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A “Poem” for the Romanian Verse: an inspiring introduction to 1980s Romanian poetry

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December 5, 2016

15235838_1302646999779704_2214094667170490503_o‘It is always inspiring to look at a single decade of a single country and realize how absolutely varied it is’

– Sean Shibe, guitarist

A panel discussion was held at the Romanian Cultural Institute regarding the new edition of ‘Poem’ magazine that consists of translated Romanian poetry. The magazine’s prolific founder, Fiona Sampson, was present, as were Magda Cârneci (a postmodern poet of the 80’s generation, art historian, and diplomat), Cosmin Ciotlos (literary critic and author of ‘111 most beautiful poems of the 80’s generation’), and Adam J. Sorkin (writer, translator, and promoter of Romanian literature). Sean Shibe, the young classical guitarist of BBC’s New Generation Artists Scheme, served as a guest musician and punctuated the evening entirely with English music. He played songs like John Dowland’s ‘Come, heavy sleep’ and William Walton’s ‘Five Bagatelles’ with a hypnotic passion and tenderness, both caressing and assaulting his guitar. All these pieces were romantic in an unusual way, more in the poetic sense than the saccharine.

Fiona Sampson touched upon several themes regarding translation: editing as an act of exploration, creating possibility rather than censoring. She moderated the discussion that went on between the other invitees. Ms. Sampson has played and continues to play an important role in opening up British space for Romanian writers.

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Magda Cârneci & Fiona Sampson

Magda Cârneci read three of her poems, which are featured in the magazine and are complex, complicated, and deeply rooted in contemporary Romanian life. All three exhibit developed, microscopic thought and a distinct womanly voice. At the panel, she described poetry as ‘a way of getting in touch with reality in a very natural way’. Adam Sorkin, who always co-translates, praised her as a ‘religious postmodernist’ (something unusual) and as having deviated from the ‘blue jeans generation’: thereby finding an original and what he terms ‘ritualistic’ approach to poetry, with lines like ‘In this strange race we cannot avoid, / We’re sometimes victims of cruel, unexpected blows. / Just like that, the pocket metronome sputters and stops, / then we see differently, differently – / the chair, the glass, the table where we sit in silence – / dissolved’. 

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Adam J. Sorkin

Cosmin Ciotlos’s role was to offer contextualization. An aficionado of the poetry of the 80’s, he claimed this niche is underappreciated today. He went on to explain that in Romania there are two types of poetry. ‘Naïve poetry wants to create the world, while sentimental poetry knows that the world has been created and therefore assumes the cultural tradition’. Magda Cârneci, it was implied, demonstrates this. He added that rereading poets in another language was ‘brilliant, bringing a new face to each poet’ – something which might be interesting food for thought for bilingual readers. His love for 80s poetry he justified by explaining that it had a structure, a centre, and a key – that key being Marin Sorescu, a Romanian poet, prose writer, essayist and playwright. All of this, he said, created a ‘new form of dialogue’: the pieces selected by Fiona Sampson were, according to him, ‘spiritual not only through religion but also through tangible reality’.

Adam Sorkin is evidently an invaluable figure as the translator of almost everything in the edition. He read several poems to the audience, including Daniela Cresnaru’s and Mircea Cartarescu’s for instance. He remarked on the ‘characteristic explosion metaphor’ and ‘the myth of words, myth of self being created’. He also pointed out, interestingly enough, that the poetry produced by the generation writing in the 1980s was a reaction to the lack of possibility in a communist Romania in which ‘Icarus did not fall very hard’, manifesting itself through the creation of metaphor that spoke between the lines to readers who knew how to interpret it.

Perhaps it would have been interesting to receive a deeper analysis of why specifically poetry of the 1980s was chosen, when poetry from any other epoch might have had equal merit. Like many panel discussions, there were a few moments that lulled and slipped into tedium – a more concentrated discussion would have been more effective. Ultimately, however, Ms. Sampson’s word summarized the matter at hand well: “Poem” is an internationalist magazine, and this quarterly edition is not a canon but a stand-alone introduction to Romanian poetry.

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A “Poem” for the Romanian Verse featured as part of the ongoing programme of cultural events at the Romanian Cultural Institute, London.

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