Martin Woodside reviews MARGENTO's Nomadosofia/Nomadosophy

Translated from the Romanian by various translators (Casa de Editura Max Blecher, 2012)

Assessing Eastern European poetry after communism, Andrew Wachtel describes "the New Internationalism." In this distinctive poetics, the writer moves beyond nationalism to refine and expand a sense of national identity in an increasingly transnational world. Wachtel uses Romanian poet Liliana Ursu and her poem "Heart Washed like a Brain, Europe for Sale" to sound out the New Internationalism's parameters. In his analysis, Ursu's poetry moves fluidly between the United States and Romania, and the speaker exists neither as pioneer or exile but rather as "a new species of East European internationalist," one whose ability to cross borders emboldens and enriches her poetic voice.

Nearly twenty years after Ursu first published that poem, a host of contemporary Romanian writers have pushed beyond Wachtel's New Internationalism, shaping the contours of a truly global poetics that defies easy categorization. In fact, this ad-hoc movement may be best understood through its inherent refusal to work within the framework of 'push-pull' factors that often serve to simplify cultural exchanges between the East and the West. And perhaps no one—or no thing—better exemplifies the swaggering freewheeling ethos of this poetic moment than MARGENTO.

In simplest terms, MARGENTO is the Romanian poet and translator Chris Tanasescu. At the same time, MARGENTO could be described as a rock band, a multi-media performance troupe, and an international coalition of writers and translators. As David Baker puts it: "Margento is a caravan, a circus, and a brawl. It is a global, multi-languaged, powerful performance troupe made of more than fifty poets (From Darwish to Ly Doi to Ng to Oeur) working in a brand new kind of theater."

Those words grace the back cover of MARGENTO's Nomadosofia/Nomadosophy, a sprawling 2012 book, in facing page Romanian and English translation, that serves as the most powerful example of what I'm attempting to capture here. From its opening invocation of Tanasescu's hometown of Brăila to its powerful final nocturne, Nomadosophy bristles with restless energy and disarming immediacy. The poetry—in form and subject—is wildly diffuse, and MARGENTO's tone proves equally enthusiastic. One readily senses the great fun Tanasescu must have had putting this elaborate pastiche together, and the feeling is infectious. Pop music lyrics jostle with fragments from Charles Wright and Jerome Rothenberg. Conversations with Rothenberg work their way into lyrical mediations on etymology. Poems are translated from Vietnamese into English (and then into Romanian), while an email exchange about the process of translating the poems runs across the bottom of the page. And so on and so on.

It would be easy to trace the scope and range of Nomadosophy to Tanasescu's wanderings. While working on this book, he's moved from Romania to Vietnam to the United States and finally to France, and the book reads like a passport of sorts, bearing the stamps of the many friends and collaborators he met along the way—to which, full disclosure, I plead guilty on both counts. On the other hand, Tanasescu has been working out this calculus for two decades now. He's published four books of poetry under his own name in Romania, translated the first Romanian language collections of David Baker and Ilya Kaminsky, and served as poet-vocalist for the rock band version of MARGENTO, winners of a gold record in Romania and a press prize at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. If anything, Nomadosophy represents the inevitable coalescence of Tanasescu's diverse interests, and what's more, a reflection of broader trends in contemporary Romanian poetry.

For Tanasescu is not alone in exploring the possibilities of this new global poetics. For instance, the spirit that drives Nomadosophy can also be found in the work of Claudiu Komartin, one of Romania's most celebrated young poets and the driving force behind Poesis International and Casa de Editură Max Blecher, both launched in 2010. The former already stands out as Romania's most ambitious literary journal, presenting an impressive array of global literatures in Romanian and English. The latter offers a much-needed outlet for innovative projects like Nomadosophy and the like-minded Dramadoll by Iulia Militaru and Anca Bucur, a book that blends language and form, mixing original poetry and graphic art with excerpts lifted from fiction, poetry, cultural theory, and (of course) You Tube.

As different as they are, Komartin, Militaru, Bucur, and Tanasescu—along with a host of others including Radu Vancu, Răzvan Țupa, Elena Vlădăreanu and Felix Nicolau—share a similar profile: proficient in multiple languages, well-traveled, entrenched in Romanian literary tradition, and equally immersed in the poetries (and pop cultures) of Europe, the United States and beyond. Most importantly, these poets all share a strong commitment to channeling diverse cultural impulses into an expansive sense of poetic identity.

And make no mistake, Nomadosophy is every bit as rooted in questions of identity as Ursu's poetry. The book comes full circle, beginning and ending in Rome. That first poem, "Overture me Gnorant Gypsy Play Accordion Rome," muses on the life of the wanderer, the stark economics of the Euro Zone, the stigma of the gypsy, and the traditional craft stolen from the speaker—a music that is always stolen but never lost. The speaker takes shelter in this larceny, forever seeking the border, the life flourishing in the margins. In the poem's finale, "The Coming Backs," the strain of uncertainty has begun to show:

Round midnight I ran into the Gypsieswho fished coins with their magnets out of theFontana di Trevi—what is it that stirs such painfulrestlessness in man to always look for a home, for a country?
These restless yearnings are quickly soothed by a sense of something opening, a powerful sense of coming-together that can be measured in an object as small as a magnet, a sense of possibilities as vast as the cosmos:

The coins glisten in the night's waters, constellated,being pulled up by the magnet's black hole;if out of reflex you lift them to your lipsthirst will quicken in you as if sealed in a bottle—animula, blandula, vagula...
by many temptations being distressed/in search of salvation, unto you I have taken flight.

Finally, the book's parting words beckon the reader to join in the song as the beat goes emphatically on:

The life's journey starting
right now, and it's food: Let the music play!