MetaMorph: Bucharest International Poetry Festival, Romania. May 19th 2017
Blown away by this trip to Romania, a place that seems to be undergoing a palpable shift into a new generation of poets and curators who are seeking a more dynamic, innovative understanding of what literature can be. A country that was the subject of my first ever international Enemies project, and one that I think it’s fair to say is steeped in formalism with poetry post war - beyond the explosive tradition of Tzara, Janco, Ionesco, Cioran, Fondane, Brancusi, Celan, Braga etc etc - due to its recent traditions and history, this visit for the Bucharest International Poetry Festival, thanks to poet and curator Simona Nastac, completely subverted my expectations.
I had the chance to spend a number of days in Bucharest before and after the performance I gave, my first time in the city, and I was able to travel in the country after that. So I had to really think through the work I was to present, and to make it completely new, as I’ve managed to do for every performance over the last few years. The city was immediately attractive to me, the grand fading architecture, a whole slew of what seemed new and open restaurants, cultural centres, and beautiful weather, and a general energy and unpretentiousness that made the kind of open, unplanned walking and exploring that I so often do when travelling, deeply rewarding.
My work was part of a night curated by Simona called MetaMorph and it brought together ten artists from across the world. A lineup that at any place and time would be considerable. Ten of us each given ten minutes, on one night, no intermission, with what ended up to be around 150 people crammed into the beautiful Point theatre, with space for perhaps 100. Friends and peers I admire so much like Maja Jantar and Max Hofler alongside Romanian talents I’d long since read like Claudiu Komartin and Razvan Topa and even really considerable talents from as far as Canada and the US in Christian Bok and LaTasha Nevada Diggs.
I planned my work to initially be an slightly improvised conceptual performance, a meta talk, revolving around a subversion of the gross ads the British government had taken out in Romania to dissuade Romanians to come to the UK for work. Having lots of ties to the Romanian cimmunity in London at first this would be anti-these ads in a direct way, and then later, assuming the mantel of a copywriter of these ads, so pretending to be in favour of them. Both seemed too favourable or too provocative. I ended up evolving a kind of TED talk satire, with slides full of ambiguous poetic statement and some pretty straight on jokes. I then used this as a spine to improvise around on the night. This open space did make me nervous, as is often the way nowadays, I use this fear to produce something that I do believe the audience can feel is alive, unscripted, being made for them and before them. I watched the 9 performances very carefully before me, as I was last to close out the evening, and used much of others work as inspiration / material too. In the end, I think the individuated, tailored nature of the work did resonate with people, they seemed to like it. I was glad too I didn’t try to match the likes of Maja, LaTasha, Max and Christian in terms of force and skill. The playful, humorous, conceptual was the strength I should’ve leaned into on this night and it worked well for me in the end.
A grand achievement on Simona’s part, it really felt that afterwards enjoying some beautiful evenings in the city with the other poets, talking for many hours, sat in some really wonderful restaurants and cafes, that her work here included Romania firmly in the collection of new hubs for showcasing a new understanding of what poetry might be in Europe. I’ve found this all over the continent over the last few years, I’ve tried to do this myself in London, and it’s a genuine flowering of a new way of working, of a new community. Hearing of similar enterprises in Brasov and Sibiu too, it’s clear Romania has something happening.