May 04, 2007

The New Romanian Poets

bq. Two sparrows pull each other’s eyes out a cleaning lady stands with her head in the toilet, straight like a candle – somebody grasps her ankles and pumps This is not poetry If that’s what you want go to the cinema In a poem Ianus goes to the park and feeds the doves Poetry Marius Ianus I have been working for three years on a number of books, far too many than is healthy for one person. This week saw the publication of two of them, and one of these I managed to work on with another such person - the Romanian poet, Leonard Aldea. This is our Introduction, and we launch the book in Coventry and London next week. Hope to see you at these launches. h4. No Longer Poetry This is the first anthology of Romanian poetry to give a platform to a NLPrising generation of unique, new poets of the post-Communism era, many of whom are under thirty. Most of the poets had their first collection published around the turn of the Millennium. The poems selected and translated here are taken from these books. In some cases, we have chosen fresh, unpublished work intended for their next volume. This is a unique display of the new Romanian literature; it is a vivid document of an on-going phenomenon of re-creation. Romania has undergone extreme transformation over these last fifteen years. The Velvet Revolution failed to act as the instant switch between Communism and Democracy in the way that most of the population expected it to. Instead, Romanians found themselves in a grey zone, where attributes of the free world arrived to compete with, and attempt to complete, the outline of a ghost-world. Everybody expected the change, but the shift proved to be more difficult, much slower, than anybody foresaw. Frustration spread like a virus. Yet, in poetry, the fracture was sharper: conditions for distribution and reception changed utterly. Once upon an era, a State-sponsored ‘official poet’ was ensured the distribution of hundreds of thousands of copies of their latest offering (although this might not have translated into ‘hundreds of thousands’ of readers). In less than a year such manipulative systems folded. But there was another poetry: the interstitial poetry of true expression: unsponsored, popular, risky. Conversely and disturbingly, the immediate visible reaction that this poetry used to have on its huge public during Communism vanished totally. Freedom of speech and the media removed the need for a poetic interpretation of Romania’s reality. Television and video, cinema and music, captured the public’s attention with a facility which daunted the nostalgics. Suddenly, poets found themselves useless, unimportant, their lines unnecessary. What need for poetry when the political truth - in all its facets, versions and revisions - was printed daily, broadcast on the hour, accessible on broadband? Worse still, poetry was perceived as a product of the old world rather than an integrated, living, breathing art of (or for) a new era. The Romanian reader turned its back on its former anti-State ally. The Golden Age was done for. Poets such as Marin Sorescu and Nina Cassian had already begun to play better in the West with its as yet untrammelled interest in what Daniel Weissbort famously synthesised as the poetry of survival, a poetry composed by post-war Central and East European writers who, as Ted Hughes claimed at the time, ‘must be reckoned among the purest and most wide awake of living poets’. Poets in a re-invented Romania had to choose between a serious change in their poetry or simply go under with the rest of the world they once fought against. Golden Era nostalgia, the total autism of any post-revolutionary literary activity, and the lack of a public, acted as a block, a creative barrier. The first post-communism decade saw the professional reorientation of the most adaptable writers towards newspapers and magazines. The most limber of these poets (those who had begun their careers only a few years before the revolution) chose entertainment as the next Eden, editing adult publications as well as commercial magazines. As with any art form finding itself in a dark tunnel heading sluggishly towards a white light, poetry had re-create itself, almost to re-name itself. The poets selected for the present anthology reflect the core of the first post-Communism generation of writers. Literary critic Marin Mincu, the most influential supporter of these authors, justifies their appearance through the natural, undeniable change that’s taken place in the sensibility and receptivity of the Romanian public, a change that was bound to be followed by a matching transfiguration of the writing process. With no one ‘watching’ them and without any feeling of regret, or of nostalgia, for a period they had not experienced, these poets felt free to exhibit and push their poetic experiments forward. The classic Trojan Horse trick for the survival of poets: their near-invisibility heightened by the protective, yet challenging, shield of an exclusive, and excluding, literary world. It was a time for challenge and focus. This new Romanian poetry started to take shape from the mid nineties, with the first collections of Dumitru Crudu, Mihai Vakulovski and Stefan Bastovoi, three young Moldavian poets. We found it appropriate to open this anthology with Dumitru Crudu’s poems, and then follow through with the Romanian poets. The pattern follows the chronological order of these authors’ published work, beginning with the 1994 collections of Dimitrie Crudu and then going into the “Generation 2000” poets, most of whose first collections circle the Millennium. A further word on patterns. We have structured this anthology into four sections, using the two criteria of the Literary circles of whom these poets have been part, and the date of their debut. So, the book opens with Dumitru Crudu and Adela Greceanu, both of them published authors before the year 2000, and not being part of either of the two main literary circles in Bucharest. The following two sections are dedicated to the Letters 2000 literary circle - Marius Ianus, Elena Vladareanu and Ruxandra Novac - and then the Caragiale Creative Workshop - adrian urmanov, Andrei Peniuc, Ovia Herbert. This also accords with the order with which these literary circles went public. The book closes with three writers who have either been part of both of these literary circles - Razvan Tupa - or haven’t been a constant presence, or not present at all, in either of them – Zvera Ion and Dan Sociu. The order of the poets inside each section follows the chronological debut of the authors included in that section. The Literature Department Literary Circle of the Bucharest University (Letters 2000) was the crucible for what was already known as the ‘fracturist’ wing of the new literature. All their efforts were concentrated on making themselves as visible as possible to the public, literally forcing their writings on to the poetry market. Un Cristian pressed forward to edit and manage the Carmen underground series of their collections, published exclusively through sponsorship, and then distributed for free within student communities. As part of the Letters 2000 literary circle, Un Cristian also initiated several public-orientated projects, like the first recorded poetry collections in Romania. Most striking was the 2001 Public Poetry Library, meant to bring randomly chosen people from the street face to face with the young poets and their writings. Marius Ianus, Dimitrie Crudu, Razvan Tupa, Elena Vladareanu, Ruxandra Novac and even most of the non-fracturist young poets, such as Andrei Peniuc, Zvera Ion, Ovia Herbert or adrian urmanov gave several public readings at these weekly meetings in the Bucharest University building. The fracturist literary circle, their projects and the scandals that followed in the wake of most of its members, worked as an extraordinary advertising engine for the new writers and their poetry. Simultaneously in 1998, the poet Nina Vasile started the first Creative Writing Workshop in Romania, in the IC Caragiale Public Library in Bucharest, seconded by the poet adrian urmanov. The strategy was cunning, succeeding by negation: it was not to get involved with the literary world for a whole three years. Moreover, the Caragiale Workshop encouraged young people without an academic literary background to start writing. Nina Vasile herself is a philosopher, adrian urmanov an economist, Andrei Peniuc a lawyer, Razvan Tupa (who joined the Workshop soon after it started) is a Religion historian, while Ovia Herbert studies Public Relations. At the time the “Workshop” began, only Nina Vasile was a published author and she was, literally, the only seriously committed writer. Negation has its own momentum; rapid “progress” ensued. For example, over a period from 1998 until 2001, these young authors never made one single public appearance as a group. Instead, they met weekly in the Caragiale Public Library and focused on the authenticity of their own writing process and on the writing techniques to be used in order to achieve that authenticity. The autism of the mature generation as well as the experiments of the Fracturist movement were carefully dissected and examined. The Workshoppers (as they gradually got to be tagged) were just as interested in literature as they were in mathematics, economics, legal systems or anatomy, and the possible uses of these sciences and social sciences in their writing. In 2002, The Romanian Writers’ Union, working with one of the major Romanian newspapers, The Day, co-founded the “Euridice Literary Circle”. This deliberately replaced the old Writers’ Union literary circle. “Euridice” also brought together the two literary circles, “Letters 2000” and “Workshop”, both of which ceased as separate cultural entities. Under the leadership of the same Marin Mincu, their weekly meetings focussed on, analysed and promoted the works of its young writers. The promotional forum was a special supplement of newspaper The Day. The Literary Day was thus forced into dawn. However, in 2004, “Euridice” had to be removed from the Writers’ Union building following a series of scandals related to the ‘immoral and infamous nature’ of their young writers. The Literary Day, surprisingly, also decided to abandon their support. Presently, Marin Mincu and his literary circle are meeting in the Romanian Literature Museum building, and all the sessions are now dedicated exclusively to young writers. In 2003, the generation issue captured the whole attention of the Romanian literature marketplace. Significant literary magazines, such as The Literary Day or Luceafarul strongly argued for and against the ‘legality’ of these young authors, while others magazines – like The Hearth, The Paradigm and Romanian Life – dedicated entire issues to them and their writing. The most obvious characteristic of these young poets is their extreme heterogeneity, the lack of any obvious group similarities, in spite of their gathering around several literary circles and their various philosophies. ‘Fracturism’ and ‘utilitarianism’ are going to be discussed further. But, in spite of structuring this anthology around literary movements, it must be understood that these patterns are only functional and pragmatic: they help to display these young authors’ different approaches and differing poetics; we take little account of the influence they had on their actual writing. For example, there are no obvious literary connections between the warm atrocities of Elena Vladareanu, the language masteries of Marius Ianus and the marketing experiments of adrian urmanov. Instead, what unites these writers as a generation and puts them into perspective is the acute interest they show in winning back the public’s attention: the definite choice they seem to have made of bending and reinventing everything that ‘poetry’ is about in order to achieve this goal. Feeling has been consciously de/constructed and re/assembled; reality has been mixed with what the reader expects reality to be; poetry has been mixed with what the reader understands poetry to be, so that their writing is no longer a literary piece of art, but rather a new product, a cross between the commercially appealing and authentic literature. What differentiates between them, though, is the way each of them sets out to achieve that daring balance through their own work, this private choice they’ve made in proportioning these ingredients in their poetry: When you retype/edit my texts, please start each line with a capital letter, even if your capital letters do not match my capital letters, even without paying attention to the latter. This way, each text will expect to be retyped a certain number of times, which it holds within itself, in its essence. It will always be another (something else). Each text is a little monster. The number of ways it can be written probably stands for the age it will die at. The title of my collection, which preoccupies me so much Adela Greceanu Marius Ianus, the author of the poem used in the epigraph to this Introduction, published the “Fracturist Manifesto” in 1998. This is the key creed that unites the young poets gathered around the “Letters 2000” literary circle: that authenticity is instantly appealing to the reader and, therefore, the more authentic one is, the better it does its job in interesting the public. What they aim to do is to create an instant psychological attraction, inverting common perceptions of things, and breaking not only the line but also the subject in the most psychologically fertile manner. These intentional “fractures” in the expected, familiar way the reader anticipates a feeling or situation to develop naturally creates a tension within the lines that can very easily make the reader feel uncomfortable and drive him away. To prevent this, the fracturists balance their poems by constantly alternating between violent, disturbing lines and extreme intimacies. It’s a studied form of interplay: the “hooking” of the reader, making him feel reassured by showing him the writer’s own weaknesses, just immediately after provoking insecurity in the reader himself. The play creates a constant psychological war between the reader and the writer, reflected both in the fracturists’ choice of subjects (mostly social and political issues mixed with sexuality and violence), and the technical devices they apply within their writing. It is interesting to note that all of these poets are graduates of the literature departments of different Universities in Romania, unlike the “Workshoppers” who have no formal literary academic training. This is obvious in the fracturists’ understanding of poetry mostly as a literary art form, and the stress they place on the literary value of the written poem itself, rather than on its reader-oriented, appealing side. In short, they don’t care about their readers: the poem is primary; its effect is a matter of no interest and non-conjecture. This is in contrast to the writings of the “utilitarian” wing of the young Romanian poetry, emerging mostly from the Caragiale Workshop. Their authors are even more difficult to categorise as parts of the same movement on the basis of their actual written works, but they are linked by their emphasis on the importance of the efficiency of a text, rather than its authenticity and its traditional literary value. The utilitarians have altered the balance which the fracturists struggled to achieve; and made it clear that their interest is not so much in the actual writing, but on the its ability to carry the message through: to have a visible effect on the reader. Rather than a natural transition from previous promotions of Romanian writers, they’ve created a strange, alien poetry generated mostly from marketing and mass-communication and /or science. The utilitarians have transfigured their literature into poetical advertisements of the message carried within; and by adapting their writing to the preconceptions of the public. They do so by the purposeful application of non-literary devices in their poems, which are designed to function as “glue-spaces” : in short to manipulate the reader into working through an entire collection. They no longer see poetry as a purely literary work of art, but mostly as a special, artistic type of communication. Therefore, the actual value of the poem is not to be found in the literary proficiency of inscribing the message in the written text, but rather in the efficiency the text has to actually communicate the message and the intensity with which the reader receives it. Western traditionalists may find this approach distasteful; cultural Darwinists will read it for what the strategy actually is. It is a mode for poetry’s survival in a particularly drastic environment, one in which the ecosystem was, for so long (too long), so very fertile and verdant, but which has received the cultural equivalent (within the space of a decade) of an intensive volcanic explosion, speedily chased by an ice-age. A different understanding of poetry was certain to lead to different approaches to the text and so, different poetic techniques evolving within the text. From their inception, “Letters 2000” tried to freshen up poetry’s vocabulary and fought for total freedom about what to write about. This follows on from their search for the authentic, for facts taken out from actual life. If the poet is having sex, then this is a verse, and if the poet is typing down this verse, than this in itself is another verse. This technique, when used wisely and with a high level of auto-censorship, can lead to wonderful poetry, as in both Elena Vladareanu’s collections, Pages and Fissures. The verse is sharp and never confusing. Extreme sexuality and violence are immediately followed by pages of completely unimportant, ‘un-poetic’ everyday actions that balance her poetry, just as they balance the poet in real life. Vladareanu is an expert in alternatively exposing the reader’s insecurities and her own weaknesses and, when this psychological equilibrium game is played at high tension, her poems become extremely intense and provoking: I’ve hastily gathered my things and stuffed them in two plastic bags now I’m waiting to leave. my traces are a few imaginary stains of blood and pus left on the imaginary bed-linen and this brown beetle that I pass from one palm to the other it can’t be more than a beetle pulled out of the dream ... then why do I feel it as if it’s walking under my skin? the third deeper fissure. of the memory Elena Vladareanu The same game is played by Marius Ianus, only with a different intensity. Both his collections, Anarchist Manifesto and Other Fractures (2000) and The Bear in the Container (2003), encompass poems of extreme, hollow vulgarity, next to powerful, sensitive texts. He is by far the most exemplary and extreme specialist in the Romanian language of this young generation: he often proves his mastery of the language in unusually fresh images that feel entirely relaxed and inevitable. An obvious feature of “Letters 2000” writings is the influence of West Coast American poetry and possibly The New York Poets. The influence made some hasty critics refer to the fracturists as the Romanian Beat generation. But, as Ianus’s own lines stand to prove, their latest published work shows a definite shift towards a more authentic and grounded poetry, more the panache and poise of a John Ash rather than a John Ashbery: I’ve written other poems as well since then but none like toilet paper it was a poem like a knife in the spirit of a haiku: Those who masturbate are flowers and I couldn’t ever but rewrite toilet paper if I didn’t grow tired otherwise what’s with this saxophone sounding rustily in the poem? Ode Toilet paper Marius Ianus Ruxandra Novac’s poetry has seen the same evolution, some of her poems bearing the ensign of Allen Ginsberg. Novac’s collection, ecograffiti. pedagogical poems. flags on towers was, however, the best debut collection published in 2003; it was strikingly Romanian: every poem has a deep national reasoning behind it. The overall feeling of her work is one of apparently paradoxical frustration - as the poet, though living in a democratic country now, seems unable to adapt to it, is unwilling even to do so. Her main themes are a kind of national misanthropy with Bucharest, the ‘dead rat’ seen in the sunset; and the conscience of an oppressive past that somehow still drains all hope and reason from life, making ‘the revolt – obsolete like a movie about peasants’. The poet’s emotions and private reactions are shockingly vivid and are cleverly used to convince the reader, to prove the reality of this existence that should be accepted simply ‘because I live here / in the center of the disaster / and I’ve seen’. As previously mentioned, these poets are all alumni of literature departments of different universities and, as such, they have a very strong understanding of poetry as a high calling and a possess a ‘serious’ attitude towards writing and its literary value. The “Worshoppers“, on the other hand, boast no literary background other than their own readings and enthusiasms. Instead, they tend to deploy their own non-literary specialisations to charm their way into poetry and alter it for good, and for the good. While the fracturists use exclusively the most authentic poetic devices, for the utilitarians ‘anything goes as long as it works’. They have accepted more easily the idea that the reader’s understanding of poetry is just as important as their own. adrian urmanov published his debut collection The Cannonical Flesh in 2001 (the title co-opts the ambiguity of cannon and canon). Without presaging the utilitarian extravaganza of his next book, this first collection demonstrates the poet’s ability to write dense and “traditionally” literary lines. The poet’s understanding of poetry as a form of manipulation is clearly illustrated in his second collection utilitarian poems (2003). The texts are no longer regarded as poems, but as totally open and straight advertisements of the poet’s message from the very first page to the last. Very often, the same idea is rewritten in several different forms, as the poet addresses various “target readers” and reshapes the poem according to his/her expectancies and understanding of poetry so that the poem should reach its most efficient form possible for each category of readers. This makes for a fascinating show at times, though some readers might prefer the visceral mystic vision of his previous collection. Andrei Peniuc had a remarkable double debut in 2002 with A Small Animal and Small Manual on Terrorism. Both books, especially Small Manual, build on a cumulus of frustrating attempts to create a connection, a link with one’s neighbour, while the poet himself has not entirely decided to take the experience to its end. Each series of poems within these two collections is developed around the poet’s desire to communicate, but placed in the context of his own personal inability to do so: why do you listen to eminem? do you like him? when she saw him singing live in barcelona adria said: what vacuous eyes he has! that’s when I understood why I like him she said vacuous I think she meant to say frightened Appendix (About Enimem) Andrei Peniuc His poems are an invitation for the reader to share experiences and push each other forward, but what the poet has to offer in return, implacably ruins any kind of possible connection. ‘snuff’ and ‘appendix (about eminem)’ are two perfect examples of Peniuc’s best poetry. In both of them, he uses a clean, simple vocabulary to hold these long poems together and a narrative structure to make the poems into “page-turners”. By the time the reader becomes aware of the autistic nature of the relationship the poet offers, their attention has already been caught by the actual “story” of the poem, or the main “characters”, usually well known public figures and pop stars. They may not add anything to the poems, but they do sustain the casual reader’s engagement. The same intentions can be detected in Ovia Herbert’s collection, almost a rat. Although his poems apply almost the same devices as adrian urmanov in his utilitarian poems, Herbert makes a subtle change in their purpose. His collection is structured as a permanent alternation between dense, slightly traditional poetry (reminding some readers of the poets that started writing in the late ‘eighties and early ‘nineties) and simple, outspoken short poems, which function like a linking thread throughout the entire collection, allowing the reader enough time to catch breath after the difficult sections. Herbert has a clear feeling for both these ways of writing, although sometimes the reader may feel slightly pushed away by the sudden shifts between the two discreet poetic voices. What he possesses however is precision and whenever he succeeds to meld the two styles his poems become both intense and recognisable, and it is in these poems that he obtains a clear, concise and strong personal voice. Our choice is completed by three poets who have either been part of both literary circles or who haven’t been a constant presence, or not present at all, in either of them. For example, Razvan Tupa has succeeded in developing a wholly personal way of writing and understanding poetry, which was beautifully put into practice in his debut collection Fetish (published in 2001 but interestingly re-edited in 2003 with the new title fetish – a romanian book of pleasure. This ambitious collection placed Tupa in a very fortunate position of having the best of both worlds and finding the grass greener on each side of the fence: because while he was practically unaffiliated to any of the two key literary circles or their corresponding movements, he had actually attended the meetings of both the Caragiale Workshop and “Letters 2000“. Both fetish and all the objects we cram our closeness intention into (the underground first version of his next collection) are intended as parts of a long-term project called romanian bodies which Tupa has developed in various literary magazines from the time of his debut. fetish is an irresistibly flowing read, without any fault that may cause a break. One of the final effects of reading the book through as a whole is confusion, as the poems fail to build up into any clear feeling or message. This changes visibly in all the objects we cram our closeness intention into. These poems have won a great deal of clarity; the vocabulary is strictly controlled; and the poet seems to focus more on what he intends to get across to the reader. Unlike Razvan Tupa, Zvera Ion works with simple vocabulary and strikingly clear images. After her award-winning debut collection The Coffee Child, Ion’s latest poems take a more obvious turn away from the Romanian writing tradition. Her second collection Acetone is a sinuous read, being one single long poem from the first page to the last. As with Andrei Peniuc’s “fiction-poems“, Zvera Ion’s Acetone works as a complete short-story about the cruelty of solitude within a normal, social existence. If Peniuc uses point of view and action as devices for his longer poems, Zvera Ion seems more comfortable with depicting scenes, ‘like at the theaaatre‘, as she says in one of her poems. The narration is not clearly stated: it is implied, it is pushed forward through short lines like ‘when he comes to me‘, ‘I know it’s evening’ or by placing her characters on buses travelling from one place to another. Most of her poems are set indoors, with one static character looking at and reacting to other characters, most of them imagined. While Andrei Peniuc changes the point of view constantly, like an omniscient narrator, keeping the reader focused by always jumping into that character’s head, Zvera Ion’s point of view never changes; we are always in the same character’s head; and that makes it much easier to empathise and follow the author throughout the entire collection. Dan Sociu made a strong debut in 2002 with his collection Well tied up jars, money for one more week (following the path Marius Ianus had already broken with his debut two years earlier). Sociu has the same abrupt way of relating to reality and deals with almost the same subjects. What is new is the poet’s voice. Sociu’s specialism is the proud loser rather than the revolutionary young man. This pose and poise reduces the intensity of the poems (all the sexual violence is made redundant), but Sociu is smart enough to find a suitable replacement by transforming his loser into an extremely sympathetic character. He may not fight the State (and the entire society as Ianus does), but he takes good care to lose all his battles in the exact way everyday Romanians know and love. Every new generation of poets generates a new generation of critics. According to Octavian Soviany, the main theoretician of the young generation of authors, Adela Greceanu is the first of these authors to have made a clear turn from the traditional ways of Romanian literature in the late twentieth century. Soviany built up an entire theory based on Greceanu’s first two collections, the title of my poem, which preoccupies me so much and Miss Cvasi: the so-called “cvasi-literature”. Greceanu is one of the most controversial poets of her generation. Many of the new poets themselves argue against her subjective, sometimes seemingly patheticised approach to poetry. Conversely, to other readers though (and we are part of those readers), Greceanu has an incredibly objective approach to poetry. She constantly keeps her deeply feminine character under strict control and uses her as a naïve witness to the real world around her. Thus, all her collections can be read in quite different ways: that of the naïve girl and her subjective emotional life, and that of the objective reality she inhabits. This is a reality that the character might not be aware of, but that the reader can clearly see, thanks to Greceanu’s ability to distance herself constantly from her persona and provide an objective, implied context for her reactions. This proves to be a very effective method of making a contemporary poem, one appealing to many kinds of readers, whether amateur or professional. Some may feel this is no longer something they would call poetry. They are right. It is no longer poetry. It is a reinvention of it. The country in which such practice has developed is no longer Romania. It is a reinvention of Romania. One of the dedicatees of the book is Marin Mincu. He succeeded in attracting almost all the new writers currently writing in Romania to the Euridice literary circle. We want to finish by saying that, for the purposes of this anthology, we considered all the young poets who have read their texts in all of the nearly seventy meetings of Euridice. The sole criterion used in the selection of the poets included here has been the extent to which they have distanced themselves from the poets of the previous generations: those who have dared to use new devices or apply new theoretical approaches to poetry in the new Romania.

- 3 comments by 0 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. susan

    I found some great fiction book reviews. You can also see those reviews in Fiction short story

    04 May 2007, 15:54

  2. dostoievski

    bull shit. where are claudiu komartin, dan coman, oana catalina ninu, constantin virgil banescu, cosmin perta, miruna vlada, gelu vlasin, dumitru badita, stefan manasia…

    12 May 2007, 12:31

  3. tolstoi

    a lot of poets, and i see that you are argueing names here. what about Hagi, Nadia and Dracula for a change?

    17 Nov 2007, 17:15

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