|Simona Grazia Dima|
SimonaGrazia Dima is Secretary of Romanian PEN, a poet, essayist, literary critic and translator. In her introduction to her latest volume of poetry she presents the background to her writing – the political and cultural milieu, her ideas, ideals and in particular the extraordinary experience which led her to become the writer that she is today.
I found it all inspiring – the relevance to our materially-obsessed times, the candour, perception and sensitivity. (Editor)
You can read poems by Simona in English here,
Foreword to The Army of Small Beings (Extracts)
The irrepressible need to talk about the hard nucleus of my poetry has been in my heart for a long time.
As I come from a family made up, in my maternal line, of a long chain of priests and hermits, whose roots can be traced back two hundred years, poverty and deprivations were not the hardest burdens on my soul during the dictatorship, although they were not easier for me to endure than it was for others; on the contrary, my health has suffered and is still suffering as a consequence of those conditions. I was born with a very sharp sensitivity and, in high-school and then at university, I was painfully affected by the impact of the social world on values, morality and culture. I saw wasted energies, and what was not being done for the isolated Romanian culture, not only abroad but also, primarily, inside the country – the lack of interest in a person’s true personality, the pastiche and simulacrum we were replaced with (and we still are! − when have we NOT been replaced!?), for the sake of (exclusively social) dogmas and the promotion of some writers who ‘had to be published’.
It was not until the post-revolutionary era that I fully understood how, beyond the particulars of political systems, much of what happened was also because of people; analysing things coolly, we must admit that nobody ever deterred us (neither the dictatorship, nor the system) from being good, just or generous, if we wanted to be, changing the given circumstances with our humanity; therefore, no big words, just a response appropriate for a particular situation. That is why viewing people exclusively as social entities seemed to me rather unproductive. The essence of the political world and that of social thinking revealed themselves to me as not necessarily harmful but merely reductionist and limited, drawing the individual according to the notions of success or failure, as an element on a scale which defined him from the outside. Excessive trust in these notions suggest we should accept as a life slogan the fact that man is only a dog raised with Pavlov’s reflex, a dog quickly coming for his meal, without knowing other legitimate coordinates. Should we blame only the lack of education, the atheism instilled with perseverance? However, man cannot be fully trained. Parents and tradition have also preserved many values. Human development does not take place according to some official coordinates but follows an inner course which is hard to describe or anticipate – a very personal course. So I have not stopped searching for other saving dimensions inside me.
However, as I did not have a clear training in the spiritual domain, I would suffer; I took to heart everything I thought was evil and ugly around me. I noticed that loud-mouthed, impertinent, persistent and insincere people were promoted, those that did not seek harmony and were ready to do anything for social advantage. And I was not wrong, (but this is going on now, at higher rates, with increased virulence, for the stake is greater and life’s rhythm is faster today). As I said, I felt that life had other implications than the social dimension, and I have always told myself that this intuition is true. Poetry was an example of a different intuitive success, a perception of some essential truths by means of gentleness, without traumas or outside pressures; by an innate knowledge, similar to Platonic knowledge.
I used to read biographies of artists (and I prefer this kind of reading even today). They paid for their independence or creative boldness with exile, marginalization or even death. In other cases, when they were not understood by their contemporaries, they paid with a momentary eclipse. Culture for me was never an insipid or futile activity or entity, consisting in sophisticated chatter, or in the cosiness of a salon or of a comfortable situation. Instead, it was the quintessence of life, a priceless human testament to be left to the descendants. It was an example to be at least contemplated, if not followed.
For me, reality (I mean true reality) was not to be found in the level of the concrete but in the world of principles, which was at the core of poetry, unlike prose - hence, perhaps, the impression of intellectualism or abstraction. I do not believe that the supreme indication of reality can be found in the torrent of daily events but rather in the force of consciousness, and the impact with what is imperishable. In this respect, poetry can be an urge and a living justification of a spiritual existence (even an actualization, just as, by sound, a song becomes immemorial), establishing, by its holy sovereignty, another beatific dimension, in which there is nothing to ignore, nothing to cast away, and nothing to blame. In poetry even the critique and the acid verb has something luminous, a bright halo, due to closeness to a generous Source. The hieratic quality of the icon does not mean dryness.
This introduction is only meant to sketch the atmosphere in which I began to write poems. ….
On the occasion of a national student event in Suceava, I was walking in the deserted former Throne Citadel, very upset about the helpless situation I felt my country was in (and I did not see the part I could play in the future either). The festival, or colloquium, seemed highly politicized, predictable and manipulated. And so it was. We, Romanians, made a mistake by not being, except to a small degree, open to the miraculous, expecting only the predictable and being satisfied with it. Actually, that was what made me despair the most.
Against this background, the perception of poetry – as I was saying, all areas seemed interwoven, trouble in one area immediately causing another trouble somewhere else, in a symmetrical plan – appeared to be glowing, living, comforting, and almost maternal. My eyes fixed on one of the abysses of the citadel (archaeology has always been a passion), I got caught in a vertigo and whirled about in an incredibly intense suffering, as if death was in front of my eyes and as if I was facing an absolute dead end. Then, all of a sudden, I felt a full resurrection, followed by an intimate, mental vision, perfectly clear, of a river of light – quiet, beatific, friendly and eternal. The entire world, wisdom, senses of the Universe and all my poetry were concentrated in that silvery bright river of thick honey. At that moment I had the certainty that under the layer of overwhelming reality there has always been a layer of eternal peace, of relaxation and friendship, and of perfectly natural humour and merriness, close to each other and merciful. There were only love, compassion and understanding of everything.
Since that moment I have found my full poetic inspiration and I have created the mythology of small beings – the ones I feel the urge to define further, in order to protect them from the vulgarization they may fall victims to (and sometimes have fallen victim to). The small beings are not some minor lives to be mistaken for things like flowers or small animals etc. (although I have often used such topics in my poetry), but they exist in the eternal creative layer, in the foundation inherent in the manifestation and in generic existence, and at this point they meet with Christ’s message or with the message of the Upanishads. As can be seen, I instantaneously reached the conclusion that there is a convergence of religions at a metaphysical level they have, which can allow – and cause, as a special feast – unity in diversity. If these beings are small it is because they are modest, and because they represent the lives hidden at the core of manifestation, determining the other level of the visible existence. They may be similar on the external, manifest level, to those humble people praised by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, but they are also to be feared, for they create the world; and, after it wears out, they destroy it. However, they only destroy its form, while the inward core of existence remains, however, eternal – resuscitated as a celebration of tireless existence. They seem to be various but they are like a monolithic existence, an ontological block which cannot be conceived separately − even though they can be separated into different existences. A sign of oxymoron, of paradox, that might be a possible description for them, accomplishable only through poetry – which is what I have been trying to do. So poetry played not only an aesthetic role for me but also an ontological role, enabling me to understand and live life by its highest coordinates, the spiritual coordinates. In an ideal mystique of the desert, I equated the desert with the desert of the era we live in and the analogy worked wonderfully. It is still working and will continue to work.
The poems literally flooded in cascades after that moment and they were included in a volume which was very difficult to have published. It was a consequence of that ideological era. The small creatures were rightly and wrongly considered subversive: rightly because they seemed to undermine the state order, like a sort of menacing Martians – which they were, actually – dissolving the barren conceptualization we have already talked about; wrongly because they are eternal, can be read at any time and in any place and, since they are invulnerable, cannot be attacked (and they are not maleficent either, because they are beatific). It was therefore sheer ingenuousness to reject them. But the censors did not know that. The system functioned with all its absurd machinery. Therefore, I published the volume after being excluded five times from the editorial plan (editorial production was planned in those years), but it was incomplete. It would have been too large and, besides, not all the poems were ‘suitable’.
I have emphasized the moment of epiphany in Suceava because I have previously only talked about it episodically and fragmentarily, and yet it is worth talking about, as my whole poetry has sprung from it. That moment unified the present and the past of my art as an essential core or a condensation of time, just as a seed encloses a tree in itself.
My concerns do not seem at all unusual to me in the context of contemporary Romanian poetry, and I wish them to be known more widely, as a dissemination of a rich experience which can bring joy to others. Of course, they refer to an alternative way of writing poetry now, at this moment, when perception is mainly focused on a ‘positivist’ view of life, in the sense of a gaze from/towards the outside. The obstinate search for interiority which characterises my poetry is not a minor or pointless thing to me, as it expresses a sincere aspiration to which I am devoted. I also believe that, in a normal society, it should not be necessary to continuously justify what we do. ….[And] poetry is never a dogma but a spark from the beauty which accompanies us, intact, forever.
Translated from the Romanian of Simona-Grazia Dima by Adriana-Ioana Nacu-Minculescu
Simona-Grazia Dima was born in Timisoara, in a family of writers. When 8 years old she won a prize for a theatrical sketch, Lica's Mask, which was staged by the Puppet Theatre in Timisoara, as well on tours throughout Romania and abroad. She graduated as a national valedictorian from the University of Timisoara, the Faculty of Philology. As a student, she was the president of the literary circle of the Students' University Centre in Timisoara. Simona-Grazia Dima is mainly a poet, but also an essayist, a literary critic and a translator.
She is an active contributor to the leading Romanian literary magazines and the author of ten books of poetry :Ecuaţie liniştită (Serene Equation),1985, Dimineţile gândului (Mornings of Thought), 1989, Scara lui Iacob (Jacob's Ladder), l995, Noaptea romană (Roman Night), 1997, Focul matematic (The Mathematical Fire), 1997, Confesor de tigri (A Tiger's Confessor), 1998, Ultimul etrusc (The Last Etruscan), 2002, Călătorii apocrife (Apocryphal Journeys), 2002, Dreptul rănii de a rămâne deschisă (The Right of the Wound to Be Left Gaping), 2003, La ora fulgerului (When Lightnings Start Flaring) She has published two books of essays and literary criticism and has translated from English Arthur Osborne's Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge (2003, title of the Romanian version: Sri Ramana Maharshi sau calea Cunoaşterii Supreme).
Currently Simona-Grazia Dima manages an international literary project which is a part of the International PEN Organization’s activity (The Linguistic and Translation Rights Committee), by preparing an anthology of contemporary Romanian literature in both electronic and written form in English and Macedonian languages. She is a principal editor in the Romanian Academy and lives in Bucharest, the capital of Romania.