Highlighting forgotten, neglected, abandoned, forsaken, unrecognized, unacknowledged, overshadowed, out-of-fashion, under-translated writers. Has no one read your books? You are in good company.

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These writers are famous in some part of the internet or the world. Some may be famous in your own family or in your own mind.

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“No one reads Nichita Stănescu” is a five-word poem; it is a lament, my lament, but I need not cry it in his homeland of Romania. There, he is revered by everyone, and his poems are not merely read but prayed.

[The Romanian poet] Nichita Danilov recalls Stănescu being feted with an introduction suited for a demigod: “Remember, my friends. Take a good look at this man. He is a genius. Rejoice that you were able to meet him! That you lived at the same time as he did!”(SC, 307)

He was born on March 31, 1933, in Ploieşti. During WWII, the city’s groundbreaking oil refinery was taken over by the Nazis and eventually crippled by US bombers—“people dying in flames, the smell of burning everywhere, screaming, the indecent redness of split flesh” are some of the horrors that riddled through Stănescu’s childhood. His account of failing the first grade, because “he’d found it unusually difficult to imagine that the uttered utterance and the spoken speech exist and that they can be written”, serves as a good primer for his approach to poetry (“the ritual of writing on air”), and it describes a bewilderment toward language that every writer would benefit from experiencing and cultivating.

In 1952, Stănescu moved to Bucharest, where he studied Romanian, linguistics, philosophy, and literature. After university, he worked as an editor for various Romanian literary periodicals. His writings earned him the Herder Prize in 1975, and he was nominated for the 1979 Nobel Prize in Literature, which ended in the hands of Greek poet Odysseas Elytis—that same year, Max Frisch, Léopold Senghor, and Borges were also in contention.

Stănescu preferred togetherness over solitude; he married three times, smoked, drank heavily, resided mainly in the houses of friends, and could be found extemporizing poems in bars with his audience eagerly scrambling to make transcriptions.

‘Gutenberg flattened words out,’ declared Stănescu in a Belgrade interview, ‘but words exist in space … Words are spatialized. They are not dead, like a book. They are alive, between me and you, me and you, me and you. They live; they are spoken, spatialized, and received.’(SC, 308)

During his fiftieth year of life, the long-suffered illness of his liver worsened, prompting a trip to the hospital. The doctor, while attempting to revive him, asked Stănescu if he could breathe. “I breathe”, he said, and those were his last words, written in air, written in pneuma: “am respira”.

He left behind a prodigious body of work that includes not only his diverse poetry, but also essays, and Romanian translations of the Serbian-language poets Adam Puslojic and Vasko Popa.

Collections of Stănescu’s poetry in English translation:

  • The Still Unborn About the Dead (Anvil Press, 1975), selected poems translated by Petru Popescu and Peter Jay. It is a shame that this collection is out of print, because it is the only one that contains the full Elegies (a.k.a. The Last Supper; originally Elegii, 1966), including “The Slit Man”, which Stănescu dedicated to Hegel and labelled the “anti-Elegy”, “a kind of Judas” to the eleven others.
  • Ask the Circle to Forgive You — Selected Poems, 1964-1979 (The Globe Press, 1983), translated by Mark Irwin and Mariana Carpinisan. In my opinion, this might not be the strongest of the out-of-print books, but it is worth tracking down just for “Contemplating the World from the Outside”. Thankfully, a lot of the other poems can be found via the later books, albeit in different translations.
  • Bas-Relief with Heroes — Selected Poems, 1960-1982 (Memphis State University Press, 1988), translated by Thomas C. Carlson and Vasile Poenaru, with illustrations by Benedict Gănescu. Its introductory essay by Dumitru Radu Popa provides an excellent overview of Stănescu and Romanian literature. The illustrations seem ill-suited, but the visual accompaniment is redeemed by a single, uncaptioned photograph (see above, third thumbnail) that is found near the end of the book, beside “Knot 19”. A handful of the poems from this collection can be found online at RomanianVoice.com.
  • Sentimental Story (Editura Athena, 1995), translated by Bogdan Ștefănescu. Unfortunately, I was not able to acquire a copy of this book, so I am not certain, but the Worldcat.org listing suggests they are English translations. [Update (2012/11/15): I acquired this charming little book, and I can confirm it does have English translations; it is also a bilingual edition.]
  • Occupational Sickness (BuschekBooks, 2005), selected and translated by Oana Avasilichioaei. You should get this book while it is still available; as of October 7, 2012, I still see copies for sale on Amazon.ca for ~$11. It contains a unique selection of poems, and she has beautiful translations of Stănescu’s lyrical verse. It is also the only second completely bilingual edition that I know of. (The Carlson edition does include a few Romanian versions of the harder to translate poems.)
  • Wheel with a Single Spoke and Other Poems (Archipelago Books, 2012), selected and translated by Sean Cotter. Up until this glorious book, Bas-Relief with Heroes was the most extensive collection. Cotter and Archipelago have done English-language readers a great service. Feel free to start reading anywhere, but I suggest Cotter’s selections from Stănescu’s Egg and Sphere, Epica Magna, and Unwords.

Stănescu “tears with [things’] tears”, because “[e]verything on earth / at one time or another needs to cry”, so he cries for those unable, for “the still unborn about the dead”, for the everyday, for Language. As such, he belongs in the same league as Rilke, Vallejo, Celan: poets for whom “[poetry] is [often] the weeping itself”; poets who do not simply play with words but, rather, who accumulate a poetic charge until it arcs out and brilliantly sears fresh paths through language—paths that become new homes for Being.

With English translations of Stănescu’s poems back in circulation, now is the time for you to embrace his words with your ribs: by breathing them in through your eyes, ears, skin.

‘A poet is greater,’ [Stănescu] wrote, ‘when those that read him don’t discover the poet but themselves.’(OA, 10)

(Photos: please click the photos to see their captions—unfortunately, I could not find credits for all of them, and there are a lot more photographs on the extremely popular Facebook page dedicated to Nichita Stănescu. Also, this article could not have been possible without the essays and translations by Popescu, Irwin, Avasilichioaei, and Cotter; where appropriate, I noted, either in superscript or in tooltips, their initials and their book’s page number.)

The Twisted Spoon: On Ghérasim Luca 


At Hyperallergic, Michael Leong has an excellent overview of Ghérasim Luca’s three books that have thus far appeared in English, including, of course, The Passive Vampire. An appreciation of Luca’s writing in general, he also mentions some recent translations of his poetry that have popped up in journals and seemed to have escaped our notice. Here is one that is available on Poetry International’s website : scroll down to “Dream in Action.” Apparently they’ve published more. Maybe one day they’ll be made available.

No one reads Daniel Spoerri, a visual artist known for his snare-pictures, and also the author of a classic literary snare-picture, An Anecdoted Topography of Chance—an unfortunately difficult book to track down.

The premise of An Anecdoted Topography of Chance is simple: the map above is of Spoerri’s room, drawn on the afternoon of October 17, 1961. After numbering the items in his room, the author set out to inventory each object, providing in the process an autobiography unlike any you’ve read. Each page lists a single object (illustrated by the inimitable Roland Topor) followed by an entry describing the object. Sometimes laconic:

44 Very Pretty Dark Blue Bottle

with a large neck, bought in a shop opposite the Galerie Raymond Cordier, rue Guenegaud, one day when for no apparent reason I visited the gallery; said bottle is topped by a socket and bulb, the whole forming a bedside lamp.

And at others elaborate, like number 66, a bottle of Sauze (a cologne), to which are appended three footnotes and five pages of text that ends with the following anecdote:

I myself was so drunk that evening that I’m certain it was there I infected my finger, and not in the door of a taxi, as I once supposed; after two days the infection had spread almost up to my shoulder, and I was sent to a doctor: if I had come two days later, he said, I probably would have died of blood poisoning.

To get a better idea of how the book works (and to see how easily it could be adapted to an online text), see this page.

And for an article about “chance art,” see Dario Gamboni piece in Cabinet Magazine.

No one reads Ghérasim Luca (1913-1994), a member of the Romanian Surrealist Group who was declared by Gilles Deleuze as “the greatest French poet.” Luca left Bucharest for Paris in 1954, where he later killed himself by jumping into the Seine.

A writer of hermetic, delirious, and erotic prose, Luca was also the creator of the game of “Objectively Offered Objects,” a variation of Salvador Dalí’s symbolically functioning objects, in which a found object was transformed into one imbued with deep psychic meaning by a member of the game. (For a comprehensive essay on OOO, see Sean Sturm’s blog.)

An excerpt from Luca’s Passive Vampire will give you an idea of the writer who believed that “everything must be reinvented”:

I close my eyes, as active as a vampire, I open them within myself, as passive as a vampire, and between the blood that arrives, the blood that leaves, and the blood already inside me there occurs an exchange of images like an engagement of daggers. Now I could eat a piano, shoot a table, inhale a staircase. All the extremities of my body have orifices out of which come the skeletons of the piano, the table, the staircase, and for the very first time these ordinary—and therefore non-existent—objects can exist. I climb this staircase not to get to the first floor but to get closer to myself. I lean on the banisters not to avoid vertigo but to prolong it.

For more:

  • Read the entirety of Luca and Trost’s manifesto, Dialectics of the Dialectic
  • Twisted Spoon published Luca’s legendary and obscure Passive Vampire (trans. Krzysztof Fijalkowski) from which the photograph above is taken. Read a review at Bookforum.
  • Black Widow Press published his Inventor of Love, translated by Julian and Laura Semilian. 
  • Ubuweb has audio of Luca reading some of his poems
No one reads Cioran.
"It’s not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late." More quotes. Hat tip The New Inquiry. (And why I like him.)
In English (these books go in and out of print):
The Temptation to Exist 
On the Heights of Despair
Tears and Saints
The Trouble With Being Born
A Short History of Decay
The Fall into Time
Anathemas and Admirations
The New Gods
History and Utopia
All Gall Is Divided
Drawn and Quartered

No one reads Cioran.

"It’s not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late." More quotes. Hat tip The New Inquiry. (And why I like him.)

In English (these books go in and out of print):