6 contemporary Romanian poems reflect on the little things that give meaning to our lives

6 contemporary Romanian poems reflect on the little things that give meaning to our lives
Image: Cristian Ceoroiu via Unsplash

27 November 2020
Selection and intro: Paula Erizanu

With an active community of poets, growing public interest, multimedia collaborations, and small publishers dedicated to its promotion, Romania’s poetry scene is growing. With the exception of 25-year-old Anastasia Gavrilovici, whose striking debut collection was published last year, the poets presented below made their entrance onto the literary scene in the 2000s. In the past, we have published an extract from a work by Ruxandra Novac, and a poem by Dan Sociu, both of whom come from the same generation. Often inspired by American confessional poetry, and rejecting some of the previous schools of poetry in Romania, focused on language and metaphor, these poets have put concrete, individual experience, and a minimalist aesthetic, at the core of their poetry. With the dramatic social changes that the fall of communism wrought in Romania, including the newly gained freedom of speech, it is only fitting that Romanian literature would also reflect these transformations, breaking away from past forms of writing.


Little Things

Written by Anastasia Gavrilovici and translated by Cătălina Stanislav and Vlad Pojoga


Maybe people really do give their best shot

when they’re crushed, just like olives.

Or maybe not, what do I know, my mind is a piece of Swiss cheese

through which you can hear the music of lab rats.

I’m not allergic to anything and, still, I suffer for everything, it’s enough to tell me

that you don’t like marzipan and I’ll break into tears. Human warmth chaotically

emanated, mental contents discharged randomly, morning anger (sleeplessness

and weariness) projected onto your loved ones like an airplane

emptying its debris over a cruise ship. It’s alright, you look at the

glass of beer, you can almost see its full half, if not for the

set of prints that will be reproduced, with a bit of luck,

in the next 10 years by cyborg masters. There are little things around us that

turn my heart into an origami. Emotional anarchy, indistinguishable earthquakes, the beauty of nature

falling apart on its own, cities in which you circulate harder than

through my blood and all this air I never knew

how to correctly make use of. It’s late, the children are waiting for you at home, better not

mind me. We are 80% “me and my shit”, the rest

water and calcium. Look, these constellations seem like the quirk of a contemporary

artist, but are not worth more than the delicate skeleton of a humming

bird. There’s no one left in the control tower, the photographer who had

Parkinson’s almost clicked the button, the olives are ripe, this might be

the end. If only it were to stop here.


Anastasia Gavrilovici has only published one collection of poetry, to great acclaim, winning several important prizes in the country. She is also an editor and translator from English and Spanish.


Canto I

Written and translated by Radu Vancu



There will be people and they will push the world further.

Today it is evening, we are building a Lego police station

and we are watching Cars.

Today the world does not deserve to be pushed further than that.

Today we have not seen the sun struggling tetanized

in the sky. It seemed it never existed.

Today God was not the concept with which

we measure our pain, as John sings.

Maybe it measured the convulsions and torture of the sun,

what do I know. For us there existed

only the slow growth of the police station

and no sun to ruin any plans

above it.

We need a Lego sun shining without alternative

above a Lego abyss. Young Lego peasants

from a Lego Galilee

taking upon them all the Lego sins and dejections.

We need Lego children singing:

“in the shadow of the Lego cross we sat down and wept.”

A Lego John Lennon singing about

Lego gods and concepts and pains.

Only then will the sun struggle happily

in convulsions. Only then will the world deserve

to be pushed on.

Today it is evening, we are building a Lego police station

and we are watching Cars. The milk

gets warm in the white tin cup.

Nothing, and this is no big talk – nothing

can push us further.


Radu Vancu is one of the most esteemed poets in Romania. President of PEN Romania, he is also a professor of literature at the University of Sibiu, an editor, and translator from English.


[I’m a woman]

Written by Svetlana Cârstean and translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Claudia Serea



I’m a woman,

for a long time my body’s been floating

above an expanse of water, as white as moonlight,

indecent and silent.

I’m a cruel mother

who hugs her child

to the point of suffocation,

makes him one with herself

as once it had been,

when the big bellies were shady rooms to rest in,

were the good spaces along the street,

the rooms of unending vacations

without pain, without tears,

were the place in which no one gets separated from anyone else.

I’m a woman, often ugly.

Yesterday, my body was a paper boat

that I threw playfully on the surface of this water,

hoping it would carry me away.

Today, I’m the killer whale,

often beautiful,

waiting for the fisherman.


With three acclaimed collections of poetry to date, and another one on the way, Svetlana Cârstean is a dynamic presence on the contemporary Romanian poetry scene. She is also an editor and runs the Wednesday Intersections, weekly live interviews with cultural figures in Bucharest.


recent history

Written by Elena Vlădăreanu and translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Adrian Urmanov


this is how things stand:

mom will never

leave romania

dad will never

leave romania

if you die you’ll never

leave romania

the shampoos I collect

from the bathrooms of your hotels, europe

all have the same perfume

like the lily-of-the valley eau de cologne

you used to buy in the tobacco shops

can’t you understand that things aren’t so very different there

where you’ll never go?

*

history is a piece of the wall

in a city at europe’s center

history is the corner of a photograph

in every street urchin ragged and high

there’s a part of me

in every dog haunted and starved

there’s a part of me

in the men drunk and caked with vomit

the brave men of our people

reeking of urine rot and fear

there I am too and my name

is romania.

my wealth: a few hundred books

a red plastic basin

an old iron

a radio

a tea set

the color of earth

a proud and ruthless soul

a damned termagant skin

a bored God

lust like a lethal guilt

you walk down the streets

of a city at europe’s center

my cowardice and lack of hope


Author of nine collections of poetry, Elena Vlădăreanu is a powerful voice on the Romanian literary scene. She is also a playwright, and one of the co-founders of the Sofia Nădejde Award, the country’s first contest solely celebrating works of women writers, which has been running since 2018.


love poem

Written by Dan Coman and translated by Martin Woodside and Ioana Ieronim



all day it couldn’t get any better as all day

we are stuffed little men,

and mara comes between clothing us combing us

gently palming our bottoms

mara comes and mounted on some plastic ducks

floats us out in coffee

all day it couldn’t get any better as all day

we are snow white with the seven dwarves

mara comes among us and

unscrews our hans

unscrews our feet and cleans off our stomachs

pulling out all the oakum and wool

all day it couldn’t get any better

only at night do we become full of flesh

only at night when mara finally sleeps

when we squeeze quickly under the blanket

and in silence slap against one another

like two chicken legs.


Dan Coman is a celebrated Romanian poet and novelist. Based in Bistrița, he is also a publisher, and school teacher. The poem above is from the collection of poetry The Mara Dictionary (Cartier, 2005), which is dedicated to his daughter with the same name.


Shadows

Written by Claudiu Komartin and translated by Andrew Davidson-Novosivschei


The old questions changed (“Are you okay?”, “What are we doing today?”,

“How long will you be so beautiful?”), another wrinkle appeared,

the glass is less and less full, the hand less certain

magnolias gone silent.

The dance’s measured ease, gestures lost,

steps, the conversations that tasted

like sweetwood and kerosene, the snow

melt from a little skeleton on the last day of winter —

they’re no more,

you find yourself calm, at peace, undisturbed

in front of a window or next to a table

covered in pages once grazed by her hair —

find yourself alone with your ghosts,

your heart and its weary stories (you both wept

at the last film seen together, at the whales

killing themselves, washing up on the shore)

and it’s a bad dream of you choking

and you can’t move

the water level rises and rises, but you smile

and the line in front of you, the line you swore to never cross,

grows thinner and thinner

it disappears.


A renowned poet, editor, publisher, and translator, Claudiu Komartin is a key promoter of verse in Romania. He runs the Max Blecher publishing house, specialising in contemporary poetry, its series of live events, the Max Blecher Institute, and the biannual literary magazine Poesis International.

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