NEIL LEADBEATER Engages
JOINING THE DOTS by Monica Manolachi
(editura pim, Iasi, Romania, 2016)
[First published as a Preface to JOINING THE DOTS / UNITI PUNCTELE by Monica Manolachi, editura pim, Iasi, Romania, 2016]
I had the pleasure of meeting Monica Manolachi in London last summer where she had been giving a presentation to the Literary London Society on Derek Walcott’s perspective on the city. Our conversation in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall was wide-ranging. We talked, among other things, about her early experiences of reading and writing poetry, her enthusiasm for learning languages, her travels to many different countries as a student and as a teacher of languages or researcher and, last but not least, about some of the ideas that have helped to shape the content of this book.
Since that meeting, I have had the rare privilege of seeing some of the poems in this collection develop from earlier versions into their final form. It has been an intriguing journey. Some of the poems were written first in English and then translated into her native Romanian while others were written in Romanian first and then translated into English. Monica’s ability to move effortlessly from one language to another (she is fluent in English and Spanish and has a working knowledge of German, Hungarian and Finnish) is just one of her many strengths.
The present collection is divided into three parts. The first part constitutes a series of reflections on the act of translation and of learning foreign languages. In this section, Monica focuses on what happens to issues relating to individual expression and identity when we begin to converse in another language. She finds it interesting that language can generate tension, but it can also relax and soothe and several of the poems in this sequence attempt to play with this ambivalence. Other poems, such as Lexicon entry, Cabbage and Yield, *unyield, unyielding, are more specific and deal with particular words that have attracted her attention as being important from a conceptual point of view. Most of the poems in this section were written in English between 2011 and 2016.
The poems in the second section were written in Romanian between 2007 and 2011. They deal with what is termed “rhyzomatic identity” (rooted and also routed in many places), a philosophical concept developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia project (1972-1980). A few years ago, many Romanians who travelled to Spain went there to pick strawberries. In Romania, they became known as “strawberry pick-ups”. In Some of the strawberry pick-up’s toponymic sorrows, Monica plays with the idea of identity being rooted, like strawberries, in many different places and destinies, and routed, through their branches, somewhere in the air, in a spirit of becoming. The translation of the poem shows an exercise in radical adaptation and it is also a reflection on the turbulence of migration.
The final section contains poems that were written between 2003 and 2007 when there was a high level of social gridlock and despair within the mass media in Romania just before the EU accession. Here, poems such as Chinese red and The betel seller speak about trying to find meaning in a sea of loss and confusion.
Enjoyment of words and their meaning is clearly evident in this collection. Unpack any of these poems and you will be rewarded with a whole host of linguistic and cultural references, verbal pyrotechnics and multiple layers of meaning. The playfulness of some of her titles such as Straw’s Opinion about Berry – a poem that is, among other things, a bittersweet reflection on the effects of migration – is just one example of her own especial brand of humour. Poems within poems, such as the one in Out of sight, not out of mind remind us that reality has many layers and that poems are both texts in books, on-line and also a matter of voice. Words can be the means whereby we express ourselves but a poem such as Identity acts offers other ways in which this can be achieved: acts of identity can also consist of lonely articulations, mere impressions, body postures like those of an actor on a stage; in other words, a “translation” of the concept of “performative identity.”
As a language specialist teaching foreign languages and working in the field of translation, Monica is well-versed in the difficulties that one faces in conveying literal meaning, nuances of meaning and poetic expression in the translation of poetry. What many would view as a difficulty, she views as a challenge and it is one that she clearly relishes as she addresses each subject with wit, intelligence and delight.
Neil Leadbeater is an editor, author, essayist and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His most recent books are Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, Scotland, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus Press, England, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, England, 2014) and The Fragility of Moths (Bibliotheca Universalis, Romania, 2014).