Friday, September 21, 2012

The Best Words In The Best Order.


 Octavian Paler

Translated by Ileana Stefanescu and S. D. Curtis.

In Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist, the protagonist Paul Chowder, talks about how after compiling the poems you want for an anthology, you revisit your selection and realize that it’s a particular stanza, a particular line that stops your breath, that is perfect. You then read it again and slowly an awareness seeps into you that if…definitionscover_250x800r

  "you stare for a while at one of the single lines--stare into its rippling depths where the infant turtles swim--you realize there's usually one particular word in that line that slays you. That word is so shockingly great...and so then all of your amazement and all of your love for that whole poem coalesces around that one word.”

Sometimes that stanza, that line or that word has enough allure to beguile you and the poem becomes part of your world, a charm called upon when needed.

Rarer is the poem that works on every level, that has a simplicity that captivates, a poem that is the living example of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s definition of poetry “the best words in the best order”


Definition of Departures

I didn’t know that the bitter flower of loneliness

when held up close

sounds like departing steps.

Definition of an impossible Alternative

The fire has no choice:

either to remain itself

or turn to ash.


Definitions by Octavian Paler is a small book of poetry, made up, for the most part, by a series of forty seven poems titled “definitions”,  of which the two above are examples. They range from a poem of one single sentence through poetry that could be described as “haiku”, as well as several longer pieces, the book then ends with six poems all with individual titles. Although I describe this book as small (approx. 17cm x 13cm & 46 pages), it’s subject matter couldn’t be larger, we range through definitions of time, regret, departures, love and silence, subjects which the poet wanders through haunted by a restless nostalgia, trapped by the knowledge that there’s no going back and going forward leads to a further sense of alienation from himself, or an ideal sense of self.


                        Definition of Belonging

Even drops of blood know the meaning of “home”

Otherwise they would wander through the body

and forget to return to the heart.


The poetry reads as though an individual, the poet, is going through a process of examination, attempting to define his relation to the world and to himself, to define not just how he fits in, but if and why. Therefore making this a very introspective collection of poetry, but one that will have you smiling at that collection of words placed in that “best order” & then the awareness of a deeper thought process will seep into your mind – that this collection of beautiful, clever introspective poetry, is not merely one individual’s exploration of self, but that it relates to you, us, all of us.


Definition of Unspoken Words

Clear snows

fall between our words.

Or is it just the silence between our words?

Our last words

went so far away that we can no longer hear them

and we don’t know what we said to each other.

And through the silence between our last words

I am running and calling your name.

We are side by side.

And I am running and calling your name.


Octavian Paler (1926 – 2007) was a poet, novelist, essayist, journalist and a politician. He was born on July 2 1926, into a peasant family in Lisa, Romania and attended the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy and the Law School of Bucharest (1945-1949). octavian_paler

He was a substitute member in the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party (1974- 78) and deputy elected for the Great National Assembly (1978-1982). In the 80’s, however, his relation to the Communist authorities deteriorated and he found himself in conflict with them. This resulted in his persecution by the secret service agency (“Securitate”) due to his pro-Western views and his critique of PCR (the Romanian Communist Party) and Nicolae Ceauşescu himself. Consequently, he is house arrested and prohibited in terms of his literary activity.

After the Romanian Revolution and the fall of Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1989, Octavian Paler worked first for “România liberă", then for “Cotidianul" whilst continuing his anti-communist activity as one of the founding members of the Group for Social Dialogue (Grupul de Dialog Social), together with Ana Blandiana and Gabriel Liiceanu amongst others. During his last years he was an intense critic of Romanian politicians and politics.


During his long career, he worked as an editor for the cultural section of the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Company (1949-1964), Agerpres correspondent in Rome (September-December 1964), General Manager of the Romanian Television (1965-1968), Vice-President of the Radio Broadcasting Company and coordinator of the literary and music sections (1968-1970), editor-in-chief with “România liberă" newspaper (1970-1983) and starting from 1990, honorary director of the newspaper.


Istros Books

This book is a review copy I got from Istros Books. One of the new small Independent publishing houses that have sprung up in the last few years, with the aim of filling in the gaps often left by the larger publishing houses. In the case of Istros their aim is to

“showcase books you won't find elsewhere: books from unusual places, books from undiscovered writers, stories that might otherwise be neglected”

Istros’s particular focus is on quality literature in translation from South-East Europe (Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro), bringing you stories and ideas from newly-discovered writers as well as established ones whose works have been neglected in the English language. The intention is to dispel the image of Eastern Europe as an indiscriminate collection of grey tower blocks filled by Vodka drinkers, their mission is to shine a light on that ‘other’ Europe and reveal its glories through the works of its greatest writers, both old and new, revealing the best from a wealth of local prose and poetry and to offer it to a new audience of English speakers.

Octavian paler (Wiki)

susan-curtis-kojakovic( Istros Director) at London Book fair discussing Definitions

Istros Blog

Istros(what’s in a name?)

6 comments: said...

I loved Definition of Belonging. So precise and dead on. Amazing what can be conveyed with few words.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Lena, the collection is full of gems such as that one.

Tom Cunliffe said...

You are unique in writing so frequently about poetry but it is much appreciated - I don't read a lot of poetry and you keep me up to date. I read the Anthologist and loved it.

There are some gems in the quotations in your post here

@parridhlantern said...

Thanks for your comment Tom, I've been wanting to add more poetry from the start but lacked the confidence, as The Parrish lantern has evolved (?)So has my determination to have it be an accurate reflection of myself, which means a broad range of the written word. My aim is to have an almost equal balance Pomes & other loves of this Word-Botherer. Ps, It was you that gave me the heads up on The Anthologist to which I give you my thanks.

claire said...

I'm so happy to have found your blog just recently. I love love poetry but often it gets shoved in the back but I need more of it in my life. The quote above..

"you stare for a while at one of the single lines--stare into its rippling depths where the infant turtles swim--you realize there's usually one particular word in that line that slays you. That word is so shockingly great...and so then all of your amazement and all of your love for that whole poem coalesces around that one word.”

.. so true. What power poems hold.

@parridhlantern said...

Thanks for your comment Claire, if you've not read Nicholson baker's The Anthologist, it is well worth tracking down, in my post on it I said "If you love poetry, you will love this book, no prevarication, You Will Love This Book. If poetry was a joy, a love that you put aside as childish whimsy, this will re-introduce you to that love, will spark a curiosity, that will combust to no mere bonfire in your heart."