Maintenant #49: Emilian Galaicu-Păun
An interview with Emilian Galaicu-Păun by SJ Fowler.
The notion and standing of the “poet” as a figure of cultural significance varies enormously from European nation to European nation. It almost goes without saying that, by and large, there has been a reduction in the audience and therefore cache afforded the poet as an artist, and many poets eschew the self-analysis and regard traditionally afforded to those recognised as somehow significant in their field. However there are poetic cultures that remain indelibly “literary”, where the poet is a voice representing far more than just their own concerns. Emilian Galaicu-Păun is inarguably one of these poets – eloquent, assured, politically engaged, his work has left a firm mark on European poetry, and is uniquely bound to the idiosyncratic circumstance of his home nation, Moldova. For the 49th edition of Maintenant, Emilian Galaicu-Păun.
(this interview was translated, conceived and written in collaboration with Livia Dragomir)
3:AM: As the chief editor of Editura Cartier (one of the biggest publishing houses in Moldova), you must be at the forefront of the literary scene in Moldova. After the recent Gaudeamus book festival in Bucharest and Andrzej Stasiuk’s visit to Chisinau, what’s the literary market like in Moldova?
Emilian Galaicu-Păun: Over the last two decades, the market in Moldova has merged with the one in Romania – although Moldavian literature still needs to catch up with a few trends. Of course there are some notable exceptions, I refer here to the poets of the 1980s and more recently the generation of the 21st century.
Broadly, the two markets communicate very well. However, at first Romanian literature was more popular in Moldova, but after a while the emergence of a larger number of endemic writers created a perfect synchronization between the two. We are now in the fortunate position whereby Romanian authors are published in Chisinau and vice versa.
The fact that the work is criticised on equal terms in both countries makes things easier too. The time of local glories has gone, especially if we talk about mainstream literature. More than that, Moldavian publishers can easily compete with the ones from Iasi, Cluj-Napoca and Bucharest. I refer here to the experience of the publishing house Cartier which in the last decade has published over one hundred translations from French, often fighting for copyrights with more prestigious houses. I am proud to have brought on the market The Roland Barthes Series, Andre Gide’s Journal and Paul Morand’s Useless Journal. Also, I see as an achievement the fact that the works of the most important contemporary French historians have been translated and appeared in bookshops in Chisinau only months after they have been published in France.
Despite the economic crisis and the difficult political situations both in Romania and Moldova, the book market has grown and has become more diverse and more competitive. The Gaudeamus Book Fair in Bucharest, which continued the promotion of the books of Andrzej Stasiuk that started in Chinisinau, proved once again that people still read, which translates into and expansion of the book market both Romanian and European.
3:AM: In light of the pending controversial proposition to make Russian the national language in Moldova, do you find Moldovian literature linked more closely with the Romanian or Russian tradition?
EGP: I remember the sad period when the Russians, i.e. ”the internationalists” from the USSR, only communicated in Russian despite the fact the republic they ruled had a different language, while those who lived in the territories spoke both Russian and their mother tongue. Furthermore, during those years it was not uncommon that imperialist veterans would publicly admonish one for not speaking their language.
At the same time, I cannot forget how the authorities in Tiraspol organised a train strike at the beginning of the 1990s against our language or how for almost two decades the authorities imposes a certain denomination of the language-i.e.”Moldavian” and not “Romanian”.
I wonder how many graduates of the Ukrainian and Russian high schools in Moldova can speak good Romanian? On the other side, Moldavian children speak relatively good Russian with or without language training. In this context, wouldn’t it be normal to consolidate Romanian as a national language?
In terms of literature, there are many writers who followed blindly the socialist realist imposed by Moscow and who now are trying to replace Lenin with Stephen the Great but there are also those who searched for influences in the national literature-i.e. the Romanian and European tradition. The latter are considered our biggest authors – Grigore Vieru, Vasile Vasilache, Aureliu Busuioc etc.
The tones of socialist-realist writing produced along the years could be more of interest to a sociologist or a historian.
Although the literary tradition one enters carries a great deal of weight, it is also important to follow it creatively. In my opinion, very few contemporary poets and prose writers from Moldova have managed to impose their unique style in the context of Romanian literature. The fact that in the anthologies and volumes of literary history that appeared in Bucharest in the last decade only a handful of Moldavians were featured is telling of this situation.
3:AM: Your collaboration with Radio Free Europe is a prolific and successful one, the institution being renowned for giving a voice to intellectuals from countries where repression is the norm. Do you find it easy to voice your opinions in the mainstream Moldavian press? How popular is Radio Free Europe in Moldova?
EGP: It is an honour for me to produce and present a programme about books on Radio Free Europe, especially since the institution is famous for giving voice to intellectuals. Monica Lovinescu used to freely voice her opinions behind the same microphone more than twenty years ago in Paris in much harsher conditions than now.
I started the programme in January 2005, a time when the Communist regime in Moldova –which was indeed a politically repressive one-was entering its second phase. Every Monday evening, I bring into discussion a book of my choice- so far, around three hundred titles have been brought to the attention of the listeners.
Judging by the feedback I have received throughout the years the show can be deemed successful. I know people who have build small libraries with the books I’ve recommended in the programme. I dare hope these books have created a certain openness to art and beauty.
Along with the programme I also have a blog at europalibera.org where visitors comment are free to comment on my posts. Also, certain blog entries on my blog appear in the democratic newspapers in Chisinau like “The Time” or “Chisinau Journal”.
I confess that I hold closer to my heart my “spoken library” than my the Internet one, maybe because I value more the materiality of books. Considering the number of people who listen to “Book to Go” on Radio Free Europe I can safely say that the station is an important presence in the Moldavian media landscape.
3:AM: The recent anthology Air with Diamonds brings back into the spotlight the quietly revolutionary generation of Romanian poets that laid down the foundation of Generation ’80 and what some call postmodern poetry. Your first volumes appeared in the 1980s, how influenced were you by that movement?
EGP: I must confess that seeing Air with Diamonds published by Humanitas at Gaudeamus Book Festival in Bucharest left me a bit startled, as in 2005 I was discussing with Mircea Cartarescu a re-issuing of the volume together with an anthology of young German poets of the same period. It wasn’t meant to be!
However, I believe that the Romanian poets of the 1980s-Generation ’80 are still an important presence on the literary scene. The vitality of poets such as Alexandru Musina, Ion Muresan, Traian T.Cosovei, Nichita Danilov, Liviu Ioan Stoiciu or Adrian Alui Gheorghe keeps Romanian contemporary poetry young.
More than that, I agree with those critics who see the poets of the 1990s and those of the new millennium as being deeply influenced by Generation ’80. In other words, the postmodern tradition established in the ‘80s is in the frontline of national literature today. Writers such as Mircea Nedelciu, Gheorghe Craciun or Ioan Flora are strategic points of reference in supporting this statement.
Regarding my first volumes, with the exception of the very first, one can say that they were written in a post-modernist style but it was only when The Beaten and The Unbeaten appeared at Dacia Publishing House in Cluj Napoca in 1994 I felt that I belonged to the potmodern tradition started in 1980s. Since then, the two volumes- Yin Time in 1999 and Canting Arms in 2009 have been very well received by the critics and to me they represented a consolidation of my place in this tradition.
I do not think I can cite direct influences but certainly there is a relation that makes the two poetics, though different communicate very well.
3:AM: Do you see your poetry as somehow revolutionary, against the current situation in Moldova?
EGP: I would not describe my poetry revolutionary, nor counter-revolutionary but I rather see it as the “east-thetic” effort of an intellectual trained in humanities and who is endowed with a critical rather than a militant spirit. Of course, poems such as “Ch-au”, “The Beaten leading the Unbeaten” or “Bessarabian Fuge” can be read as an expression of my revolt yet this does not mean that the aesthetic dimension has been sacrificed for the sake of the cause, irrespective of how noble that might be.
On the other hand, my writing is first and foremost against the ordinary linguistic material, the author, and the literary environment. Certainly, the oppressive regime can be vanquished in the name of freedom of speech without one becoming a poet. If I may quote the literary critic Marin Mincu whose commentary on my volume The Beaten leading The Unbeaten covered all the nuances I wish to convey to you. He says: “The essential merit of Emilian Galaicu-Păun in this alexandrine context is his visionary capacity to renew and renew the post-textualist poetic discourse. Through his two poems-“Ch-au” and “The Beaten leading the Beaten” he assumes the entire responsibility for the crumple and falsification of the last chances offered to Romanian writers to re-enter the spotlight of contemporary history. The poet doesn’t evade history with metaphysical cowardice, but he auto delivers himself like a textual samurai fulfilling the bloody act of a responsible auto-textuality. Through this he re-gains his messianic function of vates of the court and he coercibly officiates a direct utterance, hic et nunc received through an urgent, accusing decodification. We have to recognize Emilian Galaicu Paun’s serious and responsible engagement that has almost a dramatic touch. His presence is an invaluable asset for Romanian contemporary poetry” (“A Bessarabian Samurai” in Luceafarul Magazine, 1998:41).
In the same note as Marin Mincu’s above metaphor of the samurai I would say that a true poet would sooner commit sepukku in front of his nemesis –and any repressive regime is an enemy of death of the free speech-than accept to work for it or try to overthrow it.
3:AM: You speak with great respect about your friendship with Serban Foarta, whose influence you consider to be seminal to your writing. How did he influence and how did you manage to collaborate so well over the years?
EGP: For a long time I was almost convinced that behind the name of this great poet was hidden an entire institute of genetic engineering of language. His work seemed Faustian and out of this world. It was a pleasure to discover over the years a very real and down to earth sort of person. We came to know each other through writing and the help of a mutual friend – Robert Serban. At the time I was editing his book Ethernal Pheminin for Cartier which proved an important topic of conversation between the two of us. When I first spoke to him on the phone I couldn’t believe my ears. The years of apprenticeship under his wing have been shaped by the fact that I come from a country characterized by a linguistic handicap – Bessarabia, and Serban Forta’s power of words immediately caught my attention. Later on, I understood how he achieves the phonetic structures and the intricacies of his poetry.
When I started writing poetry I searched for special effects at a formal level-in the line of Ion Barbu but it was through Foarta’s book The Areal that I finally comprehended that the shape a poem takes is the absolute expression of its substance. In other words, it cannot sound empty, it needs to fill an emotion, a state of mind, a thought.
Serban Foarta shares with Mateiu Caregiale a passion of armorial history. Recently, I’ve translated from French the study of Michel Pastoureau on symbolic history of the Middle ages and that was an inspiration for the title of my latest volume Canting Arms.
Romanian critics have quickly remarked upon on the influence his poetry and methodology. More importantly for me was his response to one of my books. He wrote, ”The fundamental contradiction of this unusual poetry is that between simplicity and genius, between vitality and theory, between naivity and too much sophistication. Emilian Galaicu-Păun is a strange mix of poeta doctus (even doctissimus) and the unpolished savage(…) the incarnadine woman and the subreptic fright of a lady”.
A year ago I was receiving Serban Foarta latest volume- The Book of Iob. Shortly after that I wrote my own version of that-a poem called “iov&vio” which I see as my best work so far. In many ways I owe him this poem but it is also my separation from him.
3:AM: Your success, with the various awards you’ve received, especially in Moldova and Romania allow you a certain mobility situation between the two countries. Do you find yourself travelling between two literary communities? If so, how is the Moldovian literary community?
EGP: I am not one to chase awards and state distinctions have avoided me just as I avoided serving the interests of any official authority, though I admit is very pleasant to feel appreciated by colleagues – not so much by politicians – as a poet, prose writer, essayist, literary critic and more recently as a translator. I much prefer the stay grants in Paris which I have benefited from a few times both as a poet and as a translator.
Returning to your question, in the last two decades I have been travelling between countries but inside the same literature, divided in two separate republics of letters. It is not a geographical delimitation but a qualitative one – on one hand there are the true professionals that can be found on both sides of river. On the other hand one can also find a great deal of graphomaniacs and amateurs. These are the inheritance of former “literary kolkhoz”, characteristic of the communist era and unfortunately they are colleagues with valuable postmodernist writers. This reality undermines in a way the contemporary literary community.
It is for this reason that I prefer to talk with or about big writers or affiliate myself to different literary groups rather than subscribe to the academic chorus conducted by the centre.
A rigorous reform of the Writers Union in Romania and Moldova, that would re-organise them on ethical and aesthetic principles, is a matter of urgency. ASPRO was meant to be such an alternative but unfortunately it failed. Personally, I started from the other end and saw things from a more entrepreneurial perspective. For two years now I have hosted the poetry evenings at the Central Bookshop in Chisinau where I invite authors that are dear to me, irrespective of their age – from Aureliu Busuioc who is in his eighties to the much younger poets featured in “Clipa” magazine. All in all, I pledge for a union of souls and spirits rather than a community of literati!
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
SJ Fowler is a postgraduate student of philosophy at the University of London and a poet. He is also an employee of the British Museum.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, February 13th, 2011.