Canadian Multiculturalism Reflected In Poetry
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
It was in the autumn of 2007 when our teacher announced us that at our following meeting we were going to have a special guest, coming from Canada. It raised my attention the fact that our guest was a Romanian born Canadian poet and she was going to share with us her experience as a poet and, moreover, as a citizen in the multicultural Canada. This was how I first heard about Flavia Cosma.
She entered our class accompanied by our teacher and by one of her editors, carrying a heavy bag which proved to be crammed with books and told us that books represented her life. My first wonder was to hear her speaking in Romanian, especially after I had been told that she had been living in Canada since 1974. She took care to explain us that she would never cease thinking, writing and loving in Romanian. It appeared to me that tears were going to trickle on her face. This happened each time she was mentioning something about her native country or about her mother tongue, managing to transmit us her feelings. It was even more impressive to find out the circumstances that made her leave her country. Little by little she imparted us her entire story, showing that she was a perfect case to fit in the multicultural Canada.
As her life was thoroughly influenced by the social situation of Romania, in a period when she was afraid to make her writings public, Flavia Cosma is eager to promote around the world the policy of the country that offered her the help to become such a renowned poet. She praises Canada for giving her the hope and the confidence in her, as well as for offering her the chance to prove herself and her mother country her real value. At a time when her own country was oppressing her for writing in such an original way, a foreign country helped Flavia to become famous and backed her up almost unconditioned. Actually, the only thing that she had to do was to translate her work in English, which proved to be of great difficulty at the beginning.
She went on telling us that her first feelings that she had for Canada were of intense hatred, as she did not know a single grain of English. But Canada was willingly to adapt her as a citizen, and gave her the opportunity to study English and adapt to the Canadian culture. She preferred to leave the compromise that she had to do in Romania for the work that she started to do in Canada. Her work was even more praised abroad than in Romania and Flavia felt extremely lucky to find this, after a couple of years that she had spent in different Refugee Camps. She took pleasure in giving birth to her work and struggled to make it public. After so many years, she says that it was worth, and declares that she was not that courageous as some of her Romanian counterparts were. Many of them ended up in prison or even dead, due to their desire to act different then the others did. She left Romania with the hope for freedom, and she knew that she had nothing to lose, as in her country she had absolutely no chance to publish her poems.
Being out of the country, she heard of the Romanian Revolution and felt a great joy. Canada offered her the possibility of creating The Association of Democracy in Romania. Since its formation, this organization has supported eleven Romanian orphanages, a help that proved to be reciprocal, as it enabled Flavia to resume her relations with Romania. Once again, she was grateful to the Canadian society that roused in her the interest in social themes and social justice. It also motivated her to start the work at some documentaries about the situation of post-communist Romania, the one entitled Romania a Country at the Crossroads receiving The Canadian Scene Prize for Television Documentaries.
We were listening carefully to her, and could hardly believe all the hardships she had to fight with in order to achieve her dream, the sweet dream of liberty, as she told us. She took out a couple of books from her bag and handled them with special care. She started to recite to us, and we were more absorbed by her emotions than by her lyrics. Her voice was trembling with thrills at each word, at each verse. It was clear how much the Romanian language meant to her. She had probably noticed our surprise and explained to us that she gets very nervous when she recites her poems in the language they were composed in, because she finds no other language more musical than Romanian itself. Her point of view was strengthened by many foreigners who listened to her reciting in Romanian. She said that they were profoundly impressed by the way the poems sound in her native language and that the fact that she continues to write in Romanian helps her to remain in touch with her mother country.
Later on she invited us to read aloud some of her poems. It was surprising how beautiful they appeared in the silence of our classroom. We were told that she received an important Translation Prize for her 47 Poems, a book that appeared with the support of an American English Professor that helped her with translations. The English variant also sounded fine, but it did not manage to touch our souls the way the Romanian version did. Other publications of Flavia Cosma that followed this one were represented by the novel The Fire that Burns Us, whose pages she took out of the country with great risks, the books Wormood Wine and Fata Morgana which also represent publications that appeared abroad.
She left our seminar with the promise that she would return soon, and that she would share other information about her literature and, of course, about the Canadian space. The latter theme does not miss from any of her discourses and lectures, as she is a member of a Canadian association that promotes Canadian values abroad. When asked in one interview that I found published in one of the books of my teacher, Flavia Cosma mentioned that the Canadian state is very generous to her for her speaking in the universities about their multicultural policies. Cf. Balaj, (Interviu cu Flavia Cosma, in Rodica Albu, English in Canada. Representations of Language and Identity. 2006, 327-332).
The spring of 2008 brought again the Romanian poet to the University of Iasi. This time she delivered a lecture about traditions and tolerance in the Canadian society. She talked to us about the unique experience Canada offers in what concerns the diversity in all fields of culture: language, nationality, religion etc. Flavia was happy to tell us that the Canadian society invites you to bring your contribution to their culture, and not to forget your national values, as the United States do. She also talked to us about the numerous organizations of art and literature that encourage immigrants to develop their talent and make it known over the world. She spoke to us with such emphasis as though she was a Canadian-born person herself. She was also proud to inform us that the nationality that is placed first in Canada in terms of level of schooling is represented by Romanian children. Just as she said in the interview I mentioned above, she feels at home in the plane, between the two destinations: Canada and Romania.
I had a great pleasure to accompany Flavia on a short walk around the city of Iasi. At the Metropolitan Cathedral she asked for an icon with Saint Anthony. She explained to me later that even though she is orthodox, she borrowed this saint from the Canadians, as he offers her great help, especially in the art of creation. For Flavia, the art of creating poetry is given by the Holy Grace, and she is thankful to God for the fact that a poem is sometimes written even before seeing the paper. This happens because Flavia does not write only on paper, but she writes in her thoughts, and she feels that something misses to her if she does not write on a certain day. This proves how great significance poetry and writing in general have for her.
She left me in Copou, offering me one of her books, together with her Internet site. She advised me to visit it, to find more things about her and about Canada. I realized how much she loves this country from the simple fact that she also offered me a little red trinket with a maple leaf below and with the inscription Canada.
She took such a pleasure when talking about her poetry that made me get closer to her poems and try to understand them. She said that her work is for everybody and that she dislikes being a hermetic poet. As soon as I started to read her lyrics, I also understood her double identity: she writes with the freedom of a foreigner, having a very open horizon, but she does not deny the Romanian soul. There are so many constructions in her poetry that are just untranslatable and even difficult to be given an English counterpart: luminÄƒ linÄƒ, vajnici duÅŸmani, zborul-nezbor and braÅ£ul mlÄƒdios are to be found in the poem entitled Anotimpul iubirii- The Season of Love. Flavia’s poetry abounds in such constructions that pose great difficulties when being translated, for she writes with her Romanian soul. Poems like Cântec de searÄƒ, Durerea te îmbatÄƒ, Noapte, Când singuratatea, which is a specific Romanian construction, and Se-nvolburÄƒ vulturii were translated as Song of Evening, The Pain that Intoxicates You, Darkness, When Loneliness and Eagles Are Turning Circles.
The poems of Flavia Cosma also abound in entire stanzas that are difficult to be translated, due to the Romanian context: Ah, pasÄƒre, / Dulce te pleacÄƒ, / Lin te coboarÄƒ, / MamÄƒ gingasÄƒ, / MamÄƒ nÄƒframÄƒ, / Peste iedul uitat in câmp/ de-astÄƒ-varÄƒ. The English version does not sound that musical, even though it renders the main idea: Ah, bird, / Bow sweet, / Come down calmly, / Gentle mother, / Kerchief mother, / Above the kid forgotten in the field / Since last summer.
Another poem that seems not to have found its proper English counterpart is represented by America: E tulbure mierea / PrelinsÄƒ din faguri deschiÅŸi dimineaÅ£a. / Frate, de ce Å£i-e palidÄƒ faÅ£a?. This poem was translated with the help of Don Wilson: The honey is like mud / Oozing from open honeycombs in the morning. / Brother, why is your face pale?.
Besides this sort of poems, Flavia also wrote extraordinary lyrics that had an impressive impact in English: But on the roads of night I goad / The chalky-white buffaloes-for-burden / Circling hills, climbing, descending, / Seeking answers, breathing. This poem is part of the 47 Poems, the book that received the Translation Prize.
I singled out Flavia’s case because I happened to be familiar with it, but, starting from that and from what I have been able to identify as tipycally Canadian, I can imagine a true cultural mosaic of ethnic voices writing between cultures. What I have no way knowing is to what extent these Canadian writers of various origins listen to each other and resonate with each other aesthetic preferences.
As I continued to read the poems, I felt that poetry represents for Flavia the only thread that binds her to Romania. Writing poems makes her discover the unknown mysteries and convey them to the readers through her lyrics. A few lines above I made a mistake and I wrote potery instead of poetry. I believe that the only mistake consists of the fact that I missed one t, because this is what Flavia does: just like the potters make real pieces of art out of simple sand and water, she builds up masterpieces out of simple materials, such as words, because when it comes about working there is nothing for Flavia to love more than words.
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