation that his previous yearnings were bourgeois (the social class of capitalists) even aristocratic, in the process becoming “a good man if not an interesting one”. By reinterpreting the Marxist doctrine once prevalent in his homeland, the writer uses satire  to say what he want’s about the society he lives in – creating a poem filled with humour and yet suffused with pathos like sunlight through good spirit.

Shakespeare - Marin Sorescu
Shakespeare created the world in seven days.

On the first say he made the heavens, the mountains,
and the abyss of the soul.
On the second day he made rivers, seas, oceans
And all the other feelings—
Giving them to Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony,
Cleopatra and Ophelia,
Othello and the rest, to master them, and their descendants
For evermore.
On the third day he brought the people together
And taught them about taste
The taste of happiness, of love, of despair
The taste of jealousy, of glory, and still more tastes
Until they went through them all.

Then some latecomers arrived.
The creator patted them sadly on the head
Explaining the remaining roles were for
Literary critics
To challenge his good works.

The fourth and fifth days he kept clear for laughs
Clearing way for clowns
Turning somersaults,
And leaving the kings, emperors,
And other poor wretches to their fun.
The sixth day he reserved for administrative tasks:
He let loose a tempest
And taught King Lear
To wear a crown of straw.

Some spare parts remained from the world’s creation
And so he made Richard III.
On the seventh day he looked about for something to do.
Theatre directors had plastered the land with posters
And Shakespeare decided after all his hard work
He deserved to see a show. but first,

tired down to the bone
He went off to die a little.

Marin Sorescu  was a Romanian poet, playwright, and novelist, certainly one of the most popular and better-known poets and perhaps one of the most translated Romanian writers of the latter half of the 20th century. More than a dozen books of his poetry and plays have appeared in English, mainly in the U.K. and in Ireland. He is author of more than twenty collections of poetry, among them Poems (1965), The Youth of Don Quixote (1968), Cough (1970), Fountains in the Sea (1982), Water of Life, Water of Death (1987), Poems Selected by Censorship (1991), and The Crossing (1994). His valedictory volume, The Bridge , published posthumously in 1997, was composed during the final two months of his life, while he knew he was dying of liver cancer. To weak commit them to paper himself, Sorescu often dictated the poems in this book to his wife, Virginia.
Shortly after the fall of Communist dictatorship in 1989, Sorescu was Minister of Culture.
 On his poetry, Sorescu said, with characteristic irony: "Just as I can't give up smoking because I don't smoke, I can't give up writing because I have no talent." He often claimed a sense of alienation, saying "the spoken word is a crossed frontier. By the act of saying something, I fail to say many other things."


Yet what he does manage to say astounds – Shakespeare  as creator of the world is a fantastic idea, just think how much of our perception of the world is framed through the language of Shakespeare - we see, “the world as a stage”, a guest who is a glutton – “has eaten me out of house and home”, possibly because we prepared, “a dish fit for the gods” and “ since brevity is the soul of wit” I’ll leave the examples now and just state how I love the way this Poem plays out, with Olde William wanting to see a show, His? he doesn’t say, but first he’s  bone tired and wants to die a little. This is poetry that resonates, that has within it’s conversational tone, a sense of irony that is universal,  poetry described by  Virgil Nemoianu  as “rueful jocularity and the good-natured cynicism."  that  George Szirtes, writing in The Times Literary Supplement, stated that in Sorescu's voice he finds "the wry wisdom that sees through everything and yet continues to hope and despair." 

These are poets that are not chained to the past, yet have used their links with it as the tools with which to craft their own language, some of them working within a nation whose paranoia & ideology admitted no alternate vision, but by the use of myth and humour, with an understanding of their own history written and spoken they’ve revealed new vistas and in the process have created a poetry that is questing, as well as beautiful, that has an intelligence that shines yet doesn’t glare.

Martin Woodside is a poet and translator. His poetry chapbook Stationary Landscapes came out in 2009 (Pudding House Press), and he spent 2009-10 on a Fulbright Scholarship in Romania studying Romanian poetry. Currently he’s working on various projects translating Romanian poets into English and his translations of Romanian poetry are in a featured section from Poetry International. He lives with his family in Philadelphia where he’s pursuing a PhD in Childhood Studies at Rutgers-Camden.

                   I know I don't breathe by the rules
                  my shoulders are slightly bent forward.
                  From noun to verb a murderous device
                  performs exercise in style
                  and waits for you.

Calypso Editions looks like a press worth paying
attention to
—Chad W. Post, Three Percent

Calypso Editions
guernica magazine

Biograph Litteraria (Radu Vancu)

A Conversation.

Concerning This Post, whilst checking the stats I found a link to a website, from the writer of the 1st poem featured here. Out of this developed a conversation, which with consent is repeated here.
 Radu Vancu
Summa ethilica. "The correct path to follow"

Aşa cum am mai scris, a apărut anul acesta în State o antologie de poezie română numită Of Gentle Wolves. Despre realizator şi traducător, poetul Martin Woodside, spuneam că tinde să devină noul Adam Sorkin - adică un fel de traducător oficial al poeziei române contemporane; ei bine, cred că deja a ajuns acolo - Dan Coman mi-a spus că, în Slovenia, organizatorii festivalului utilizau pentru poeţii români traducerile lui M.W.
Pomenesc iar antologia pentru că a apărut în Parrish Lantern o cronică bună, cu un comentariu la Summa ethilica (un text dintr-un precambrian al vieţii mele) care m-a binedispus ceva de groază.:)

Google Translation.
(As I have written, appeared this year in an anthology of poetry Romanian State Of Gentle called Wolves. About producer and translator, poet Martin Woodside, said that tends to become the new Adam Sorkin - that kind of official translator Romanian poetry contemporary Well, I think that has already arrived - Dan Coman said that in Slovenia, festival organizers used translations of Romanian poets MW
And mention that appeared in the anthology for Parrish Lantern good a record, with a commentary on the Summa ethilica (text from a Precambrian of my life) who entertained me something to dread :)

Parrish Lantern
Summa ethilica was one of my favourite poems in this anthology and my understanding of it was a combination of the translators notes and Romanian history.would love to hear your opinion, in fact would would be interested in adding it to the post, as with all translation, not all is communicated, even this I'm reading through Google's translation service & trying to comprehend your viewpoint.
 Radu Vancu
I'm glad you liked "Summa ethilica", of course, yet what really thrilled me was your interest in Romanian poetry. It's quite refreshing to find a good reader paying careful attention to the English versions of poems written in an exotic Latin language.
In what regards your understanding of the poem - it is obviously plausible, even though I think I didn't intend to give it such an ambitious political dimension (at least as far as I remember - as the poem was written during my most ethylical years, while in present days I'm an active non-alcoholic activist. :)

Erratum: "a passive non-alcoholic activist", of course :)
Parrish Lantern
One of my favourite favourite books of poetry was and is my battered old copy of, Child Of Europe A new anthology of East European poetry, with poets such as, Novica Tadic,Ioana Craciunescu, Boyko Lambovski, this book introduced me to world of poetry I didn't know - hidden, So when Of Gentle Wolves was offered to me to write about, I jumped both hands held open to grab it & was enamoured by the poetry there. 

As to your non-alcoholic passive activist, that almost covers me nowadays, although I'm still fond of a glass or so of malt Whisky.
Radu Vancu
Oh, the fondness is still there for me, it's only the practice that's missing :)
Speaking of battered copies - after the collapse of the communist regimes Forest Books & UNESCO Publishing published a series of anthology titled "Young poets of a new Poland", "Young poets of Germany" and so on. You probably know them. Very good selections, and the translations also seem good. So that for me the battered bluish cover of the Polish anthology is an objective correlative for contemporary Polish poetry. :)
It'd be really good if some visible publishing house would do the same with the poetry written during the last 20-30 years in the same countries.
Parrish Lantern
would be wonderful if the same publishing house, that did, Of Gentle Wolves, got on the case I know they've published one with the poetry of Anna Swir. would you mind if I transferred this conversation over to my blog, as it has a lot of merit that would tie with my attempt to promote translated poetry, not just the same old, same old. will wait for a response, multumesc. (thanks)
Radu Vancu
Of course you can transfer it from my blog to yours - it's your conversation too, after all :)
Such attempts of promoting poetry are of much value, they give me a modicum of trust that not everything is lost, after all. Mulţumesc to you too :)
 Parrish Lantern     
This Last bit wasn't part of the original conversation, It's just me thanking Radu, for allowing some Poetry geek to waste his time, by replying to my comments.

A great review by  Ilya Kaminsky and Kathryn Farris


Anonymous said...

an interesting sounding collection Gary ,must admit I m looking to find some romanian fiction to read soon it is one of the few european countries I ve not read anything from yet so want to remedy that asap ,all the best stu

Mel u said...

This is a very interesting collection-I think Romanian poetry is heavily influenced by French Absurdism

Your post is a very good one that helped me understand the political atmosphere the poets in the collection worked in

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Stu, Hope you find something that interests you soon.

Hi Mel, I think you're right on the french influence & thanks for your compliment &* for pointing me in the direction of this anthology.

Radu Vancu said...

Gary, thank you, the pleasure was all mine :) said...

Thanks for introducing me to some new poetry, I always enjoy your selections. And I now know of some great poetry from Romania. I feel so enlightened. I can definitely see how poetry can come out of the communist era, people are always sparked with the desire for freedom and power and to speak about the dire straits surrounding them during bleak times.

Thanks for sharing.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Radu, Checked out those two books you mentioned (Young Poets..) & they're still available, so will definitely get the Polish one as I have a couple of German ones, Thanks again.

Hi Lena, Check out the Calypso Editions website, There's a few books of poetry,as well as this one that might appeal, I think You'll definitely like the Anna Swir Book.

gina said...

So great that you were able to connect with Radu. Did you go back an reread the poems after your conversation?

(Sorry, very behind on commenting this past week. Trying to catch up on posts!!)

Tom Cunliffe said...

Gosh, this is an area I know nothing about, so thanks for a very informative article. It looks like a great book to have on your shelves - one to keep coming back to.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Gina, yes I did and although I know, that it wasn't the prime reason behind the verse, in my mind, probably due to preconceived ideas on Romania it still makes sense, but then reason can be quite a constricting tool to understanding.

Hi Tom, Check out the Calypso site as they have some interesting works on there, & I agree it will be a great one to return to and as a launchpad to explore more work from these & other writers from this region.

Radu Vancu said...

Another review of "Of Gentle Wolves", by Ilya Kaminsky and Kathryn Farris, here:

@parridhlantern said...

Thanks Radu, for this, I've Anna Swir's book on my wishlist & love the fact,that the review covers that as well as "Of Gentle Wolves" which I posted as my favourite anthology of 2011, will add the link to my post.
PS. Also loved the fact that both myself & Ilya Kaminsky and Kathryn Farris both chose Marin Sorescu & yourself as examples.