12 June 09 | Chad W. Post

The most recent addition to our review section is a piece by Daniela Hurezanu on Memory Glyphs: 3 Prose Poets from Romania, which was recently released in the U.S. by Twisted Spoon Press and is translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin with Radu Andriescu, Mircea Ivanescu, and Bogdan Stefanescu. Like all TSP books, the book itself is really elegant, and the contents aesthetically interesting.

In his preface, translator Adam Sorkin explains a bit about the collection:

First of all, the title of this anthology was lifted from the Radu Andriescu prose poem that closes the book, “The Aswan High Dam.”’ To me, the image suggests a major preoccupation of the prose poem, an esthetic amalgam as it were carved of blocks of words (as in the root of “glyph,” from the idea of cut or incised grooves or sacred symbols or script). In contrast to verse, the prose poem is a formless form, oxymoronic, with both lightness and heft, a chiseled, lapidary, elliptical poetry I have long admired. Not surprisingly then, the impetus for this anthology was my own, as was the choice of poets.

Daniela Hurezanu—who herself is a translator from both French and Romanian, and has even translated W.S. Merwin into French—wrote a fantastic review of this book that opens:

Of the three authors featured in the prose poem collection Memory Glyphs, beautifully translated from the Romanian by Adam Sorkin with Mircea Ivanescu, Bogdan Stefanescu and one of the poets (Radu Andriescu), only the latter is still alive. From the translator’s preface we find out that Cristian Popescu died when he was not even thirty-six “from a heart attack that was induced by his medication for schizophrenia and depression in potent mixture with vodka drinking.” Iustin Panta (pronounced Pantza) died at the same age as Popescu, in a car accident.

In Cristian Popescu’s prose poems, the author himself becomes a character—or so we assume, since we are dealing with someone called Cristi or Popescu. But he isn’t just any character; he is a figure in a family myth based on his own transfigured biography, in which the idyllic and the grotesque mingle in unexpected ways. I would say that, of the three authors, Popescu is the most untranslatable, not because of his language, but because of a certain Romanian sensibility, which is much harder to “translate” into English than words. For example, in “Advice from my mother,” he describes his mother who, after giving birth, felt crippled, and prepared to suckle her baby by powdering and rouging her breasts. She takes comfort, she says, “thinking that one day, someone will curse him [i.e., the baby] and tell him to stick himself back into his mother.” This is a slightly awkward translation of the most vulgar Romanian curse (“Go back into your mother’s c___!” or, in a more polite version, “Go back into your mother’s thing!”). In other words, Popescu’s image of his sentimental mother is done via the most obscene expression in the Romanian language. This union of some very contrary states—the sentimental and the utterly grotesque—which is natural for a Romanian, may not be for a native English-speaker.

Click here for the complete review.


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