Fragile bridges

          AmericançèRomanian poetic transactions


                                                                       by Paul Doru Mugur


Harold Bloom`s anxiety of influence theory invites us to read the history of poetry as a sort of stylistic chain reaction where each poet carries on a hidden dialogue with his or her peers and predecessors. On one side, this theory explains the non-linear sequence of generations and schools of poets within a certain culture, whereas on the other it accounts for the occurrence of similar stylistic patterns in temporally or spatially remote cultures.


In the American poetry of the twentieth century one of the most important stylistic shifts was, arguably, the publication of Donald Allen's anthology of “New American Poetry” in 1960. Culturally and geographically, the New Poets in the anthology that comprises the period between 1945-1960 belong to schools and places as different or remote from each other as the NY School or the San Francisco Renaissance; however, these poets bridged the continental gap by reaching similar poetic formulae, very different from what the “formalist” poetic canon used to prescribe at the time. The long winter of the World War II was over and a new poetry was ready to blossom, right on the beat, in tune with the new times. The air time belonged now to the beat generation.


Separated from the American momentum by more than three decades, a similar literary orientation had its debut in Romania in the early 80’s. Aer cu diamante”, an anthology including texts of four young poets, appeared in 1982; its fresh wind ruffled the Romanian “esthetics of poetry”.  In opposition with the carefully constructed, high-brow linguistic towers erected by their predecessors that regarded themselves as some kind of priests serving the mass on the altars of Saint Poetry, the eighties generation poets wrote playful, colloquial, almost narrative texts. They cured the mysticosophical revelation syndrome of the modernists with a plain, solid postmodernist laughter.


Obviously, the anxiety of influence syntagm was not only coined to define some kind of antagonism but also to explain the so-called imitation of the predecessors. Thus, it appears that the 60`s American and the 80`s Romanian stylistic revolutions may be linked in more than one way. The Romanian poets of the eighties generation owe a great deal to the beatnik poetry, from Ginsberg’s Howl and Kaddish, to the poetic accomplishments of Corso, Ferlinghetti or Snyder; this has been formally acknowledged by Mircea Cărtărescu, himself one of the most gifted contemporary Romanian contemporary Romanian writers and a member of the eighties generation. In Romanian Postmodernism, a critical monograph dedicated to this movement, he states that some of his colleagues, including himself, borrowed aspects of “literary techniques” from the beatniks: „the „pouring”, never ending, almost epical aspect of the poems, the agglutination and distortion of reality, etc.” „But,” he notes immediately after, ”the anti-capitalistic and, sometimes too simplistic populist ideology of the beatniks was strange to the Romanian 80`s poets”. The choice of the Romanian poets to focus on the hedonistic aspects of art is very different from the beatniks` politically engaged performances. The Romanian postmodernist poetry lacks in any form of assumed political engagement.


In fact, it can be argued that the postmodernism made in Romania under the gloomiest years of Ceausescu`s dictatorship was not so much a type of late imported exotic western friandise as it was a form of spiritual resistance, a declaration of inner freedom against an oppressive regime. It might have been a form of escapism, too; if so, it was a healthy form of escape, a natural immune reaction against an alienating reality. It seems to me that in Romania, the beatnik style was grafted on an autochthonous sensitivity shift that was not fed by any kind of foreign literary influences; more likely, this was the outcome of the struggle carried on by a number of poets who kept the fire of their imagination burning, despite the communist censorship.


Another example of a cross-cultural exchange is the similarity between the L=a=n=g=u=a=g=e American writers` insistance of engaging the reader to participate in the creation of the meaning of a poem and the program of the Dadaist movement. In the 1918 Dadaist Manifesto, Tristan Tzara, a Romanian born writer, states plainly that “words have different meanings for each individual’ and that “words have a weight of their own and lend themselves to abstract constructions ”. Written with more than half a century in advance, his poems are very close stylistically to the non-sequitur lines cultivated by the L=a=n=g=u=a=g=e school poets.


A unique representantive of this Romanian çèAmerican stylistic cross-pollination is Andrei Codrescu, author of poetry books written in both Romanian and English, editor of  the feisty literary magazine Exquisite Corpse, a "journal of books and ideas" that published many Romanian poets in translation and whose paper issues format was inspired by the Lilliputian layout of “Bilete de papagal” a weekly satirical and literary magazine issued in Bucharest in the 30`s. For Andrei Codrescu the overlap of multiple influences from several cultures is not a fashion but an act of faith. In a 2001 interview with Lidia Vianu he acknowledged that his religion is “Creolisation, Hybridization, Miscegenation, Immigration, Genre-Busting, Trespassing, Border-Crossing, Identity-Shifting, Mask-Making, and Syncretism.” In the fascinating case of Andrei Codrescu the network of influences is embodied in the very substance of his literary work which mimics closely the multi-cultural identity of this author.


The chain reaction of stylistic influences seems endless. New social and technological realities call for a new poetry. Then, how does poetic style change in the digital age? We live a time when poems are composed by artificial intelligence agents; we live in the era of Flarf poems, in the age of texts generated with the help of Google or other search engines.  In the United States, the Flarf e-mail based collaborative enterprise has been described as the first recognizable poetic movement of the 21st century and a Flarf anthology of poetry is currently on its way.


In September 1998, two Romanian poets wrote The Fracturist Manifesto declaring that “fracturism is the first model of a radical break from postmodernism” and that “fracturism is a movement developed by writers who live as they write, excluding social lies from their poetry; the writers who adhere to this movement have no career expectations and ambitions, they do not perceive art as a form of business from which one can draw any profit.”


The logic of the Fracturist Manifesto is simple and dichotomist. Either/or. What they do is bad, what we do is good. If you want to be cool, read our stuff and trash theirs. In fact, the “fracturists” are simply exorcising their anxiety of influence. Ironically, in Romania, the beatniks influenced both the eighties generation and the fracturist poets that rebelled against the postmodernist frivolity and lack of social commitment. Marius Ianuş, co-founder of the Fracturist Movement wrote an in-famous poem that can be read almost as a karaoke hiphop version of Ginsberg`s „Howl”, that he had translated into Romanian.


Now, almost a decade after “fracturism” brought forward its preoccupation with the authenticity and the real, after using (and abusing!) shock and pleasure as fundamental esthetic principles, the tone of the Romanian poetry has changed again. Young poets post their texts on various on-line blogs and build internet communities similar to the Flarf. The discussion on poetry can no longer be carried on in terms of generation or style. In the digital age, the anxiety of influence has the speed of one’s modem connection and the intensity of the number of links found by your search engine. But even at this fast forward pace of our cultures made of bits & bytes, reading a poem remains one of the most intimate acts. In the end, what remains beyond anxieties, influences and manifestos is the pure joy of reading a poem, passing again and again over this fragile bridge of words where our souls meet in silent communion.







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