#RivetingReviews: Anna Blasiak reviews FIVE BOOKS by Ana Blandiana

Ana Blandiana is considered one of the most influential poets in Romania. In fact, she is a kind of legend there, often compared to Anna Akhmatova in Russian literature and Václav Havel in Czech: a formidable writer and a political figure at the same time. This reputation is proved for me by this poetic feast of a book. Blandiana is, without doubt, one of the most important poets in Europe. So far, she has published sixteen volumes of poetry and several other books. Five Books is her fourth volume in English, and, as the title suggests, consists of five collections: three political sets (mainly from the 1980s) and two sets of love poems, an early one from the 1970s and a very recent one, written after the death of her husband.

I admire the decision to put together sets of poems that are so different in character: the political ones, which – by their very nature – are more public, louder, outspoken, sitting right next to the meditative, very private, intimate even, love poetry. This creates a refreshing, contrasted image of the poet within one book. As one of the translators, Viorica Pâtea, notes in her introduction, Blandiana constantly reinvents herself. This variety is noticeable not only in the themes she covers, but also in her formal experiments, from free verse to more traditional forms, to rhyming ones, all the way to prose poetry.

The theme of the first three sets in the book – Predator Star, The Architecture of Waves and Clock without Course – is disagreement with, or, rather, protest against the reality of living in a communist regime and all the limitations that it brings; it is open criticism of Ceaușescu’s dictatorship, of totalitarianism and censorship. Here Blandiana often speaks in a direct manner, chronicling the abnormalities, zooming in on them. Her rebellion against the system is, however, always interwoven with a shimmering of hope, with faith in humanity and in moral principles. Blandiana was the subject of censorship and her poems were often published as samizdat – copied by hand and spread in secret, some even rewritten by unknown people, who added new details to Blandiana’s originals. 

The book opens with ‘Children’s Crusade’, a cry against the totalitarian regime’s birth control policy, which basically forbade abortion and forced women to have at least four children (from the mid-1980s, this rose to five), creating a market for backstreet abortions.

A nation entire

As yet unborn

But condemned to birth,

(…) keeps on moving

Through the tormented bodies of women,

Through the blood of mothers

No one has asked

In her poems Blandiana is often ‘in conversation’ with Romanian folk stories, but also with writers and philosophers of the 1930s, such as Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran, Lucian Blaga and others. After the break point of 1989, Blandiana’s poetry has an added flavour of forgiveness and reconciliation. These poems transcend the specific context they were written in and become more universal.

I’m not afraid,

but I don’t know how

To raise

My voice, or how

To reach out to strike.

And when I ball my fist

Must I also fold in

My angel’s wings?

The other two sets making up Five Books are – in stark contrast – collections of love poetry. According to one of the book’s translators, these ‘two volumes of love poems rank among the most beautiful such poems in contemporary Romanian poetry’, and they come at the beginning and end of Blandiana’s current oeuvre: October, November, December (1972) and Variations on a Given Time (2018). The poems in the first set are an exercise in finding a language for what cannot be expressed in words – focusing on spiritual love, with a mystical and visionary tone. The two lovers in the book belong to different realms, which makes their love impossible … perhaps. The whole set is written as a dialogue with the Romanian Romantic poet Mihai Eminescu. Blandiana also frequently refers to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, in its numerous retellings. The set finds its continuation in Blandiana’s most recent volume, Variations on a Given Time, which is a beautiful, lyrical elegy composed after the death of her husband.

I remember wondering once

Whether you and I had two guardian angels,

For since we were always together

Two would have been a waste.

I hear that another compilation of Blandiana’s poetry in English, The Shadow of Words, is already in the Bloodaxe pipeline. And I, for one, am very, very happy to know that there will be more of Blandiana in English, and in Paul Scott Derrick’s and Viorica Pâtea’s impeccable translations.

Reviewed by Anna Blasiak


by Ana Blandiana

Translated by Paul Scott Derrick and Viorica Pâtea

Published by Bloodaxe Books (2021)

You can read poems from Five Books in The Romanian Riveter. 

November 2021 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.

Anna Blasiak is a poet, writer and translator. She has translated over 40 books from English into Polish and, mainly as Anna Hyde, Polish into English. She is a co-translator (with Marta Dziurosz) of Renia’s Diary by Renia Spiegel. Her bilingual poetry book, Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime, is out from Holland House Books, as is Lili. Lili Stern-Pohlmann in conversation with Anna Blasiak. annablasiak.com.

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of MADGERMANES by Birgit Weyhe

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of BICKI-BOOKS by various authors

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THINGS I DIDN’T THROW OUT by Marcin Wicha

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE BOOK OF VENICE. A CITY IN SHORT FICTION edited by Orsola Casagrande

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of IN MEMORY OF MEMORY by Maria Stepanova

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of CITY OF SANDCASTLES by Hagar Peeters

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of NIGHT TRUCK DRIVER by Marcin Świetlicki


Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of HANA by Alena Mornštajnová

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of NO TIME LIKE NOW by Andrei Codrescu

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of UNDER CLOUDED SKIES and BEAUREGARD / PENSÉES SOUS LES NUAGES et BEAUREGARD by Philippe Jaccottet

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of BITTER GRASS by Gëzim Hajdari

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of TRACING THE UNSPOKEN by Milan Šelj

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of PIXEL by Krisztina Tóth

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of BLUEPRINT by Theresia Enzensberger

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of TIDAL EVENTS. SELECTED POEMS by Mária Ferenčuhová

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of HAVING NEVER MET by Inga Pizāne

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of GAMES WITH GRETA & OTHER STORIES by Suzana Tratnik

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of HYDRA’S HEADS by Nora Gomringer

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of WHATEVER THE NAME by Pierre Lepori

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE GALLOPING HOUR: FRENCH POEMS by Alejandra Pizarnik

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of CARAVAN LULLABIES by Ilzė Butkutė

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of SEVEN STONES by Vénus Khoury-Ghata

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE GREEN CROW by Krīstine Ulberga

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE GREAT PLAN B by Justyna Bargielska

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of NIEWAŻKOŚĆ by Julia Fiedorczuk

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE ANGELS DIE by Yasmina Khadra

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of LULLABY FOR A HANGED MAN by Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of QUIET FLOWS THE UNA by Faruk Šehić

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of DYGOT by Jakub Małecki

Category: ReviewsNovember 2021 – Romania


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *