I am very pleased and feel privileged to be here, at the launch of two books of poems: Mihaela Cristescu’s GENERATIVE FORTRESSES and TRENUL DE DANTELA (THE LACE TRAIN) by Loredana Tudor Tomescu.
I have met Mihaela a few times at cultural events and I count Loredana a friend.
To use a good Australian phrase – I am a ring-in for I know no Romanian, and I have never visited that land.
However on a couple of accessions I read some of my own poems at literary functions at the Romanian Consulate General when it was in Elizabeth Bay.
One of my memories of those readings is seeing the wall of portraits of Romanian rulers, including the fiercely whiskered face of Vlad.
I do have something in common with all of you here tonight – I am a lover of poetry.
And I have something else in common with many of you – I am a migrant.
That influences my feelings and my reactions to poems I read, for, like everyone, I bring my history, language, upbringing, and experiences to the poems I hear or read. Even though at most times I may not be conscious of doing so.
Not knowing your language I can only comment on the poems by Mihaela and Loredana in English.
Both write concise poems with short lines. Most poems written today are short. I think that is more than a matter of fashion, for it is part a response to the nature of communication these days, at least in the “Western World”.
These days’ messages tend to be eye or ear grabbing – and often fast and furious. Perhaps it is not surprising that people don’t seem to have the time or patience to read long poems. There is little point in writing a lengthy work if it won’t be read. Mihaela and Loredana appear to be responding to current reality and sensibly so.
Actually that is not a new idea there is an English saying – brevity is the soul of wit.
First a word about the titles of these books – both contain sharp contrasts.
Mihaela’s collection is called GENERATIVE FORTRESSES.
What a contrast – Generative means life, development, succession, hope. A fortress is cold, forbidding, restrained, oppressive.
Loredana’s book is titled TRENUL DE DANTELA – in English – THE LACE TRAIN, a name based on an actual art work.
Again what a contrast – Lace so fine, so delicate. A locomotive is steel, power, movement.
Both titles are evocative and both are more than a little mysterious.
My overall impression of both poets is of their intensity which is seen just how much they pack into their short lines. In part this results from their use of strong, meaningful words – words clearly chosen with care. In many cases the word chosen is a little unusual – there is an element of surprise.
And it is clear to me that both poets are brave enough to put something of themselves on public view. This is not to draw attention to themselves, but is because of the nature of what they are writing about, and because they are being honest with the reader and with themselves.
I am going to read two poems from each collection – obviously poems in English.
of the castle
in its deep water
along the moat.
It is the time
when people’s mind
It is the place
where His Majesty
approach in puzzles.
I have mentioned the matter of what the reader, or hearer brings to a poem. When reading THE TRACE I am influenced by the fact that I grew up in a land of castles. As a boy I used to cycle out to visit them, and I wondered about them and about who built them, and who occupied them.
So I can see the shadows moving as the sun moves. I can see towers reflected in the moat. And from experience I know that so much history was determined for good or for bad from within such walls.
They called me
that the war was over.
We have survived
more than doctors said,
an entire vicinity
of funny words
Then, they called me
we can rest
for the time
when the airplanes
are going to land
They told me
it was Sunday.
We met them
around the fire:
an hour or two
they called me
it is Monday again.
I find this poem unsettling. Words can be unsetting. And this poem is clearly about war. I was a schoolboy in World War II, while I was one of the lucky ones that time has left me with clear and often stark memories. And some years later I was a soldier – you can’t forget your training and experiences.
But in the poem there is the feeling that time goes on – Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday… At least it goes on for the survivors.
or almost noise…
or almost enemies...
or almost hate…
A wide, endless grey area…
Somewhere far a red line
bordering the horizon
like an almost wide
and an almost deep
in an almost
This is a poem about relationships. It is an honest reflection that human relationships are rarely as happy and as complete as we would wish them to be.
I too have wished…as I am sure most of you have.
the matinée starts!
Quick! The mask of strong woman
the outfit of a happy one!
The make-up! C'mon!
It's not ready yet!
You, people, have forgotten
to draw my smile
all the way
to the end.
What about the foundation?
Can't you see
it's running off?
Can't you see the sobbing
Oh! The audience is going to be horrified,
They're going to ask - and it's just right!- for a refund...
All those hopes they have
invested in me…
(and when you think
they all had tickets
for the front seats)
Why, in the name of God,
are you causing so much trouble,
Is it that hard to learn
a tiny role
No, of course not!
It's just that
I've learnt it so well
that I don't know anymore
from where to where is the role
from where to WHEN
is the life…
Whether Loredana intended it or not, it is a very revealing poem, one that reveals more than a little of the poet’s feelings. But if we can’t show our feelings, what then? And let us be positive – life goes on. It may even get better. We may even be able to make it a little better. So let’s do what we can while we may. All of us have a role, and most of us have a tiny role, as do almost all the billions of persons on earth.
I am reminded of VESTI LA GUBBA, from Leoncavallo’s PALIACCI – which can be summarised as: “The show must go on!”
All four poems are powerful, and do more than tempt, they prod the reader into thinking, perhaps into thinking about themselves. They are certainly not verse for greeting cards.
A final general comment about the two books – both are visually attractive. How a book looks can greatly influence the potential reader, and make the actual reading either more or less pleasant, regardless of the beauty and appeal of the ideas and of the words themselves. Book layout is so important. These books are set out in most attractive forms. Both are generously illustrated, with illustration that add to the work. Mihaela and Loredana have been well served by the artists they chose to illuminate their work.
I congratulate Mihaela and Loredana on the publication of their books, which are works of much thought and effort, as well as being works of the heart.
These days we hear talk about multicultural Australia less frequently than we did a few years ago. But Australia’s nature and at least part of its success comes from being multicultural. These two works are excellent examples of the best in multiculturalism.
So Mihaela and Loredana – keep writing in Romanian and English: write for others to read and to enjoy.
Many in the audience have the good fortune of having the advantage of Romanian culture and its language. May I as a migrant from Western Europe, say to you all – hold onto your culture and to your language. Read and write and pass both on.
At the State Library of New South Wales, 27th March 2015