STATE LIBRARY, NSW: Launch Friday, 27th March, 2015
MIHAELA CRISTESCU Generative Fortresses and
LOREDANA TUDOR TOMESCU Trenul de Dantela
Mrs Oriana Acevedo, Consul General Floricel Mocanu, poets, performers and guests,
In introducing Loredana and Mihaela as poets, I will take a local perspective. When a Romanian writer, that is Mihaela Cristescu, enters a network like New Writers Group in multi-cultural Parramatta, where English is the common language, what happens? Well, firstly the group learns more about Romania and meets more Romanian writers such as Loredana Tudor Tomescu. Secondly, while writers can always rattle off the usual suspects that shape creative writing – family, culture, life experience – our bi-lingual and multi-lingual colleagues remind us how significant is our personal literary experience and the language/s we first read, spoke and thought in. There is an additional pleasure of discovering shared culture. If you asked around a New Writers gathering, it would be just as if you asked around this room this evening, you would find some preference matches in the worlds of music and visual art – you might like the same rock group or opera, the same sculptor or cartoonist. And because of the blessed craft of translation, you can add the written word to that shared appreciation.
When you listen to a bi-lingual poet, you may believe you are hearing the character of one language in another but unless you’re fluent in both languages it is hard to see the exact connections. While reading one of Mihaela’s English poems years ago, one writer exclaimed well, I’d never have put it that way, but it’s attractive and unless you were Romanian you wouldn’t have come up with that turn of phrase. This was intended as a compliment and that poem as it happens was nominated for a prize by the award-winning Sydney poet Fiona Wright. (I’m wondering if this effect might flow in the other direction – will Romanian speakers hear any English reverberations in the Romanian poetry this evening?)
Back to the blessing of translation: I recall an evening in 2012 when we enjoyed the hospitality of the Consul General, and Mihaela was launching her Romanian anthology Hierophanies; Loredana was there also, creating a report for SBS radio. I spoke a lot about translation. I had read various English translations of the Hierophanies and they were most helpful for someone who can’t read Romanian. However I became preoccupied with the monumental task of translating to the level of formal publication. Work as finely crafted as Mihaela’s with no spare syllables, that casts the spell of allusion, requires great creative power to bring to accurate life in another tongue. Personally I can’t calculate the percentage of books or libretti I read when growing up that I barely recognised were originally published in another language because the writing felt totally familiar. Of course such excellent translations exist of famous, established works, but aside from a poem here a story there, are they available to a new, emerging writer? Possibly not.
Coming from this concern regarding translation opportunities, you can imagine my delight in how strongly Loredana and Mihaela are not only pursuing their writing in Romanian from their new base here in Australia, but also writing in English. They have embraced the challenge of carrying their poetic voice (imbued with the structure and music of Romanian) into English without puzzling the ear of readers saturated in English. (I must mention, as surprisingly as sometimes Mihaela herself mentions it, that in her case, the non-Romanian Hamlet is an additional but well known influence.)
Trenul de Dantela – The Lace Train: Romanians, if Mihaela and Loredana are typical, are collegial characters. Here’s Loredana’s volume with two guest poets, Mihaela herself and Thomas Thorpe, plus illustrations. There are those who say images distract from poetry, and of course it can depend on the layout, but I like the inclusion of images and congratulations to the artist, Stefan Georgescu. Those of us who don’t successfully read Romanian can see that a few of the poems at the end of the main section have a partner in English on the next page. Charmed as I am by these, as a non-Romanian speaker I can’t do justice to the collection so I shall quote author Anamaria Beligan regarding The Lace Train:
“A solid and substantial volume, worked with wisdom. The old themes (existence as determination, friendship as salvation) are re-issued by the author with subtle detachment, a certain voluptuousness of incantation, and a ludic spirit that only a born poet knows how to command. Attention to the butterflies poems – they could conquer you.” This is a translation of text on the back cover.
Turning to Generative Fortresses, I won’t specifically comment on the poems beyond my summary printed in the anthology:
“Mihaela Cristescu’s poems are elegantly couched but delight in the unexpected, entertaining and needling the reader to see the universe anew. The more I read Cristescu, the better I find her words reflect the nuance of her intention; the touch is always light whether drama is encased and escaping simultaneously; or molecules are conjured to explain the movement, the moment. Ever interesting and pleasurable to read - small pieces of power, light and thought.”
Again, we see a visual artist featured, Luminita Serbanescu, who has, via Mihaela’s written contributions, appeared in a number of New Writers’ group anthologies. A generous colleague. On how we might approach the poetry within Mihaela’s latest collection, I shall quote the poet Fiona Wright:
“On the page, poetry is a slow kind of literature. A slow kind of reading, a slow kind of thinking; it is different to prose precisely because of this pace – you can’t read a poem quickly; or more precisely you can’t understand it at the same rate.”
These are the opening lines of an article appearing in the February/March 2015 edition of Newswrite in company with the performance poet Miles Merrill who discussed spoken word. This evening we will have spoken word presented by Maddy Slabascu and Catalin Anastase, who will read from the poets’ latest publications and we will enjoy the cadences of both languages, Romanian and English. However, poets cannot ride the bus with us and read out loud whenever we ask them to. In the long run we rely on the page. Which is why I quoted Fiona Wright. I hope people will read and then re-read these poems and savour what Wright said about poetry, using the Australian poet Gwen Harwood as an example:
“The power of page poetry is in this kind of strange unfolding, this enforced slowness, these double-takes and doubling backs. It’s in repetition and rethinking and, dare I say it, in contemplation.” And she concludes by saying: “Real power has to be worked at, and that’s only possible on the page.” In Generative Fortresses, this saying is borne out. I commend the poets for their publications, and on behalf of Carol Amos, President of the New Writers’ Group, thank them for their support of local writing which resonates beyond these city shores.
SUE CRAWFORD – Chief Editor ZineWest, Western Sydney Writers’ Magazine
27th March, 2015