On 15 January, Romania’s National Poetry Awards sparked scandal. Gala organisers privately asked the winner of the event’s debut prize, Ileana Negrea — who describes herself as a “queer, feminist, mad poet” — “not to read erotic poetry” at the ceremony. “They cornered me and asked me not to ‘make a show’ and not to read anything erotic. I didn’t feel like I could read something erotic afterwards,” Negrea told The Calvert Journal.
Instead, Negrea shared the organisers’ request publicly, prompting other writers to rally against her treatment. Cătălina Stanislav, one of the five poets shortlisted for the same prize, used the gala to read a love poem that sparked conservative outrage for a different reason — its use of the verb “to fuck”. (Yes, that’s right: parts of Romanian society are that coy when it comes to the words that should be allowed to make it into literature.) “I don’t like to attract attention, I am not combative, or conflictual, but I can’t shut up in front of injustice,” Stanislav later wrote on her Facebook page. “I chose to read this poem precisely because of the asterisked word, because the whole experience was revolting and this was the only way in which I found the courage to say it.” The award organisers did not appreciate the sentiment. They promptly took the recording of the gala off their Facebook page, saying the “public page is also visited by children”.
Negrea won the debut prize for her collection Half of My Life So Far (frACTalia, 2021) — her first volume in Romanian language. Until this collection, Negrea chose to write poetry in English “as a means of distancing herself from immediate trauma” of the Romanian patriarchal society. Meanwhile, over the past few years, more and more feminist poets have published work in Romanian, helping Negrea re-embrace her native tongue.
Stanislav is one of these poets, exploring modern relationships in her tongue-in-cheek debut Do Not Interrupt Me (OMG Publishing, 2021). A graduate in literature and gender studies, Stanislav edits the young literature and culture magazine Z9 and co-organises its corresponding Z9 International Poetry Festival in Sibiu. She is also part of the team organising the Sofia Nădejde Women’s Literature Prize in Romania and a translator from English into Romanian.
He sends me poetry
I send back nudes from the bathtub
Let the foam go to its own heaven
Let my body leave this confinement
Stone hard verses filling
Between my legs
Trust me he says
Even when you’re playing games
I imagine calves made of iron
Pushing their way through this infected world
The towns are getting smaller
I have my own apocalypse boy
Should i talk to you about it
Would you turn around
In my poem we’ve all lost our ways
The women i loved
The men i crave
I fill in the declaration
So i can finally leave this place
At 35 who am i
Transparent as a jelly fish
I am night incarnate
My vagina reshifts
To accommodate more than fingers
I am always wearing a mask
Its cotton fills my mouth
Whenever i try to speak
It slips inside the back of my throat
Fantasies of being used
My looks used to kill men like you
In an instant
The camera remembers me 20 stones lighter
I pass all mirrors and pray
For the half said truths
For the half written poems
For my life at which i am pulling
Making it larger
Engulfing men women everything in between
Swollen like a body on pills
Pop they go
And i outgrow my frame
My clattering identity
There’s nothing wrong
Just say the word
Wake up it’s time you see the whole of me
Pick me up in your mouth
As i am clinging for dear life
And for what comes after
“It’s not your fault” is something you hear pretty often after a break-up.
I didn’t think it was my fault, but thanks.
It’s also a certain tonality.
Similar to how this lady I shared a hospital room with would ask me every morning:
“How are you doing, sweetheart?”
Plump and soft spoken
Me, bound like I’d just been in a car accident
I actually had a piercing infection, but it had become severe, as this is my talent, always.
I’m alright, is what I tell people, as if I’d been gravely ill.
It’s not like I can tell them
I’ve been watching series with doctors and beautiful women
I know Meredith is a terrible actress and has the most annoying laugh
but after like six seasons I grew to like her
Every episode seems to have two essential things:
there is always someone who dies and someone who hasn’t confessed their love
someone gets hit by the bus or dies in a plane crash
and, in the last minutes of their life, decides to say:
hey, so I just wanted to let you know I’ve been in love with you for like 10 years
then he cries
he’s also in love, but he’s a man, he wasn’t aware
let’s get a house and a dog, we’ll have a lake and a dock
he says between sobs
and one of those tire swings
(the tire swing and the dog will simply just be there when they buy the house)
I’m alright, I know that in real life people don’t barge in hospital rooms with a 10 minute frantic speech at the end of which they kiss sloppily against the walls while their friends watch from behind the glass door.
In real life I think people break up and then have mediocre relationships for years
while checking somebody else’s facebook status
and going on Russian websites
to anonymously look at instagram stories.
while typing the username in the search bar, their hearts beat so fast, their fingers shake,
almost as if they were barging into a hospital room
to declare their love to a dying person
In real life people buy plane tickets with ultimatums
they end up nowhere
and then they suffer quietly behind blue screens.
If you don’t wake up, see their face and are just completely overwhelmed with pure joy, then nothing is worth it anymore, is what a friend told me one morning in Bucharest, while standing drunkenly in the red light of the hotel by the train station. I never know if I feel lonelier when I come or when I leave. Or if I stayed.
I’ve googled you three times already
I feel like I’m going mad
I am terrified
that if I die in a plane crash
we won’t even have those three minutes for me to tell you
how often I dream you’re in my kitchen in the morning.