February 20, 2013

National Translation Month: The Vanishing Point That Whistles

In this installment, I’d like to focus on The Vanishing Point That Whistles, an Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry published in 2011 by Talisman House Publishing. I was lucky enough to meet the writer, editor, and translator Paul Doru Mugur in the fall of 2007 at the launch of the previous poetry anthology he edited, Born in Utopia. I was pretty new to translations, but he made me the incredible offer to work with him on a new anthology. Four years later, the beautiful book was printed. 

Below is a fragment of Paul Doru Mugur’s introduction to the anthology that gives you a little background about Romania’s poetry scene. I also selected a few of my favorite poems in the book. Check out the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Vanishing-Point-That-Whistles/dp/1584980885.

And remember, in February and beyond: read, write, and share your favorite translated poems.
—Claudia Serea

Hyper-realism in Contemporary Romanian Poetry

The revolution of December 1989 brought the communist regime in Romania to a violent end. Everything changed after that. Historical hardships leave long and deep scars on people’s memories. Adorno, whose work is constantly cited regarding the way that various ideologies inform society and art, famously stated that writing a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric, and after such an experience it has become impossible to write poetry. Maintaining proportions, we may also say that, after the experience of communism in Romania, writing poetry and, in general, making art in a traditional format have turned increasingly difficult. New forms of expression, capable of reflecting not only the trauma of the past, but also the brutal transition to a new socio-economic reality, were sought. In addition, people grew suspicious of art, and accused it of lack of sincerity. This may explain why the poetic discourse of post-communist literary groups has begun to mimic reality to the point of blurring the borders between reality and life. In order to continue to be meaningful, poetry became hyper-real in Romania. The new forms of poetry amplified the banality and dreariness of everyday life to the point of making the real appear overwhelmingly flat, abject, super-boring, or horrible—in other words, excessively real, hyper-real.

From the start, a clarification is needed in order to avoid confusion. The meaning of hyper-reality in the texts of Baudrillard, Eco, and other cultural critics, and the meaning of Romanian hyper-reality are different. I am not referring either to hyper-reality as “the simulation of something which never really existed” (Jean Baudrillard) or as “the authentic fake” (Umberto Eco). Hyper-reality in the context of Romanian contemporary culture simply means the use of reality as a special effect.

This obsession with the real and the search for authenticity, the rejection of any form of compromise, and the contamination of esthetic by ethic are the main characteristics of contemporary Romanian poetry. A similar neo-realistic trend is present also in the recent Romanian theater and in the new wave of Romanian cinema.



I watch a story on children in north korea
so many things are told about these children
I get informed about how many there are and how poor
in less than a minute I swallow
statistics grams of food per capita per child per month
a few-years-old kid walks barefoot
mud up to his neck
struggles to scoop some water with a plastic bag
don’t drink this, you can’t drink this
the reporter insists
you’ll get sick if you drink this filthy water
15 years ago a young woman in germany or great britain
was watching a story on children in romania
probably waiting as I am now
for the reporter to hand the child a drop of clean water
I wish I cared but I don’t
they’re so far away
they’re so fucking far away
I go round the sun in my erratic
yet aseptic safety
I tell myself I’m being manipulated and I click off the tv

translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Adrian Urmanov



when i was a small child, i dreamt of being even smaller,
smaller than the table, smaller than the chair,
smaller than my father’s big boots.
no bigger than a potato is how i dreamt of myself.
because in spring they put po-
tatoes in the ground, and that’s it,
they never bother about them till autumn.

i dreamt of curling up in a hole among them,
sleeping sweetly in the dark,
turning to one side and the other all summer long,
then falling asleep once again.

in autumn i awaken still unrested,
unwashed like my brothers,
and when the spade thrusts near i leap out
and shout: stop digging, stop digging,
i’ll gladly come back home
if in spring you return me here.

so in spring i’m the first
they drop down into the hole.
in this way i could go on sleeping forever:
from the ground to the cellar, from the cellar to the ground,
year after year, undisturbed and forgotten.

translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Lidia Vianu



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.

translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Claudia Serea



Listen closely to me and don’t forget this:
Life is like AIDS,
catch it and you’re done for.
Once there’s life in you, you’re dead.
Listen to me.
Or better, don’t listen.
You’re already dead.
Why should you listen?
You’re dead.
Dead deep down to the marrow of your mother’s heart.
To the marrow of your life.

Life is exactly like AIDS, well said:
Once you’ve caught it, you can’t escape.
You can’t possibly,
rid yourself of it.
You’re trapped in a mousetrap.
Poisoned in an anthill.

Life is like AIDS, no denying it:
A fatal disease.
Fateful, mortal.
Once you’ve caught it,
angels are already using your mouth to sing.

translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Petru Iamandi

Paul Doru Mugur writes poetry, prose, essays, and literary and visual art criticism. The founder editor of the journal RESPIRO, he co-edited three anthologies of poetry: The Vanishing Point That Whistles, an Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry published in 2011 by Talisman House, Locul Nimănui, Antologie de Poezie Americană Contemporană (Nobody’s Place, An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry), Cartea Românească, Bucharest, 2006, and Born in Utopia, An Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Romanian Poetry, published by Talisman House in 2006.


Claudia Serea is a Romanian-born poet whose poems and translations have appeared in 5 a.m., Meridian, Harpur Palate, Word Riot, The Red Wheelbarrow, Green Mountains Review, and many others. A two-time Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, she is the author of Angels & Beasts (Phoenicia Publishing, Canada) and The System (Cold Hub Press, New Zealand). More at http://cserea.tumblr.com/.

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