Poetical Bridges – Poduri Lirice by Valentina Teclici, translator and editor.
Napier: Scripta Manent Publishing House Ltd (2016).
RRP: $20. Pb, 213pp.
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell.
In this book, Valentina Teclici has assembled, edited and translated three poems each from 12 Romanian and 12 New Zealand poets. This first volume of Poetical Bridges – Poduri Lirice is published in New Zealand and printed in Romania; it has been reviewed (in print and on the radio) in Greece, Australia and Canada, as well as in its two parent countries. The Romanian/New Zealand community numbers several thousand people, and – in a country that professes support for community languages – bilingual publishing should be supported wherever it exists or is trying to exist.
So, about the poems. As far as the translations go, I can’t comment. Certainly the translator has matched lines, structures, and rhyme patterns, but it’s for more educated reviewers than I am to judge. It looks like an amazing job, not least in that the poems are presented in such as way that no one language looks like the dominant one.
The content, however, is a different matter entirely – I had a lot of surprises and learned a lot, always a good thing. First of all, the scenery. I have been many years in New Zealand and had stopped noticing how pervasive the landscape is in poetry. Nature is out there all over the show, and there is no getting away from her. Ever.
Reading the Romanian selections is a reminder that the world contains buildings, cities, skies:
For a while I feel my wings growing
And I try them out – as a young lark,
Stolen by misunderstood bravery,
That bolts him into an unnatural sky.
I am distancing myself from people, rising vertically
Towards a shore of infinite joy … (‘“The Burden” of Today’s World …”, Tudor Opriş, p 23).
Paul Sân-Petru’s forest moves away from us and is not part of us:
Too dark the forest is stretching
Take care, woodman, leave room,
For this swan wood of moonlight
And don’t look at it as being good for fire. (“At the Edge of the Grove”, p 37).
Mariana Gurza’s images of love are entirely structural:
My love, you are a foundation
of the new era’s monastery …
I’ll answer you through a bell
every clink is a whisper, … (“Monastery”, p 115).
Compare these with Dorothy Wharehoka’s very Kiwi “Midwinter” (p 28), where
We are enclosed
in a giant deepfreeze. …
has gripped us
in his hands.
Another surprise was the sound level. The New Zealand poets are surrounded by noise. “On Te Mata Peak in summer” (p 38), Marie Dunningham hears:
Up there somewhere unseen
skylarks warble their incessant, English song
as boys explore a wilderness that could be the Australian desert. Bill Sutton’s remembered girl
… stripped off all her clothes
and rushed out into lake
splashing and squealing (“The lake” p 76).
For Ian McQuillan:
Birdsong bursts the bubble of night
Cracks open the can of day …
We have to sing
How can you remain silent?
Most of the selections originally written in Romanian seem very quiet – in most of the poems there is unremarked silence, occasionally broken with a whisper:
It’s impossible to fly with you, you whispered. …
Everything is possible, I whispered,
Receiving an echo from four horizons.
I flew away, on a blue colt
And planted a water lily in the desert. (“From Impossible to Possible”, Valentina Teclici, p 91).
Even the dance is silent; vivid motion is described in the preceding poem, and also by Monica Săvulescu Voudouri, but neither mentions sound:
the dances, suddenly leans towards the ground,
but gathering strength
to start again. ([Poem 3], Monica Săvulescu Voudouri, p 49).
For Ana Anton,
Your soul sneaks in one evening
Into the hut of my silence
To heal me. (“Journey”, p 105).
Why these differences? It would be too easy (and most likely wrong) to set up yahooing outdoor Kiwis against murmuring urbane Romanians, and I would expect there to be excellent social or political reasons behind each way of going about things.
I did feel that there were a couple of cross-over poets (the translator and Alexandra Balm) who have a foot in both camps. Perhaps they can tell us – it’s a language/society matter, not a lit crit one, and we need their experience. Maybe the second volume (now in preparation) will tell us more. I look forward to seeing it, and I’m happy to have had a chance to read this collection.
Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on the Kapiti Coast. Fish Stories, a collection of ghazals and glosas, was published by Canterbury University Press in 2015.