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MICROREVIEW: STELLA VINITCHI RADULESCU’S A CRY IN THE SNOW, TRANSLATED BY LUKE HANKINS

Review by Roxana Cazan

           A Cry in the Snow published by Seagull Books posits that the only way to navigate personal and cosmic traumas is to ponder carefully the experience of our emotion in the tranquil space of reflection, where serenity and repose allow us to “distill” our emotional experiences, as translator Luke Hankins puts it. This distillation is presented as fragmentary images that recall the past and reinvent it by chiseling the output language. The space that forms between the recalled experience of trauma and its rendering through linguistic production is a space for reflection, the “space of a cry surrounded by space surrounded by nothing” as the epigraph by Lorand Gaspar—Romanian-born Hungarian-French poet—at the very beginning of the book indicates. Vinitchi Radulescu’s intellectual approach to poetry writing situates her in the same tradition as modernist poets with the Romanian Ion Barbu, the French Arthur Rimbaud, and the American W.S. Merwin.

           “first mornings” offers such an assemblage of visual and verbal textualities that allow for the experiences evoked to be transformed and transforming:

 
at the break of dawn
juncture of the seasons    the earth warms
 
the text is read on one’s knees
 
the sea kneeling between stones
 

           The poem draws on an original experience of hurt, one that requires the speaker to undergo a transformation in order to come to terms with. The speaker needs to be reborn at the “juncture of seasons” out of the sea and into the “house of flesh” (3). This rough rebirth compares to the beginning of a war whose victory would allow the speaker to read the text on her knees, that is, to reflect upon the past with ataraxia, tasting “what is written on these lips” (3). The advancement into daylight represents a transformative moment of clarity, of maturity of vision because only when one starts “at the break of dawn,” can one eventually face one’s destiny or “meet [one’s] li[fe]” (3). The poem describes the process of arriving at revelation through an intellectual rebirth.

           Other poems conflate the idea of Bergsonian time as duration with memory which “keep[s] still” (“memory keep still”). For Vinitchi Radulescu, memory is this duration. In the poem “definition,” “the memory of the stars / conjugate insomnia of coming nights,” which is the “story of us / history in ashes” (8). In “children of the fog,” the years are “stained / black with forgetfulness” (9). In the poem with the same title, “the earth begins” with “the memory of another land / which has just left us” (11). Just as Bergson posited, the reader of Vinitchi Radulescu’s poetry is allowed to see only fragments of memory that are impossible to arrange in a full-fledged narrative tapestry. However, through intuition, the readers can grasp the contours of the image that the palimpsest of memory reveals.

           The second section of the book incorporates Vinitchi Radulescu’s poetic prose sequence Journal aux yeux fermés (Éditions du Gril, 2010), in English translation. This section takes the readers back into the poet’s childhood, in her native Romania. Vinitchi Radulescu’s poetic prose harnesses the elemental aspects of forced migration and the painful departure from home.

           If remembering begins as a fairly linear narrative, soon the speaker’s trauma breaks down into emotional fragments. We learn that “they assemble us in The Square,” “decorated in red, flags and portraits,” that “a truck has arrived during the night,” and that the speaker’s friend “looks at me, the faceless woman, I can sense it, but I can’t see her eyes… She’s moving away. I want to get closer to her, or at least for her to speak to me….I realize I’m the one moving away, I’m taking steps, huge steps in the other direction” (52-53). The readers also learn that “this is my distant childhood. We had to cross a river, someone took me in their arms,” and that “I’ve just come home from school, I’m running, soaked, especially my shoes. What will I wear tomorrow? I make it home. The evening speeds by. Mama isn’t back yet” (52-56). The more painful the memory becomes, the more fragmentary its rendition into verse: “In black there is every color…The sun draws bars in the air through which birds enter and exit. Invisible. But I sense them. They fall… There were jonquils, and then there was a great sadness. In people’s eyes… Snow—the only whiteness of that time” (58-65). It is the poet’s job to “untangle these letters, gather them from the sand, it’s my job, I’m the one who has to do it, I know it” (57).

           The collection ends with a shorter section entitled “Fragments of Life and Death.” These poems celebrate being alive despite the obstacles and the extraordinary ability to navigate deaths, silences, and separations. Vinitchi Radulescu explains that “to write is to forgive. My poems are so proud of forgiving silences for their silence” (82). Vinitchi Radulescu’s ending poem explains that this process of writing one’s future can only happen if the narrative remains incomplete, if we “don’t finish our sentences, / sweet absences, / the trembling of vowels” (93). In that syncope alone can the future be formulated, can the hope for ongoing endurance be articulated. This silence is not sterile, but throttles rather with potential. It nurtures the bonds that keep us moored to this shore, despite hurricanes past and present.

Seagull Books, 2018. $21, 93 pages.

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