REVIEW: ANA BLANDIANA, The Sun of Hereafter and Ebb of the Senses

Poet Ana Blandiana, since the 1989 Revolution, has represented an elegant ideology in an era when Romanian political debates have been so fraught and so heated. Through her work with her husband, Romulus Rusan, in the creation of the Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance, she has become quite a figure of grace, but it is worth noting that she has been an encompassing poet with a distinct voice since her youth. In this discussion specifically, we situate The Sun of Hereafter (2000) and Ebb of the Senses (2004) within the contemporary political current that they encompass through their overarching preoccupations. This collection of two poetry books, translated by Paul Scott Derrick and Viorica Patea, appeared in the autumn of 2017.

Nearly all of the poems compiled share a simplicity of form, as well as a causational, implicit attention to linguistic harmony. This is emphasized by a repetition of certain words, such as ‘light’, ‘seed’, ‘sea’, and ‘lord’. Language is quite plain, favoring substance over opulence – though many have noted that English is something of a utilitarian, even stark language, as opposed to Romanian, which possesses a natural, even inescapable embellishment. With her finesse in simplicity, Blandiana is decidedly post-modern, but it may also be the merit of the translators that there is never a word in surplus. Derrick and Patea are to be applauded for their successful adhesion to rhyme schemes and musicality, although there is a tendency of a passive voice, which may be forgiven as a choice made out of thematic rather than formal motivations.

In her projection of a pervasive political scheme, Blandiana presents a reaction to the socio-historical events occurring around her in the form disturbing revelations. Often, the poems possess a sense of the indefinable, not presenting anything more than a feeling of vague terror, with the obvious intent of conveying that feeling and no more. As a result, there is an occasional strangeness or opacity, a barrier of ambiguity and bitterness and of negation: the deliberate lack of resolution reflects the larger feeling of hopelessness felt by an entire country. In tune with political stagnation, the poems mirror static reflection and static emotion. This in itself speaks to the theme of human agency, or lack thereof. A sense of geography is implicit in Blandiana’s poems: the feelings of outrage and of disappointment are central to the current political scene in Romania; although we are in physically universal locations like the sea, there is a stronger tendency towards a metaphysical space of a perceived paradise or an interiority, absolutely central to the poet’s self-definition. Indeed, an overarching tone is one that yearns for self-expression, an attempt to define aspects of the self as a woman, as a citizen, as a human being in the grips of passing time. The poems are self-directed (Kahlo’s self-portraits come to find) and possess a distinctive voice that the reader feels, at times, can be physically heard. This self-defining sensitivity offers a unique perspective: it is often a struggle for a woman, as a writer, to reconcile herself between the strictly political and the strictly personal. In this sense Blandiana has the courage to attack traditionally male discussion, and appropriates and even owns what is stereotypically masculine self-confidence and power of expression. Thus, geography is much more of a sentiment or a strong feeling for Blandiana, more of a sense of place than a spot on the map.

The poems are worth reading for the occasionally remarkably surprising words and phrases that necessitate a double take, sometimes seeming to have something of a folk song in them (take, for instance, the phrase ‘Cherry trees murmur cherries in reply’ from the poem ‘The Knell of Fruit’): Blandiana is contaminated by symbolism. Images of biblical salvation are repeated, invocations to God and to gods. Such primordial, mystical themes applied as responses to the modern world and its grander schemes give her poetry a singular complexity, as we see in ‘Plea’:

             Help me to weep; help me to pray

            Help me to observe my unicorn’s fate          

            With the plaited star of a horn on my head 

            Stared at in dreams by silent crowds

She often relies on visceral imagery of the sea and its fauna, of the seed to present a contrasting and honest presence of sexuality, of fertility or lack thereof, which contribute to this being a book of both personal and national disappointments – sincere, brave, and weighted.

My only qualm was that endings tended to occasionally falter in comparison to the early-established crescendo in several poems (one such example would be ‘Lanscape’) but perhaps it is this very feeling of dissatisfaction, characteristic to reality, that Blandiana wants the reader to feel. I felt that, importantly, she gives voice to the ‘negative’ feelings that we, in western society, are often encouraged to suppress, and validates them. One poem that exemplifies these merits as a whole of her presented work is ‘Within a Pod’:

            Because I haven’t hulled myself

            Into other similar beings

            All ages are still enclosed in me

            Like seeds asleep in a pod,

            Too happy to try to break free of their coffin.

All things considered, The Sun of Hereafter and Ebb of the Senses are thought provoking… thought provoking and unique.

 

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