In this installment, Claudia Serea interviews Adam J. Sorkin, a well-known translator of Romanian poetry. We’re also featuring the poems of Marta Petreu and Mihail Galatanu. Enjoy!
—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman
Claudia Serea (CS): How do you decide which poems or poets to translate? Do you have favorite poets that you like to translate?
Adam J. Sorkin (AJS): I have sort of explored by translating and by asking the translated: that is, I talk to the poets I know and ask about what other writers they would recommend. And I’m not oblivious to writers’ reputations within Romanian literary culture. I also get ideas from, or give suggestions to, my co-translators, since I almost always work jointly. Those I know well and whose taste and openness I trust will give me recommendations and I can accept them sight unseen, or text unread. From time to time I’ve been asked to take a project on, so in a way this isn’t a choice, although I guess I could say no. I haven’t said no often, mainly because the poets proposed, such as the three books for the Romanian Cultural Institute-sponsored series for the University of Plymouth Press series in the U.K., Mircea Ivănescu, Ioan Es. Pop, and Ion Mureșan, were poets whose work I admired. But I have turned some projects down, or ignored unsolicited manuscripts with appeals to me to “style” a manuscript, such as arrive from time to time as email attachments.
As for projects I choose, fortunately my tastes are broad. I think a strong translation requires that the translator – and throughout these comments, I’m speaking as the translator who has responsibility for the final English version in a collaborative effort – anyway, that the translator has to believe in the poet he or she’s translating at the time. The poet at hand has to be the favorite for the duration. And most of the time my assessment sticks with me – one can have lots of favorites, many poets one admires and values.
CS: How would you characterize the relationships that are created – your relationships with the poems and with the original poet?
AJS: Translators get close to both the poems and the poets, at least in their imagined relationships. And of course to their collaborators, too, when they work together. I should amend that: when they work well together. One has to treat poet and co-translator as a friend, although in any friendship there are moments when things have to be said, both by me and to me. My standard practice is to work based on an initial English version provided by my collaborator, which I think of as a “raw” translation. But I don’t just spice it up, warm it, dish it out – I’m not a short-order cook, and although I’ve done a lot of translations, my grill isn’t always hot and sizzling.
Back to poems, rather than the kitchen.
In fact, I see myself as the author’s representative in English. It’s a role with serious responsibilities. To anticipate the title of a poem I quote later, the translator can be thought of as the poet’s emissary, voicing his or her message, an ambassador on a special mission in English.
Once I have a draft translation, I always go over it with the original next to it, side by side; I look words up, I mark the page all over with English alternatives, comments to myself, questions, arrows, rhyme patterns or other structures of sound or line, I check dictionaries in both the original and the target language, I consult my trusted thesaurus (Roget’s) and various reference materials from Wikipedia to specialized encyclopedias. At that point, I need to be able to say, perhaps to my co-translator, perhaps only to myself, are you sure this is what is meant there? My collaborator has to be able to contradict me and challenge me. This is true especially when the co-translator is the writer himself or herself – at times, I’ve found the writer more flexible, better able to say, hey, this is good, I can see where you’ve gotten that from though it wasn’t my intention; I think I’ll keep it. At other times the poet and I have had raging arguments, even about such matters as definite versus indefinite articles: “You’re ruining my poem!” “But in English it’s different, I can’t say it that way!” I’m not unmindful of my manners, however: at other moments, the virtue of humility is good for the translator to adhere to. Nonetheless, I’ll never accept something that I think is awkward, clumsy in the line, unidiomatic in English – let’s say, in that non-language, translatorese – that is, unless the passage in the original is supposed to be like that, for some reason. A poetry translation ought to be at least as well written as prose, to steal a quip from Ezra Pound.
CS: Do you try to stay true to the poem, in terms of denotations, connotations, tone, imagery, lines, rhythms? What are the challenges a translator faces? What do you understand your primary jobs and/or goals to be when translating a poem? Does this ever conflict with someone else, or with a poem itself?
AJS: Yes… I was prepared to stop with that one word, but to be so arch is not quite fair. My point would be, a translation is kind of like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, that is, being true to this often distorts that and, since language has multiple, not binary, possibilities, leaves the other aside. This is a given in the act of reading as well, I suggest, and a translation is fundamentally a reading, one among numbers of valid readings. I most of all hope that I hit off images and metaphors right (and along with them the connotations hovering there, if the English connotations are at all like the Romanian ones), that the lines and stanzas approximate the original, that rhythms are commensurate or at least suggestive of the original, and not least, that I capture the tone of the work, which does a lot to govern all these other categories. A translated poem should also somehow sound like a poem, not a word-for-word trot in English, what Dryden rightly disparaged, calling it a metaphrase. If I err, I’d rather err in the direction of a poetic version rather than a flat dictionary version. Strict fidelity is not a virtue here. I keep thinking of the conundrum in that pair of apt phrases, “faithful dullness”/“faithless beauty.”
CS: What is lost in translation? What is gained?
AJS: What most easily get lost are effects, connotations, allusions, combinations of ideas, grammatical structures, ambiguities that are fundamentally Romanian. Probably many of the things that I spoke of in answering the last question. Maybe every good translation also has a hole in its pocket; hopefully only the small change of value falls away, if one is lucky, or skilled, or both. And let’s not neglect ambiguities and other linguistic possibilities indigenous to the original language. Some of these lost qualities Romanian also shares with other Romance languages. One kind of specific loss is the facility of inflected languages to rhyme at the drop of a hat, or the addition of a verb element or case ending. Another, on that has come up particularly when I work with the poets themselves, is the capacity of Romanian not to specify the subject of a verb, the way English has to (or has to imply it strongly in a series of verbs). I’ve been asked by a co-translator or poet, do I have to use a subject in this or that phrase, and the answer is almost always yes. On the other hand, this kind of analytical clarity can indeed be a gain in precision, if nothing else. But, to repeat, as a translator, one has to make choices and be responsible for them. One has to choose what to lose, the sound, a meaning, frequently an allusion impossible for the reader to get without a gloss or footnote, in which case I try to avoid imposing academic apparatus on the experience of the poem as a poem. But I aim not to lose what is part of the essence of the poem, the inner poem as I apprehend it. If that sounds a bit mystical, well, so be it.
There are gains of other kinds. Little gifts to the poet, I like to think of them. Accidents of phrasing that English can provide. Sometimes it’s the richness in modern English of what in Old English was called (I’ll use the modern spelling) the wordhoard. Sometimes it’s the play of registers and dialect – though here there are great gaps, such as what is clearly meant as a peasant dialect having no correlative in American English. However, back to a gain… Offhand, since you ask about this poet a little later, I can think of a very small thing: in one of Marin Sorescu’s deathbed poems, the speaker, clearly the voice of Sorescu, turns and says, literally, I’ll be back soon/quickly/at once. It occurred to me to use an idiom instead – I should correct myself, for “occurred” is probably the wrong word, for verbal solutions frequently pop up without thought: the speaker, knowing that he is soon to pass back across the bridge from life to nothing just as, in the imagery of the book, he crossed from nothing into life when he was born, now says, “I’ll be back in no time.” Not literal but better. As an idiom, identical in meaning, plus. I had no compunction about keeping it.
CS: In what ways does your work as a translator affect your view of the world? How does it affect your view of the American poetry?
AJS: I’ll only say that there are a lot of American poems of high technical quality about the suburban middle-class world, particularly, that leave me wanting more. There is something more ambitious about much Romanian (and European) writing. There is also a freedom to depart from mimetic accuracy, what’s called truth-to-life. Once I argued with a Romanian poet about his poem, you can’t have two drive shafts (technically, it turns out that I was wrong, but in context, I was right in terms of that old bugaboo, realism); he replied, essentially, “In my poem I can.” This was very illuminating. Why not? The poet can have anything, everything, what is, what isn’t, what ought to be. To me, there is something domesticated, homogenized, about some American landscapes of well-tended symbolism and a sort of studied, purposefully hermeneutic surrealism, images that arrive like guided missiles.
CS: What is your view of the Romanian poetry and its place in the world?
AJS: I usually say, Romanian poetry dwells at the far eastern edge of its Romance language group in Europe and thus needs translators for its esthetic quality and strong tradition to be made known. I think that says it all. But I’ll add that, in my experience and that of many others, the poetry is strong enough to deserve broad recognition.
CS: Tell me more about your opera project: when and how did it start? How did it evolve into a opera, or did it start with the idea of a opera? How did you collaborate with the composer, and what new relationships emerged?
AJS: Yes, the opera by Michael Hersch, “On the Threshold of Winter,” that premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in June 2014. The translation part of this is not new, and it long preceded Hersch’s setting many parts of it. The libretto is his, in that he made the selection from the book the poems came from, Marin Sorescu’s The Bridge (this is the book I mentioned above). Indeed, every word in the libretto is from The Bridge. At times Hersch uses sections of poems, other times short fragments, even a kind of mash-up of lines and phrases, as well as some repetition; however, the basic structure of the work is the same. Sorescu was failing when he wrote the book, getting sicker and sicker, weaker and weaker. He died in early December, 1996. Many of the poems in the Bridge have dates appended to them, and all but a few come from the last six weeks of the poet’s life. It’s a very moving book.
I also have translated something like two hundred of Sorescu’s shorter poems from throughout his career, as well as his last play, dating from the decade before his death, Cousin Shakespeare, with Lidia Vianu a co-translator. It is wise, moving, and funny play written mostly in the late 80s when I’m sure he must have expected it would never be performed or published in Romania. At the time he was under interdiction, and he knew that this work, the impetus for which is that the character “Sorescu – a Dane” has gone back in time to assist his “cousin” dramatist who has writer’s block because of the Elizabethan secret service (!! an obvious allegory in communist Romania), could never pass censorship. The play is a lot wilder than that, with Hamlet in it, the Dark Lady, the Ides of March, Ophelia’s sister, a skull that speaks in rhyme… It was a lot of fun to do. Work, yes, but what is better than work that is fun?
To go back to the opera, I’ll add that a snippet of it, really a trailer that merges numbers of sections, can be found on YouTube and, with better resolution, on Vimeo. It’s hard to catch the lyrics, but the under-three-minute set of excerpts captures the mood of the staged premiere. I had previously heard a suite from the opera for soprano and piano, “How Far the Cradle”; a pair of excerpts from which can be found on YouTube HERE and HERE. The singer and the pianist, Ah Young Hong and Michael Sheppard, both took part in the premier of the opera. Two productions of “On the Threshold of Winter” are scheduled for 2015, October 3 at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, and October 30 in Nashville, sponsored by Vanderbilt University. I hope to be at both.
CS: Do you have a favorite poem or a fragment from this project that you could share?
AJS: I love the whole book, so it’s hard to choose. But here is a characteristic poem, a small set-piece or allegory, from maybe a quarter of the way into the collection. As I noted, most of the poems in The Bridge are dated, from early November until 7 December 1996, the day before the poet died. This is the one from which Michael Hersch took his opera title, and it makes me smile that the title for his opera came from a parenthesis in one of the poems. It’s a poem that seems offhanded, plain, but I found it grew on me as I worked on it. It’s a good example of translation in which the very most unadorned style, no-frills translation, becomes the challenge. A relatively plain style can be a lot harder to achieve, and create a voice for, that something more elaborate and ornate. Anyway, here it is, a simple dialogue – reprinted (as is the second poem, as well) from Marin Sorescu’s The Bridge, published in the U.K. by Bloodaxe Books (2004):
“The Emissary of the Blue Sea”
by Marin Sorescu
translated from Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Lidia Vianu
“I hereby recall the water from your cells,”
The sea sends me word
Via an emissary.
“I have a need for fuel
(On the threshold of winter).”
“Now I understand why for some time
Dark clouds have hovered above me:
Within them there’s a large part of myself
[9 November 1996]
I’ll add another, Sorescu’s last poem, as the book presents it (dated the day before his death) and as it had been published after his death but well before The Bridge (Puntea) came out in Romanian. It one of two poems I translated on my own before I undertook the book project with Lidia Vianu. It’s a poem I needed as it were to slow down – just as I saw the Romanian doing in the original – with each action or detail, each phrase, separated, cleansed, polished until it gleamed, set in its place. That’s the way I perceived the original. A voice bearing dispiriting news that had to say it just right, and by doing so, triumph over mutability, destiny, death, silence. There was no title, so I gave it the first two lines as a title.
“I Am Reminded of All Our Dogs”
by Marin Sorescu
translated from Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin
I am reminded of
All our dogs
When it came time to die
Of old age.
They would lie hidden under the shed,
Under the corn crib.
You’d take them food, water.
Slowly, they would open their eyelids,
They would look, they would raise their eyes
Then they would close them once again.
And they couldn’t even wag
Their tail once,
To thank you.
Terrible is the passage
Into the fold
Both for man and for animal.
[7 December 1996]
Hersch uses a goodly chunk of this latter poem as the closing section of the opera. It’s very moving to hear it in context. I am blown away each time I heard “my” own words sung! If this is what it is to be translated, I’m all for it.
CS: Do you have any advice for the young translators just starting out? What should they do? What should they avoid?
AJS: I’d say, beginning translators should learn to do the styles and writers that they love. I suspect they should also ignore following theories. Any or all of them. What is wonderful in the intellectual and the abstract, the ingeniously descriptive, can be restricting in practice. Rules are made to be broken for the sake of quality. More practically, it is helpful to know the culture from which the text, the writer, derive, as much about history and context, as possible. Words do represent a world, and a translator’s vision and personal, or at least mental, experience of that world can be very helpful even in the seemingly most mundane matter of word choice. Accuracy is basic. I think it very lucky for me that I began as a translator after I had been in Romania for more than half a year. I had driven place, taken buses, shopped, experienced the landscape and cities, manners and customs.
CS: What’s next?
AJS: I don’t really like to talk about what the future will bring in terms of translation projects – a kind of superstition, I guess, not to dare the fates, although I’m occasionally surprised when what I judge will readily find a publisher simply doesn’t, so it’s not without more than a modicum of realistic, rather than magical, thinking – but I feel it’s OK to mention a little bit of one thing I’m currently involved in, that’s maybe half completed. This is a book of poems by the Chișinău, Moldova poet, Emilian Galaicu-Păun. You know his poems, Claudia, since we translated a few together, and I think you’ll agree that Galaicu-Păun is a difficult poet whose syntax is complex, whose references are allusive, whose style is playful, full of puns, sometimes a bit outrageous. You’d possibly add, “sexist,” too, although I’d argue that point. I’d counter that in many poems, he is a kind of traditional male love poet, a role he fulfills with inventiveness and gusto. Also, he has a well-honed sense of history and political consciousness, as his poems evidence in a very sophisticated way.
However, to turn from the future to the recent past, I can, and will, mention a pair of books published by Diálogos Books in New Orleans, both in October 2014: The Book of Anger by Marta Petreu (translated with Christina Zarifopol-Illias and Liviu Bleoca), and The Starry Womb by Mihail Gălățanu (translated with Petru Iamandi and the poet). The poets are equally strong voices and engaging personalities, though very different from one another. Rather than comment more, I’ll let readers see for themselves. Some of Petreu’s and Gălățanu’s poems can be found accompanying this interview.
Three poems from
Mihail Gălățanu, The Starry Womb
New Orleans: Diálogos Books, 2014
The three selections that follow were translated from Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Petru Iamandi.
Mihail Gălățanu published his first book of poems in 1987, his second six years later, and numerous poetry titles have followed almost annually, including Burta înstelată (The Starry Womb), 2005, part of his “Birth Trilogy,” as well as novels and essays. A prolific writer of “virtuosity” and bardic lyricism to his peers, he has won prizes for both his poetry and his prose. Gălățanu has served as editor-in-chief of Playboy Romania and of Flacăra, a glossy Romanian monthly magazine, the periodical, The Financial Marketplace, and currently he edits a number of food, drink and wine magazines. More about Gălățanu can be found in The Starry Womb, the first full-length English-language collection of his poetry, and on the Lavender Ink/Diálogos website.
Prisoner of a Bubble
The first time I was born was inside.
I was born in Mother’s womb for, truly, that
was my first birth. The first birth anyone can have.
My eyes sloughed off the amniotic scales, which fell away,
scraped by an invisible scraper.
And I could see! For the first time I could see.
My eyes were huge and wide open
to the liquid world inside. Since then I’ve never been able to imagine the world so well. I was like a little old man, a hermit, in his lonely dwelling, in a cramped room where, if he leaves his glasses someplace or loses them, he bumps into furniture. I was the prisoner of a bubble, a vintage champagne bubble,
in the bowels of a medieval castle.
The champagne poured over me, washed and flooded me.
The bubble floated everywhere across the world, wandering with me inside.
I was a pear preserved in a bottle, sleeping a vegetable sleep.
Skins kept falling from me like rind,
the pellicle peeled easily, leaving opalescent layers behind.
A sleepy pear, drowsing in a virgin’s womb,
oh, that’s what I’ll be till I’m in the tomb.
My Mother’s Interior
1. I Navigated by Sweet Ovules
(A Second Nature)
I had decorated my mother’s interior
with the most beautiful illusions in the world.
I had planted climbing flowers,
so her interior should look like nature,
wonderful lawns with dells and bowers.
So I might create a second nature inside,
my nature, mine alone, for my personal use,
as you’d meet only in books.
I had spread large maps, oh ho!
and, even more, hung them from hooks in my mother’s womb.
I pretended to be Thor Heyerdahl,
Mercator and Sir Walter Raleigh,
united under the same skin.
I navigated by sweet bleeding ovules,
as the ancient Phoenicians by the stars.
2. The Moral Law Within
My mother’s womb was the universe.
I had no need for a second one.
I never thought of saying
“the starry vault.” But, on the contrary,
“the starry womb.”
(I suppose that the first travelers also named the sky thinking of their
mothers, of that primal vista.) When they opened their eyes, they surely
saw above them the vast bell of their mothers.
That’s why they said:
The moral law within and, there above, the starry womb.
3. And If There Had Been No Stars
And if there had been no stars in Mother’s womb,
I’d still have gone to gather something, I’d have had to put something there
to look like stars,
I don’t know what, a garnet, a topaz, some precious stone.
4. My Mother Was the World
This is my world, I told myself.
What’s here below is the same as what’s on high.
I am, as the poet says.
I am the unborn who at will barks at his mother and death.
And the dog who barks at the first stars
and in his mother.
My mother was the world.
I can’t ever forget that.
5. In the Beginning
(Voices and Weeping Are Heard in Rama)
My mother was the world. In the beginning.
All that I might remember, that I might forget.
And beyond, all that I might remember would be the sky,
the worlds I come from, from which my soul descended to dwell in my
mother. The original sin is that I was snatched out of Mother.
Hey, you! Hey, psychiatrists, idiot shrinks! Stop wasting your time in folly, I’ll
tell you the whole story: my first drama happened when I was flung
by the catapult of my birth out of Mama.
Voices and weeping are heard in Rama.
The Tenth Month
Oh, how I envy those born in their tenth month!
Ten-monthers were reluctant to leave their first amniotic motherland.
How nice to keep floating in a liquid
as in a steam bath!
Ten-monthers sit as in a sauna,
the rays of the sun
and other stars
flow over them and bathe them. The rays of the moon. They hear
their fathers sweep their hands across the belly,
press their ears against the navel to hear tick-tocks.
Other hands caress the huge voluptuous bubble in which they lie,
the eternal mausoleum.
Rocked by their mother’s gait,
by her swing climbing the stairs,
by her wonderful floating,
when she enters her bath.
And they rejoice, at leisure,
at their mother’s inward construction,
For in this world nothing’s purer than
Mother’s inner sanctum, where the Sunday service
can be heard, clear and undistorted.
Marta Petreu, The Book of Anger
New Orleans: Diálogos Books, 2014
The three selections that follow were translated from Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Christina Zarifopol-Illias.
Marta Petreu is an award-winning writer who has published eight collections of poetry plus a large collected volume, The Apocalypse According to Marta, which Romanian reviewers greeted as a major event, as well as more than a dozen books of fiction and nonfiction. She has won prizes for both fiction and poetry in Romania and France as well as a Hellman/Hammett Grant from Human Rights Watch for her role as “a solitary voice of reason in Romania today.” Petreu’s poetry, Norman Manea has written, is a “high dramatic undertaking, with a torrid heart and cool mind.” More about Petreu can be found in The Book of Anger, the first English-language collection of her poetry, and on the Lavender Ink/Diálogos website.
Statement of Account
Domine. I no longer want to fall asleep. Into the milk of sleep
I refuse to sink down
I feel sick and terrified
The voices of my dead the voice of my father Augustin
the voices cry out to me by name
Domine. I no longer want to stay awake
I no longer choose to admit this wiry light
into my pupils
Yes. I refuse the entirety of Your kingdom
I can no longer endure this unfinished species of mine
I no longer want to bear the despair of being human
It’s more than enough. I want no more of it
My father is crying out to me by name
The Mechanism Still Functions
Tall sensual constructed with cold nervous edges
What guilt—I ask—what guilt?
What abject thing do I nevertheless carry on my back
that I feel so bad when I’m by myself?
What dreadful thing takes hold of me?
In the morning I say to myself (with fear with disgust with despair):
One more day. What a long day. What a long life
made of long days.
Oh, what a desert of days. What interminable wandering. I would like
not to be awake.
Tall sensual constructed with cold nervous edges
edges coiled like snakes
I am the princess who wants to punish her own guilt
What guilt?—I ask myself. It’s evening. Autumn. What guilt?
I don’t know—I reply—I don’t know. I’m alone
sad arrogant alive tense man-eating. Programmatically
evil tempts me. I am not
my own friend.
And above all I’m afraid: I stepped into existence left foot first
(Sin is remorse tumbling down from nothing
like an avalanche in the mountains from a whimper
I’m my own misdirected biography from the moment of my first decision)
I know: my body is no more than a cocoon of flesh
that wraps—like silk—this worm-eaten fear
No. I have never been happy.
As in a blown-up photograph
beside what’s visible I always see
the contour of what must follow: decay sickness evil
I intuit the torture
I can see the wound the yellow pus the crushed living flesh
Beneath my heels
the transparent ground contains sewers and waste
caskets with my young dead
What rainbows Lord what rainbows. And what a stench
exalts your entire kingdom
Stop O Lord this insane useless transparency
I can no longer stand it. I see everything through closed eyelids
It’s hell in black and scarlet it’s a wild rainbow
there are bones sticky molds
To your war chariot we are mere axle grease
I can no longer stand your triumph: a greenish mist glows above me
Stop O Lord stop: not the moment but the nightmare
Stop O Lord: my mind is ruled by a black sun
I am a tall sensual princess—I tell myself looking in the mirror—
I have nerves white like snakes
I am nevertheless a princess I know the verb I know the word
Once in adolescence I programmed myself
through my body of flesh and mint of wild savory in bloom
to learn what evil is
To understand what death nightmare debauchery madness mean
the taste of pleasure betrayal dew indulgence desolation
how a fact of life turns into
poetry: writing the poem I wanted to make a hole in the sky. Yes. O Lord. The heavens. Yours
I wanted to write my poem knowing what evil is
I dreamed—what juvenile arrogance—of carrying in my brain
full knowledge of the shadow
out of bile sickness unto death dust
of giving birth—fully—to a poem
I never succeeded: the Master of the World wasn’t party to my pact
For the Devil isn’t going to show himself: doesn’t even exist
Only the Mechanism exists still functions on its own
Yes. The Mechanism of stain and the fall. Yes.
The high tumbling down from the heavens exists the great fall from the Garden
(The Garden—however—I don’t know if the Garden exists)
Still functioning on its own the mechanism exists
It seems to me that I know nearly everything—no doubt
too much. Only candor
only amnesia the warm pollen of the day the happiness of being alive
remain forever alien to me
Stop O Lord stop the Mechanism
like the blood of your servant
cries out to you from the ground)
I was thinking—another mistake—that if the gesture existed
that is to say the form
likewise the content the matter the substance is born out of it
In this way: I mimed courage and strength
I created for myself—a patchwork of strings and pebbles of scraps
and feathers—my own mask
with cold and meticulous care I stitched my presence together
I succeeded—now the façade exists
I stay crouched behind it: a woman
no—not a woman—an old little match girl
The void lies behind it cold nothingness and the old little girl
holding the burnt matches in her hand
I whimper. I’m afraid. Cold. Terrified for eternity. I am
a princess—I have the verb I have the word
therefore the scepter. I can rule over a kingdom of words
and paper. I live the nothingness—
I’m alone. Barefoot. A stranger. Slime. Cold dust
Lord in heaven and in the depths
stop the tumbling stop the mechanism.
I know enough. I’ve had enough
It’s autumn. Dense blackness. Eve’s hand reaches out. On the branch no apple
I am a thin frightened princess
Stop O Lord stop the mechanism of tumbling down
I breathe deeply. Stand still. I want
and imagine what I haven’t lived: the Garden with pollen
or simply the morning pleasure of waking up
I cannot. I am a thin nocturnal princess I have muscles cold
like snakes I still clutch matches in my hand
I know by heart both fear and evil I know what darkness is—I have tasted
the ashes of black nothingness. Through myself I try out the Mechanism
I am an alien princess—different—I am lost
I step barefoot across the transparent mud. I am lost: I would like to sleep
to cross in sleep—by stealth—the boundary to the Beyond
For I have failed my poem. Wrong—I have failed this biography.
I am the princess who wants to punish her own guilt
Marta in the Garden of Gethsemane
step over your fear of non-mineral matter as over a corpse
take a body come seize me by hair:
inside I am of flesh bones nerves marrow
inside viscous ink circulates mechanically
rust as thick as wild strawberry syrup
(a psalm could be written for You with this thick India ink)
This is my body: I lived with evil I deceived I cheated
take a body like mine don’t grimace
lean your wet shoulder against my shoulder
shoulder to shoulder let’s read passages from the Book:
“men shall seek death, and shall not find it;
and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them”
It’s time take me by the hair take me by the hand
lead me out of this biography that happens to be a woman’s
out of this history with blood sperm tears folliculin
help me shed this epidermis like a snake’s
Of course: the programmed events ran their course
I endured the experiment with more than enough pride
I lived everything as I was supposed to:
behold tears and blood behold flesh and brains
With your right hand on my heart I bear witness: No more! It’s enough!
Come: I hear dogs barking at the dust
I hear unshod horses trampling under their hoofs
the fresh green grass of the graves the grain in bloom the young wheat
take me by the hair lead me beyond
The translator of contemporary Romanian literature, Adam J. Sorkin, has published more than fifty books, and his work has won the Poetry Society (U.K.) Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation, as well as the Kenneth Rexroth Memorial Translation Prize, the Poesis Prize for translation, and the Ioan Flora Prize for Poetry Translation, along with other awards in Romania and Moldova including the Moldovan Writers’ Union Prize. Two of his books were shortlisted for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize and eight translations nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His most recent books include Mouths Dry with Hatred by Dan Sociu (translated with the poet and Mihaela Niță), Longleaf Press, 2012, and four books that appeared in 2014: A Sharp Double-Edged Luxury Object by Rodica Draghincescu (translated with Antuza Genescu), Červená Barva Press; Gold and Ivy/Aur și iederă by George Vulturescu (translated with Olimpia Iacob), Eikon [Cluj-Napoca, Romania]; and the two Diálogos Books volumes where the poems accompanying this interview appeared: The Starry Womb by Mihail Gălățanu and The Book of Anger by Marta Petreu. Sorkin’s Poetry Society Prize-winning book, Marin Sorescu’s The Bridge, co-translated with Lidia Vianu (Bloodaxe), served as the basis for the libretto of the opera by the prominent American composer Michael Hersch, On the Threshold of Winter, that premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, June 2014.
Sorkin is Distinguished Professor of English at Penn State Brandywine. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.