Cosmin Borza on Contemporary Romanian Poets

Between the visionary and the quotidian

Just after the year 2000, Romanian poetry became creatively exuberant to an extent it had not been since the 1980s, the times that saw the first works of Mircea Cărtărescu, Matei Vişniec, Alexandru Muşina, Ion Mureşan, and Bogdan Ghiu. Poetry started to undergo defining theoretical advances as the poets of the so-called 'Generation 2000' (douămiişti) extended the two major directions sketched out in the 1990s: on the one hand that of a poetry of reality, of existential routine (with plenty of influences borrowed from avant-garde poetry or the American Beats), on the other a neo-expressionist, visionary poetry, one made up of the revelations that transcend everyday oblivion.

In this new poetic orientation's first statement—The Fracturist Manifesto, initially launched in October 1998 and revised in 2001 with its publication in the journal Vatra—Marius Ianuş and Dumitru Crudu proposed a "new movement of those who live the same way that they write, removing social pretense from their poetry", "in order to attain the vivid complexity of reality and individuality", and "the most extreme sensations and states felt the hard way", because "the time of living, assumed, real poetry has come". Many such statements, outlining the novelty sought by Generation 2000's poetry, have appeared over the last decade, and yet none of the poets present any concrete conceptualization of what this kind of poetics should entail.

The critics, for their part, have also not wholly or compellingly validated or theorized these poetic mutations of the new millennium, since the critics' reception of current poetry is rife with rather heteroclite classifications:

Unfeigned reality: the misery, the crudeness and the existential roughness of the disoriented, disenchanted, and dispiriting youth of a transitional Romania. The mental retch, the deprimist alienation and rawness as protest, the escape in sex, alcohol, violence and drugs, biographical and social commitment. Traumas, deliria, psychedelic nightmare apocalyptic visions, complete contempt and radical disenchantment [...] Aggressive poetry, anarchically permeated by beats and hip-hop. Neo-expressionism and hyper-realism, Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, Bukowski...
This confluence of so many artistic orientations makes it impossible to grasp Romanian poetry using umbrella terms, which is why I suggest the following specific analyses that focus on some of the 'Generation 2000' writers who have asserted themselves in the last decade.

Marius Ianuş, Elena Vlădăreanu – 'Bards' of 'Generation 2000'

I'm growing mad, RomaniaI'm beginning to go berserk between the inner worldand the outer one, RomaniaI could have been a poet of what lies withinhad I had anything to eat,RomaniaI'm hungry, RomaniaWhy am I hungry, Romania?I want to sleep and never wake up, Romania! I want to die!–Marius Ianuș, Romania

First we should mention the poets who, more or less explicitly, define themselves as spokespeople for contemporary youth. Aggressive, non-conformist, disenchanted, and fractured within by a repressive, destructive society, they proclaim (as Mircea Dinescu has been doing since the 1970s) their anarchist revolt, undermining both the last remaining tentacles of communist mentality and the psychological collapse caused by capitalist consumerism.

Marius Ianuş, for instance, in his Anarchist Manifesto and Other Fractures (2000), Bear in the Bin—a Movie Featuring Myself (2002), Toilet Paper Preceded by the First Poems (2004), Out with the Smurfs from the Factory (2007), resembles a manic scribbler who enumerates all the ideas, sensations, states triggered by daily existence in a stream of consciousness. The poet's—at times mannerist—obsession with the themes of misery, mediocrity, inconsistency, and the world's crumbling allows for many different poetic subjectivities, granting Ianuş's character a singular status. Ianuş, the 'theoretician' of fracturism, manages to generalize his perspective through objectification and by portraying the victims that populate his texts in mythical terms. The martyr is thus saved through self-sacrifice, agreeing to self-flagellation in order to awaken others. Ianuş's eccentric character achieves centrality by taking the notion of protest to a macro-social level:

I've written this poem inmy own blood on the street[...]I am Jesus Christ and they want to seize me in the street![...]I stay with the poor on the street,I drink and I holler all day long,I am free to govern any country, under any lawsand I can converse with the Messiah
Although Elena Vlădăreanu rejects the writer tag, she is nevertheless deemed a classic poet of Generation 2000. In her 2005 collection, europe, ten funeral songs, Vlădăreanu states that she can see herself in "each wretched glue-sniffer," "in each hungry and hunted dog," "in drunk men choking with barf". Next, this new bard of Romania's youth shares the most grotesque situations she has lived through, from people's cruelty to religious fanaticism or to her disgust with daily existence:

insecuritypovertydejectionconceit hatredthis is the path to europewe no longer have expectationsour faces are rat faceswe no longer dream of Americawe kill ourhappiness is on our lips

With stanzas that fluctuate between laments and curses, such manifestoes seem to require moral solidarity rather than literary evaluation.

Claudiu Komartin, Dan Sociu – Expressionist Miserablists

as time goes by I find my body further and further away from methe flesh of my arm already sagging and cold like a string of pearlsscars and clots tied like lichens on my skinawaiting a quake to bury me alive one nightand how much longer could I keep on writingwhile I remain so scantily outfittedin the common state of helplessness and decaymy cheek burning and my eyes facing the crumbling wallnow when in the clang of the glasses still lingerthe traces of the lips which will no longer tastethe fear of the morning wrenching the windows open.– Claudiu Komartin, Poem
A similarly obsessive tendency to unveil the existential is also obvious in several other Generation 2000 representatives, for instance Claudiu Komartin, Dan Sociu, and Radu Vancu. In their own unique fashion, these authors use poetic formulae to attain a heightened fluidity. The characteristic aspects critics tried to isolate, specifically these poets' minimalism, routine, visionary miserablism, and neo-expressionism, were exactly those elements the poets strived to reconcile, and the hybrid thus born frequently offers beautiful results.

Claudiu Komartin, for instance, who debuted in 2003 with The Puppeteer and Other Insomnia, which was awarded many literary prizes, launched a discussion on young poets' revival of expressionism. Komartin's poetic protagonist is an introvert, schizoid, slightly paranoid, always threatened by an outside world of universal evil. Living among "people of fissure", alongside glue-sniffers, "deceiving monks", "devil-haunted churches", and "moths as butterflies" that trigger an absurd insomnia, he stays away from being shocked/shocking through vulgar language, favoring a kind of victimization that is synonymous here with a redeeming, virtually renewing isolation within one's own core. Though he will certainly there too encounter the dread, the trauma, the helplessness, or the "beast that cries", yet, starting from this point, his process of ontological amplification does allow him to catch a glimpse of a new dimension. Komartin identifies a guardian deity within himself, as well as a mission—an inspired poet's mission, the mission of the poet who sacrifices himself in order to found a newly innocent human race. The best poems are built on the very 'I' that embraces (at times pathetically) the 'stigma' of inner darkness. No wonder that in his next volume, Domestic Circus (2005), the poet turned into an advocate of sentimental losers, choosing to focus on ordinary daily existence, with some texts' minimalism even moving toward miserablism.

Dan Sociu uses different, frequently programmatically opposed means/attitudes and yet achieves nearly identical results in his books: brother louse (2004) and eXcessive Songs (2005). Through direct and stylistically barren description of student or teenage years drenched in grotesque parties, orgies, and drunkenness etc., the 'I' in the first two volumes displays a marked non-conformism (sometimes gloomy, other times playful-ironic). Placed in a household context, Sociu's asthenic, bored and cursed protagonist lucidly contemplates his daily misery. Feeling increasingly frustrated with the meekness induced by poverty and disease, he intensifies his nausea, exorcising it by an excessive accumulation of liminal experiences. "The upturned cross is the sign of my generation," he states, promoting a normality of promiscuous living, a new "aesthetics of evil": only complete immersion in misery can lead to the revelation of those elements by which humanity can be regenerated.

Ştefan Manasia, Dan Coman – 'Generation 2000' Remixes the Visionary Poet

exalted, I'm contemplating once again my failuresperversely, shamelesslya bad cold has chilled my bonesI'm scattered away by laxnessfailure, that's the only thing worth consideringI tell myself, this knife, cunninglike the first love, the first territoryconquered by eyes and tongue and teethfailure, as if it were the most successful storythe tombstone of my triumphsthe rotten tooth I sucked ononly to spit–Ștefan Manasia, ostroveni. life and contacts
The post-2000 poets also develop in a more hardcore direction, that of the "visionaries" who fully embrace the poet/creator condition. No matter how ordinary or commonplace their lives, they create an actual creed to live by; these poets attempt to identify and reveal more serious, essentialist layers of existence, their work thick with signification and symbol, and they thus go beyond the exhausted sensorial perception of their contemporaries. Readily deemed expressionists, existentialists, or surrealists (extending the poetic style of Gellu Naum or Ileana Mălăncioiu), these poets no longer take delight in assimilating a hideous materiality; instead, they isolate the effects of their contact with the surrounding misery in an interiority whose function is almost alchemic.

It is no accident that Ştefan Manasia begins his first two volumes—Amazon (2003) and The Book of Small Invasions (2008)—with proper artes poeticae in which he sighs over the state of the man who is aware of "a poet's destiny" amid a world of artifacts. This world alienates him from the self and from the "tiny useless fascinating" objects in which beauty is left barely breathing. The colors, the flight, the song, and the dance present in daily life make themselves known to the poet and, at the same time, draw him up, forcing him to tell their story. Afraid to exacerbate artifice, he chooses to let himself infiltrated by all of reality, to the point where the embraced states and sensations are shaped into (poetic) explosions:

you'd like to think like the insectsto fly like them in the pounding airbecause everything echoes the oceanic movement of the blood[...]because it is the blood only which is both victim and slayergushing along orange laneswatering the weak muscle that protects the heart and the capillarieswith everything bursting out of the blue
Dan Coman proposes a similar visionary capacity in his books: the year of the yellow mole (2003) and Ghinga (2005). In most of his texts, the poet plays the role of a 'chosen' individual who exaggerates both his singular nature and his existential mediocrity. His incorporation of subjectivity in a continuous state of emergency, a hypersensitivity that cannot be expressed freely outside of writing, is more than a mere revival of the romantic myth of inspiration, since Coman's lyrical discourse endlessly convulses metamorphoses of a singular concern: encountering his own interiority. In the form of a "yellow mole" or of the titular character from Ghinga, this dread carries a similar strength. And such inner overflow from the existential void must be written down: " wee hours I am pushed like a trolley at my desk/I am pushed to write/and while I write it turns as if it were in its grave".

Teodor Dună, T.S. Khasis – the Real Fracturists

the end is rising like a new dayabove our dark homeshere it's just usand those who are no longerwe each carry a cross the year of birth and the year of death carved on itwe sit silent near it and heat our earth with our palmswe put it in the seams of our clothes and wear it like a shadow ofour bodywe hold our forty-day seven-year memorial servicewe bring death on this sideand dress it in our broken wordsperhaps this is why we are us only half as muchwe've never had the guts to be altogether aliveor altogether dead–Teodor Dună, altogether alive
The most homogenous and most original young poets are Teodor Dună and T.S. Khasis. Marius Ianuş may have coined an umbrella term for these poets' new reality—social, psychological, aesthetic fracturism—, but he theorized it in a utopian-restrictive manner and poetically configured it in a rather diluted fashion. Of the many poets who tried to provide metaphysical depth—or, on the contrary, a miserablist(-expressionist) top layer—to the breaks, schizoidia, and apocalyptic gaps everywhere in the new millennium's anxious existence, those who wanted to deconstruct such imaginary invariables through a "pacifist" discourse were too few. Lacking a socio-literary, revolutionary emphasis, these few poets manage to "tame" the void, granting it the values of their own interiority or life experience.

Placing the poems in his debut volume—The Thirty-first of February Train (2002)—in a both temporally and existentially indeterminate state, Teodor Dună's language walks a tightrope across the gaps of a completely disintegrated world. Caught in a universe of doors turned into solid walls—or doors that open on both sides toward the same nothingness, where life and death swap positions—Dună's protagonist becomes unable to communicate; he can only create requiems for the death of himself and others. As "dust" begins "falling" from "underneath the skin", people can only learn to comply with the new religion of nothingness:

once upon todaymy sister woke me upyou've been sleeping since Wednesdaythere have been forty days now since we pray in silencefor your dreamsplease at least wake up now not entirelybut at least partially in this world[...]so wake up as rarely as possible and only on the other sidefor the moon rose brightly at noon
In the end, Dună proposes each individual adjust to this darkness we cannot transcend, as any birth implies a future death:

I'm walking crookedly I'm full of regrets and weaktake these years from meI can no longer use themwho the hell do you think wants your yearscan't you see they've grown rotten in you like wormsthey sleep coiled togetherno one needs your life-worn yearsand who do you think could house your lonelinessno onefor no one canlive the loneliness of two
The living begin to know the laws and metamorphoses of death and there's only one step left to a total identification of the two.

Another "walking dead" whose work astounds by its capacity to give relevance to a completely disintegrated existence is T.S. Khasis. In The Art of Scalping (2005), the poet describes himself as an Oblomovian, a man lacking traits, always poor, interested in growing rabbits, in beer and in monkeys, opting for a living in Chesinţ (a town of 1.200), a man with no high ambitions for a life that already provided him with enough occasions of humiliation. He therefore leads a plain existence: fights at the pub around the corner, drinking six beers at a party, a girlfriend who seeks happiness in the company of an occidental old man, destitution on the streets and in the houses, paralyzed grandparents dependent on their grandchildren, lunatics imbruted in madhouses etc. Khasis builds his "art of scalping" at the junction of such social "fractures" that lead to psychological ones. This is the literary approach (very similar to that of Mircea Ivănescu) by which an increasingly fragile sensitivity registering the effects of a miserable routine is freed from the illusion of unearthing revelatory significations, as well as from the belief that retreat in an ivory tower of one's own consciousness could result in salvation. The ceaseless struggle against one's own weaknesses and social conditioning is the life ʻGeneration 2000' knows, and this rough confrontation systematically disables, or 'scalps' them:

the skin peels from your handthe angle of face chinclosesfrom the chestweek after week by one degree[...]today I'm looking in the mirror and I tell myselfthis cannot be everything