Friday, June 28, 2013

The Ritual Of Writing On Air……

Wheel With A Single Spoke

& Other Poems

Nichita Stănescu.

Loss Of An Eye.

I used to tap my fingernail until

no nail was left,

and my finger until

it wore away.


But a blind man came

to me and said:

- Brother, leave your nail alone,

what if there’s an eye

on the tip

do you want to pop it?


But still, but still

this door between you and me,

someone has to  knock it down.


Nichita Stănescu (niˈkita stəˈnesku) was born Nichita Hristea Stănescu on 31st  March 1933 in the city of Ploiesti (ploˈjeʃtʲ ) the county seat of Prahova County in the historical region of Wallachia, Romania, located about 35 miles north of Bucharest. His mother Tatiana Cereaciuchin, fled from Russia  and in 1931 married Nicolae H. Stănescu, which was something he commented on several times, stating that he had been given life by a Romanian peasant and a Russian woman. Ploiesti was overrun by Nazi’s during the 2nd world war because of it’s oil refinery, which was eventually put out of commission by United States bombers. Nichita finished high school in Ploiesti, before moving to Bucharest to study Romanian, linguistics, philosophy, and literature. In 1952 he married Magdalena Petrescu, although this was to last only a year and in 1957 he graduated. His literary debut was in the Tribuna literary magazine, followed by his debut poetry collection Sensul iubirii (The Aim/Sense of Love*) in 1960, this was a collection of love poems which explore the meaning of love. Poems from the volume were previously published in the Tribuna, no. 6, 17 March 1957, and Gazeta literară, no. 12, 21 March 1957.

End Of An Air Raid

              (April 5, 1944)

You dropped your chalk

and the splintered door beat against the wall


the sky appeared, partly hidden

by the spiders

that fed on murdered children.


Someone had taken away

the walls

……….and fruit tree

………………….and stairs.


You hunted after spring

impatiently, like you were expecting

a lunar eclipse.


Towards dawn, they even took away

the fence

you had signed with a scratch,

so the storks would not lose their way

when they came

this spring.



On June 6th 1962,  he married for the second time, to Doina Ciurea, the marriage seems to have lasted for only two years although it wasn’t till the around 1981 that they divorced and Stănescu married for the third time in 1982 to Dora (Theodora bran) whom he had met in 1978 when she was a student in Philology, in the Department of French. Throughout this period Stănescu was a contributor to and editor of Gazeta Literară, România Literară and Luceafărul, as well as creating a extensive body of  poetry, essays and Romanian translations of poets such Adam Puslojic and Vasko Popa. He also was the recipient of numerous awards for his verse, the most important being the Herder Prize  in 1975 and a nomination for the Nobel Prize in 1980.

 Nichita Stanescu_Wheel with a single spoke
Beyond the dry as bone nature of the facts, Nichita Stănescu comes across as an outgoing gregarious individual, he seems to dispel the image of the lone writer working at his craft, preferring the company of others. He spent most of his time residing in the homes of his friends, enjoying copious amounts of drink and could regularly be found improvising poems whilst his audience attempted to follow him and transcribe them at the bar. In fact the title of this post is called “ The Ritual Of Writing On Air” because that was how he described his technique, drawing inspiration from his immediate environment, and using that to craft his verse, stating in a Belgrade interview that:

  “Gutenberg flattened words out, but words exist in space … Words are spatialized. They are not dead, like a book. They are alive, between me and you, me and you, me and you. They live; they are spoken, spatialized, and received”



And yet, I have seen a bird

lay eggs while it flew --

And yet, I have seen someone cry

while he laughed --

And yet, I have seen a stone

while it was --


In 1983 he died in Fundeni Hospital (Bucharest) after a liver condition he had had for some time worsened. He was posthumously elected a member of the Romanian Academy, although by this point he had a reached an envious  position where both the critics and the general public had declared him as one of the most loved and prominent writers in the Romanian language, a language that he had himself declared was “Divinely Beautiful”. Despite living through the second world war and Romania’s fall into an oppressive police state under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu, a regime characterized by an increasingly brutal and repressive apparatus and, by some accounts, the most rigidly Stalinist regime in the Soviet bloc. Stănescu was considered a metaphysical rather than a political poet, using this approach to examine the universe and humanity’s place within it, using various perspectives to voice the fundamental questions of his  and our time. Also by walking a line between what could and could not be said, he crafted a new aesthetic NICHITA-STANESCUfor his verse, one that in his own words:

“ while the poems, often lapidary, appear to indicate a sublimation of the senses, a tendency to crystallize into a symbol, an attentive reading unveils the opposite process, that is the symbol’s subtle disaggregation, its incorporation into matter, something like the fissuring into a star of a pane of glass, broken by an invisible stone” 

Meaning from the star, we notice the pane and intuit the stone. The pane registers the lines of fissure, which we might take as the lines of the poem, moving through the human language. We move from metaphor – the broken glass as star – toward the material yet abstract world, the stone that cannot be directly described in human language. (Taken from the translator’s afterword)


Sometimes you love something. Sometimes something hits you so hard that it becomes part of your DNA, you’re not sure why, there was no known defining moment -  it just is. But with hindsight-reasoning you try to define what it is that has affected you in such a manner and how it could have happened. Then using all your grandiose ideas on “the power of reasoning” you attempt to capture what was a moment, a word, the slightest shadow of a suggestion, but like with most nets, the minnows and microscopic organism pass through, leaving you with the big ideas and grandiose statements and still no idea why you loved this thing. This is how I feel about this collection. Of late this book has taken on the mantle of a personal talisman, always with me, being opened up at random, and the words, the verse, the poetry, it’s very language has worked it’s charm upon me. In a world whose very words of late have grown heavy, and cumbersome this has lightened them, in most senses of the word.
 Wheel With A Single Spoke And Other Poems, celebrates the work of one of Romania’s highly loved  & critically regarded poets, one who Tomaž Šalamun, described as “The greatest contemporary Romanian poet” and one who is in the rankings as one of the most important poets of the twentieth century. This dazzling collection of poems – the most extensive to date, was translated by Sean Cotter, who has chosen poetry from each of Stănescu’s books, although he concentrates on the specifically fertile period of 1965 – 1975, charting the emergence and growth of what would become his characteristic style, allowing us to see how his own distinctive voice developed.

Knot 23.

I stole my childhood body,

I swaddled it

and put it in a basket of rushes, -

and threw it in the river

so it would go and die in the delta.


The unfortunate, tearful, tragic fisherman, full of pity,

brought me the body in his arms

just now.


Sean Cotter’s Translations from the Romanian include Liliana Ursu’s Lightwall and Nichita Danilov’s Second-hand Souls. His essays, articles and translations have appeared in Conjunctions, Two Lines and Translation Review. He is Associate professor of Literature and Literary Translation at the University of Texas at Dallas, Centre for Translation Studies.


Wiki (Nichita Stănescu)

Archipelago Books

Poem Hunter (Nichita Stănescu )

An Interview with Sean Cotter and Liliana Ursu

More Romanian Poetry (Of Gentle Wolves)


"The only real things which we take with us in the end are our own feelings, our loves, our hates and adversities. I ask myself: at the end of life, what will we leave outside? I suppose we can leave some feelings, less of hate, some of passion, but... especially of love.” – N.S.


Unknown said...

Glad to see this reviewed after its BTBA victory (even if I'm unlikely to get to it myself).

Brian Joseph said...

I was unfamiliar with Stănescu before reading your post. His work that you quoted seems to be intriguing. My initial impression is that he was a poet who did not always make his meaning obvious and he seems like he may me challenging to read. Of course I like poetry like that.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Tony, Damn forgot about that! should check my notes better. but yes this collection of poetry and one of my favourite recent novels Satantango, which I reviewed as part of the IFFP won the Best Translated Book Awards for the reminder.

Hi Brian, I think partly because of the political climate he was writing in he skirted subject matter also his interest developed away from metaphor – the broken glass as star – toward the material yet abstract world, the stone that cannot be directly described in human language. To the aura around a thought rather than the thought itself.

Mel u said...

Thanks for sharing this new to be writer with us

Bellezza said...

His debut book of poetry came out the year before I was born...his face and his poems reveal a lot of hardship and pain which feels so difficult to love through even from my outside position. It is hard to be that desperate, which I can say in all humility that I've only tastes briefly in my life. Still, he touches on raw nerves we've all experienced in one way or another. I find these poems very powerful.

Bellezza said...

Oh for goodness sake, I mean "live through" not "love through."

Stupid iPhone again.

Or, the person using it...