This is Part II of a four-part series about the Transylvania Poetry Festival. You can read Part I here.
- Day Two
The next morning began with Tara taking me for a walk around Sibiu. There are two adjacent town squares, both essentially only for pedestrians. A carnival had opened in the middle of the larger square with many rides, including a little roller coaster which we promised—but failed—to try later (someone told us the rides would operate until 2:00 AM, but they shut down much earlier). Tara showed me the beautiful concert hall and the old city wall.
And took me to Pardon, her favorite café, with its surprising décor:
At 2:00 PM, there was a discussion at the library by all the poets, under the direction of Florin Iaru, the celebrated Romanian poet, fiction writer, and media personality. The subject was Poetry and Social Action. It was a lively discussion, which in my exhausted condition I can barely remember, though I think I said something about poetry being a source of empathy and how dangerous that could be.
That evening, one of my new friends, the Hungarian poet Orsolya Fenyvesi, and I were following people to the reading at the Evangelical Church but seem to have fallen behind. We kept walking, but anything that looked like a church seemed to be getting further and further away. My phone rang and it was Radu, who was worried about our whereabouts. He asked me to tell him what street we were on, but that didn’t help, and when he asked if there were any landmarks, this was the only one I could distinguish:
That told him what he needed to know and he came and collected us. Much to my embarrassment (and delight) he provided the waiting audience with a complete explanation for the late start.
It was another terrific reading, and perhaps more varied in tone than the first one. Florin Iaru, with his media background (he had his own cultural show on national TV), was the funniest of all the poets and one of the liveliest of all the readers. Iaru’s “Down with Reality!” begins: “Between fork-poems, firecracker-poems, the fortresses poem— / the suppository-poem slips comfortably easy!”
The program included another out-going reader, the Irish poet Matthew Sweeney, who had actually spent some time living in Romania. I found “Inquisition Lane,” the title poem of his newest book, particularly striking:
I reached the river, and saw a boat there—
without thinking I jumped in. The oars
moved through the water by themselves
and brought me to Inquisition Castle
which had reassembled itself on the riverbank
and welcomed me into its dark basement.
His fellow Irishman, Maurice Devitt, retired from a career in business to study and write poems. He’s won significant awards but hasn’t yet published a book. One of his poems was maybe the most poignantly understated poem in the festival:
When tidying my house
I found your watch,
once splendent silver,
now a dappled snakeskin
of rust, fixoflex
set like crooked teeth.
I was seven
when I picked it up
to try it on.
Each word a challenge.
I could make
the hands go backwards,
wanted to open the back
and find the 17 jewels.
It stopped one day
and held its breath
for thirty years.
I wind it now
and the mechanism spins
through memories of you.
In two hours it gains
keen to catch up
on everything you missed.
There was the senior poet Sebastian Reichman, who spends half his time in Paris, whose poems are rooted in Romanian surrealism. He was there with his elegant wife. Even before hearing him read his mysterious and compelling poems, you’d know from his silvery mane that he was a poet. I was thoroughly tickled by the quietly droll Belgian Paul Bogaert, and enjoyed two gifted Romanian lyric poets, the tough-minded, self-ironic Marin Malaicu-Hondrari (who is also a novelist) and soulfully urban Stefan Menasia (who also edits a literary journal). Not least of all, Tara Skurtu gave a tough and moving reading that made me very proud to have been her teacher—including poems that came out of her previous visits to Romania. Here’s a link to one of my favorites among the poems she read.
Acoustically, the ancient church was a great venue for a poetry reading or guitarist Marius Sararu’s musical interlude. But there were some technical issues. At every reading, each poem was accompanied by a projected English translation (then for all the poems not originally in Romanian, either Vlad Pojoga or Daniela Luca read a Romanian translation). But the bumps and crannies of a 14th-century church wall don’t entirely cooperate with modern slide projections. So for the English speakers, the English translations here were harder to read.
Dinner was late that night, and given that I had to read the next night, I didn’t join the liberated readers for further revelry.