from lines poems poetry

Mircea Ivănescu

pale stars

many years ago he wrote a short story about
a girl with unhurried gestures—he was walking her home
one night along a broad boulevard, so broad
that, although in the heart of the city, the stars could be seen overhead—(the
                                                                              stars
are spilling everywhere—he said, 'look there, at aldebaran'. and if she asked
which of the twinkles was aldebaran
he'd reply, 'any of them'. she must have been extraordinarily quiet.
several years later they told me the girl
in the short story was a real person—recently, she had
died of cancer. in fact, i must have known
his story was only a transcription. i believe
he'd have wanted very much to love her). a lot of time
has gone by since then. today, on a rainy, dirty
morning among these tall, gray houses—
i'm passing the entrance to a building where one night,
a lifetime ago, he kissed her hand. he died
soon after—she, many years later.
and now i'm walking down the same street.





scene from a french novel


a story with young existentialists. the enormous room,
music shredding the light under lampshades, tossing it aside
in corners. groups scattered here and there. by the heater throwing a lurid
crimson light upon her, the girl with hair over her eyes
and down on her shoulders, sheathing her moon-pale body
in dense black fog. at her feet, looking stern,
whispering from below, the men, bearded,
in turtleneck sweaters (as if passengers
on a windy sea voyage), and lining the shelves
of a bookcase, cactus plants waiting in ambush.
on the broad windowsill, a girl whose eyes
shine with a brilliant glow, drinking a bluish liquid
from a tall glass—like a revolver's gleam, like Aztecs
crying out with fear as the sun sets—with pinched looks,
young men bowing before her—and a frozen
melancholy keeping her at a distance from everything. in the far corner
solemn mumbling that existence now precedes essence,
and the girl with thin lips replying that in the game of the absence
of qualities, any of them can be a project
(but in a chorus they repeat to her—'or you!'). strange
waves of smoke wafting from the hoarse music
envelop them, sprouting from their chests like
weeds. later on, one of them draws her under the thick veil
of a dance around the room as a topsy-turvy blur
of alcohol, and he murmurs in her ear, his meaning
mostly fumes from his breath smoky with alcohol—
'i too have a project—to go insane'—and by a detour
leads her the long way out to the room next door.
she knows it's a quotation, however—laughs—firmly pushes him aside
                                                                              somewhere.
that's another story. we might go on much further if we dare.

translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Lidia Vianu



Read the original in Romanian

Mircea Ivănescu (1931–2011) is a major Romanian voice of the second half of the twentieth century. He published his first book, lines (1968), at the age of thirty-seven, and continued to produce volumes featuring his plain, lower-case titles—among them, poems (1970), poetry (1970), other lines (1972), other poems (1973), new poetry (1982), and poems old, new (1989). An indefatigable translator of English, German and French literature into Romanian, he was responsible for works by Kafka, Arendt, Leonard Bernstein, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Musil, and a 1986 anthology of contemporary American poetry. His prizes in Romania span two decades. The translations in Asymptote were included in lines poems poetry by Mircea Ivănescu, translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Lidia Vianu, and published in the UK by the University of Plymouth Press, 2009; the book was shortlisted for the Poetry Society (U.K.) biennial Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation.

Adam J. Sorkin is a translator of contemporary Romanian literature whose work has won the Poetry Society (U.K.) Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation for 2005, as well as the Kenneth Rexroth Memorial Translation Prize and the Ioan Flora Prize for Poetry Translation. Recent books include Mircea Ivănescu's lines poems poetry (2009), Ioan Es. Pop's No Way Out of Hadesburg (2010), and Ion Mureșan's The Book of Winter and Other Poems (2011), all translated with Lidia Vianu and published by University of Plymouth; the Ivănescu selection was shortlisted for the Poetry Society Popescu Prize for 2011. In 2011, he published A Path to the Sea by Liliana Ursu, translated with Ursu and Tess Gallagher (Pleasure Boat Studios—Silver Award Winner of ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in poetry); Ioan Flora's Medea and Her War Machines, translated with Alina Cârâc (University of New Orleans Press); and The Vanishing Point That Whistles: An Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry (Talisman House).

Lidia Vianu is a Professor of English at the University of Bucharest, and Director of the Centre for the Translation and Interpretation of the Contemporary Text. She has been Fulbright lecturer at University of California Berkeley and SUNY Binghamton. Her publications include the "Desperado project": The Desperado Age: British Literature at the Start of the Third Millennium (Bucharest UP, 2004); Alan Brownjohn and the Desperado Age (Bucharest UP, 2003; and British Desperadoes at the Turn of the Millennium (ALL Publishing, Bucharest, 1999); two books of interviews, Censorship in Romania (Central European UP, 1997), and Desperado Essay-Interviews (Bucharest UP, 2006); a novel, Prisoner in the Mirror (1993); three poetry collections, 1, 2, 3 (1997), Moderato 7 (1998), and Very (2001); and four translated books. Her most recent book, The AfterMode: Significant Choices in Contemporary British Fiction came out in 2010.