Romanian poetry – Of Gentle Wolves

Publishing collective Calypso Editions has followed up its new translation of Tolstoy’s How Much Land Does a Man Need and its collection of Polish poet Anna Swir’s poems about the Warsaw Uprising, Building the Barricade and Other Poems, with an anthology of Romanian poetry titled Of Gentle Wolves.

Translated by Martin Woodside the slim book offers a broad and interesting selection of poets – from the canonical founder of Romanian surrealism Gellu Naum (1915 – 2001) and other poets that had to navigate a literary path in Ceauşescu’s regime to a generation of poets born in the 1970s , for whom communism and censorship are only references to the past.

As with Calypso’s previous books the text is presented in its original language and English translation on facing pages. What the book does not contain is any biographical information about the poets. In his introduction Woodside emphasizes his desire to get beyond schools and categories:

“So, one could read Gellu Naum as a first generation surrealist and O. Nimigean as a post-modern one, but, really, who cares? Both poets proudly bear the influence of the surrealist movement (a movement with distinctive if largely unrecognized Romanian roots), but more notably, each poet has used that influence to craft a voice that’s firmly rooted in tradition and emphatically new.”

Valid points, certainly, but reading a poem and not knowing whether it was written in 1935 or 2005 will affect your perception of it. Of course, there is ample information on the older and established poets here available online – less to nothing (in English) about some of their younger compatriots, but anyway this is just a minor point.

The array of styles and sensibilities in Of Gentle Wolves makes it well worth reading and an interesting compliment to the growing profile of Romanian prose in translation. (Of the contemporary writers included in the book O. Nimigean is also a novelist – with some information and an excerpt from his novel And Juniper Roots for Their Meat accessible online).

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Categories: Book Reviews


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