(Ed note: This is Part III in a four-part series about the Transylvania Poetry Festival. You can find yesterday's post here.)
Next day, I passed up Vlad’s talk (in Romanian) about his magazine and did a little more sightseeing with Tara. In the center of town, we passed seven formal weddings entourages (one near the picturesque Liar’s Bridge), and stopped at a little charcuterie for some slices of real Romanian pastrami. Then Tara took me up to the old clock tower for a look at the city from above:
That evening, Habitus would be the site of the last reading, and “The Crypt” looked particularly sparkling, and the translations would be projected onto a good movie screen. I was going to be the last reader—a position I didn’t take lightly. And the readers preceding me were all stellar. Hearing Anna Hallberg’s emphatically guttural Swedish added a savage auditory dimension to her poems. Several younger women poets immediately won me over. Orsolya Fenyvesi seemed a little nervous but I found her poems both touching and powerful. I especially liked “Der Hölle Rache,” which gives Mozart’s Queen of the Night a strong and personal new voice. Given Adela Greceanu’s shy and modest demeanor, you’d never know that she was a prize winning poet, novelist, and radio journalist. I loved the new and (I assume) semi-autobiographical poems she was reading about a girl named Adila. “The Provincial” begins “I lack any talent for being a woman.”
I’m sorry I didn’t really get to talk to the Romanian poet and Ginsberg translator Domnica Drumea; I especially admired her poem “Snow” (“the sun like an incision on the winter sky… I am a field of dirty snow”).The long family poem by 27-year-old Marius Conkan, the youngest poet in the festival, had a touch of Ginsberg too (“Dad used to bring home miners who were put to bed by his side, / he said they were his guardian angels”). The Moldovan poet Alexandru Vakulovski made his literary debut in 2002 publishing not only a book of poems, but also a novel, and a collection of plays. He’s wildly talented but I’m not sure he’s found the ideal English translators.
The Turkish poet, architect, and Hikmet scholar Efe Duyan was one of the most exciting poets at the festival—his poems were comic (“Russtylove” begins “I call you honeyovsky / didn’t we learn to love from Russian novels”) and tragic (sometimes both at once), ferociously personal and ferociously political. I was riveted, from the inventive “Call Centre”:
for the day you met school friends for the first time
please dial your lucky number
for the times you ran tirelessly around the playground
press all the numbers at random
for the steamed-up windows of greasy spoons
dial the year of the last family summer holiday
everybody has times they're ashamed of
do not tell the numbers you pick for these to anyone
for the tea and poğaça breakfasts you had on the university lawn
put the receiver down and go out onto the balcony
if you wish to complain about time flying furiously past
please press down hard on the button
if you realise that you don't remember your granddad exactly as he was
look in the mirror
for the smell of dusty books in second-hand bookstores
say the third letter of an illiterate labourer’s name
for your neighbourhood tailor who was found dead in rags
for that unpredictable moment
that you touched the neck of a woman in your sleep,
dial the same number over and over again
after the beep
the day after the break-up
write in your notebook one hundred times
'I am never going to fall in love again'
to the extraordinary “Looking at the Newspaper Clippings,” which ends:
…destroyed some police cars, AP (Party of Justice) buildings, signboards of the Tercüman Newspaper. In the course of two days,
those fateful days when everybody found another self within
more than one hundred and fifty thousand workers from 168 working place have participated in the demonstrations. Finally,
three apples fell from heaven
one apple agreed with those who went home and closed the shutters
one sympathised with those who saw things through, with or without regrets
the third discovered the beauty of rebellion
on June 17, martial rule was declared by the Government. Although the way had been paved for the 1971 military coup, the law amendment to the law that had triggered the demonstrations was cancelled.
although this vivid cortege did not last forever
a watch broken on this day
still tells the same time
Efe was also a dynamic reader. In fact, when he chose to read without a microphone, I was relieved, because I didn’t know how I was going to hold my poems and a microphone at the same time and I would have been too timid to break the precedent. Efe wasn’t.
Then it was my turn. It occurred to me that no one had really publicly thanked Radu and Dragos and Vlad and Catalina and everyone who had done such a masterful job putting this festival together. So I did, and it was as if all the poets and the entire audience were waiting for just that opportunity. Applause erupted, and with the greatest enthusiasm.
Then I read—eight poems I hoped would be appropriate to the occasion: poems about writing, about my mother, about my unknown Romanian grandmother (how could I not read this one?), about love, about travel, and about language.
and retired to Café Frieda for one last raucous dinner together: soup and schnitzel and delicious crepes stuffed with strawberry jam.