Poetry in translation is often treated like a stepchild by publishers who are afraid their readers may not be able to relate to the imagery and the issues of a foreign land. No such concerns should keep anyone away from Ruxandra Cesereanu’s Lunacies, a slender volume of poetry originally written in Romanian in Transylvania, Romania. There’s no danger of getting lost in the vast pine forests of the Carpathian Mountains; we are in an age of globalization and in a postmodernist landscape which is untainted by any local color and unencumbered by obscure historical or mythological references. And we are in an artistic climate that nurtures the emancipation of the individual, relieving the poet of all political restrictions—and responsibilities as well. The poet is thus free to explore an inner landscape and report her findings in terms of poetic images, rather than images taken from the world around her; the landscape she inhabits is more isolated than the remotest valley or the highest peak of Transylvania, it’s the landscape of a soul driven into hiding by unhappy relationships that are barely hinted at, but their stark power is very convincing.
The object of her search eludes the poet even though all the elements of it are in her hands: the most extravagant metaphors, the most exquisitely chiseled phrases, lovingly polished similes; they seem to spill out of her grasp all over the pages, she seems to be overpowered by them. Every line contains a surprise, and she tosses one great line after another at the reader, expecting the reader to catch them all and make sense of them. This is a heavy demand and a great waste; every poem is bursting with throwaway lines, some disturbingly beautiful and some breathtakingly dramatic:
Never a dull moment in this inexorable avalanche of images but, unfortunately, there are few quiet moments around which these images could congeal into poetry. And sometimes high drama steps over into melodrama:
Doesn’t this take you back to the 19th Century? The metaphorical blood of her soul floods every poem and yet she remains strangely oblivious to the real bloodshed that plagued the Balkans. If she wanted to escape brutal reality then why take refuge in equally brutal surrealistic fantasies?
Ultimately we’re looking at a parade with richly decorated floats ready to go but indefinitely delayed. Why not strike up the band and get the show on the road? One can only take pleasure in the colorful language on display until one’s patience runs out waiting for things to happen. This kind of verbal pyrotechnics is not unknown in English, but the best practitioners of it know how to make it lend momentum to words.
But of course, given these luxurious mosaics of personal imagery, it may be ungracious of us to look for more; we should accept Cesereanu’s poetry as a genre of her own, a directionless ripple of words in the style of minimalist music.
The poet is lucky to have the US dean of Romanian poetry, Adam J. Sorkin, for her translator. He clearly luxuriates in the vivid wordplay and manages to breathe life into what could have easily turned into a succession of static and sterile lines.
Copyright © 2004 Paul Sohar. All Rights Reserved.