The Forgiven Submarine
by Ruxandra Cesereanu & Andrei Codrescu, translated by Andrei
Black Widow Press, Boston 2009
Editura Brumar, TImisoara, Romania 2007
A new Romanian edition will appear in 2018, with an added 120 pages of correspondence between the authors during the writing of "The Forgiven Submarine/Submarinul.
The Forgiven Submarine was written in Romanian via e-mail by the noted Romanian poet Ruxandra Cesereanu, known for her brilliant use of the complexity and metaphorical innovation in her native language, and by Andrei Codrescu, who is now a well-known American poet. Andrei Codrescu began writing poetry in Romanian until he emigrated to the United States in 1970 and started working exclusively in American English. Codrescu returned to Romania in 1989 to report on the collapse of the dictatorship for NPR and ABC News, and began a slow return to the language of his birth.
Ruxandra and Andrei met briefly at the Black Sea at a Romanian Writers’ Union poetry conference in 2006, and started, in a playful way, to collaborate via e-mail. The play soon turned serious as both poets realized that they were involved in a major enterprise: for Ruxandra Cesereanu, a Transylvanian from Cluj, it became important to plumb new depths of language and defend a poetics that was both her own and peculiar to Romania’s rich poetic tradition; for Codrescu, also a Transylvanian, born in nearby Sibiu, there was, at first, the bravado of staying atop the fast linguistic horse that Cesereanu rode at top speed, then it became a matter of displaying an American-bred poetics that clashed in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways with his collaborator’s poetics. Not long after beginning what was no longer a game, the two poets engaged in a mortal combat that involved gender, language, memory, poetics, and culture. For Cesereanu, the poem was an opportunity to display her dazzling range, and for Codrescu it was a matter of regaining the language of his poetic beginnings. The result, Submarinul Iertat, was published in Romania by Editura Brumar in 2007, with a preface by Mircea Cartarescu, in a de-luxe edition with six paintings by Radu Chio.
The poets gave two readings of the complete work in Romania in 2007, one in Sibiu, and one in Cluj, before "officially" launching the book at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Submarinul Iertat received a great deal of comment in Romania’s literary press and won a major award. The cross-cultural resonance of the poem required that it be translated in English, and Codrescu took up the challenge of not only rendering Cesereanu’s nearly-impossible-to-translate nuanced language, but also of translating his own hard-earned Romanian into his American English. The result, a book-length poem in English that includes the Cartarescu preface and Chio’s art, was released in the U.S. by Black Widow Press, one of the most prestigious poetry publishers in the English-speaking world. "Beyond the splendor of its imagery, the Submarine is tragic like Luceafarul. In the oblong windows of the parabolic shape in the depths, we glimpse as if in reversed looking-glasses, Transylvanian and New York scenes from the pilots’ childhood and adolescence, moving displays of thought and dream." - Mircea Cartarescu
Reviews for the Romanian edition:
"[In] the Forgiven Submarine, Romanian literature finds itself owning a strange and living jewel that its treasure-chest lacked until now…" - Felix Nicolau, in Luceafarul
"The book that is the Forgiven Submarine becomes an event through its unabashed success as a collaboration…and it coheres in a fascinating, brilliant, and substantial spectacle." - Cosmin Perta, revista Cuvantul
"…a superb book. The text powerfully oxidizes and transfigures everything: lyricism, sarcasm, literary references, the discrepancies between Cesereanu's magical reality and Codrescu's beat sense of the sickness of reality." - George Vulturescu, revista Poesis
"The Forgiven Submarine is a book I would like to email to all my friends." - Cosmin Ciotlos, in Romanian Literara