Saturday, November 22, 2008

Comfort Procust

The poet Ion Untaru comes to the Universe of Poetry from the rigorous world of numbers. This fact cannot be neglected if we want to see his true portrait. In him coexist two egos (beings). Thirsty spirit for real world, characteristic of all people working in the field of science – he is a graduate of the Economical Sciences Academy of Bucharest - doubled by the poetical nature makes a genuine poet of a sensitive artistical soul which knows to observe beauties and sadness of nature and society.
His artistic personality, strong but contorted as the statuary Laokoon group predicted ever since his first book „Mister Liszt” (Publishing House Amurg sentimental, 1994) appeared, divided into two parts: „Walking with the coach” and „Lamentation of the nightingale”.
His poetical universe is here constituted, and his poems always reflect nature and society. Nature expires him to write exotic and succinct but concentrated haiku poems, while the society is an inexhaustible source of his senryu poems. The expression „One eye is laughing and the other is crying” is very well adapted to these two literary forms, coming from the Country of the Rising Sun.
Both in prose and in poetry the writer Ion Untaru knows how to organically join the two sides of human existence, life and death. He enjoys the incomparable nature, assuming the great or little dramas, so many in fact, of his fellow people. Even though, from the beginning, he seats himself under Bacovia’s zodiacal sign, the Romanian classic closest to haiku.

The graveyards are flooded
We’re closed in our houses
Father and mother and daughter
All of them, praying in vain
Look here sweetheart how cold are
Our hands dead people weep
None of us is really old,
No chance to get out bold

The poet’s soul is rich. It frets, laments, contemplates, admires. His frame of mind is not easy to quantify nor to put into moulds. The man of rigorous, right numbers, after his free verse period, is in a continuous search of forms able to better express the truth. I mean the artistic truth. Like an athlete which begins the marathon to reach the top of his career with a hundred meters. His endeavors can be compared with the hard work of a sculptor passing from his great breadth to miniature works. As the size decreases, the value of the work increases. How much sawdust is made when a sculptor gives life to a child head, for instance? And how many words a poet is to get rid off or to transfigure to eventually get a jewel the size and magnificence of a sonnet, roundel or haiku?
Only a poet who have tried, like the legendary Procust, to bring everything to the same size, to a common denominator, speaking in mathematical terms, does know it. Ion Untaru is one of these poets who times words, gathering them in the fold of fixed form poems.
Such an example is „Flower of Lotus” (Semne, 2006). This book contains 148 poems, each consisting of quatrains. An immense number of verses - 3960. The author has managed to avoid monotony. The mould is the same, but the content is varied. Writing in the atmosphere of his fellow Ion Barbu, the poet of lotus flower (often met in haiku poetry), he resurrects the old Balkan world. A lot of words and syntagms have the aroma of old wine preserved in mulberry wood barrels: old accordions, romances with music perfume, sensation in fauburg, confused bonnet, tapestries of old Bucharest, the fees‘coach in trot, boots, bazaars, grinder, a castle man, a map of a military Roman camp. And so it continues. The summary of „The Old Book” by Geo Bogza can be read as an independent poem. The quasitotality of titles of these 148 poems in a specific immutable form created by him, are poetical by themselves and all of them could be considered poetry: The blind artist was painting a nu, The Solitude of the great pictures, Falling asleep with silence in my hand, History is but a reptile, Violin concerto of a cricket, The grinder at the coin of the street, Great chars with tilts, Silence as a corrugated paper, A Butterfly or may be a fee, I kiss and break this sword. Such poetry does contain some verses particularly beautiful which can exist for themselves, like a pillatian poem written in one verse: My celestial chain of jewels, The Moon was descending like a battle ax, The life is flowing the sky into inkpot...
Next come his sonnets. Ion Untaru has written them ever since the 80’s. In his debut thin booklet, mentioned above, he tried to feel the sea with his finger, publishing two sonnets: „The world axes” and „Matrimonials”. Only a year later, he has achieved the true measure in this field of maximal formal restrictions, allowing him to free his imagination. „Invitation to the castle” (Sagittarius, foreword by Marcel Crihană), contains 132 sonnets. As a pure statistical fact, the „Invitation” has 12 sonnets less than the great Will has written. Their elaboration took place, I suppose, in longer torments. Lucian Blaga says in „Quatrain”: „No song is easy. Day / and night – nothing is easy on earth: / that dew is the sweat of nightingales / which have labored all night singing”.
It is not easy to cut legs, even though they are not of flesh and bones, but of words, and to put them in a mould to stay there for a long time, aiming sometimes at eternity. You confer them, it is a comfortable bed, Procust’s bed. „The Comfort” of the poet, the surgeon of these operations of amputation and implant, is not easy to resume in words. Ion Untaru does this in his manner in his sonnet „Instrumentaire”, opening the volume:

So many words assault
The most engraved hidden from you
Where to find better ones and to whom
to offer them daily without fault?
Smelling almond and too
Dark night in sleep, stars on the vault
Through meanings almost one somersault
You quickly find him like a yahoo

To reach the haiku poem of Japanese origin, which aims at the very essence of poetry, Ion Untaru have passed through various custom barriers. A custom for words. Metaphorically speaking, he worked with an electronic balance and a dropper, knowing how to renounce of every unnecessary word and to retain only noble metal. Because pure gold is reserved only for the Creator, as people say.
It seemed that the last variant was roundel, that Al. Macedonski had improved to the highest degree in Romanian poetry – the beginning of the haiku movement in Romania.
In roundel as well in sonnet the imagination of Ion Untaru has no limits. He dedicates roundel to love, tenderness, to a book which opens with hazard, to the organ man (grinder), bells, two to the rain, three to coffee and so on. To decrease the ardor and selection of themes, would be to reduce them in favor of a fashionable content and its depth. Very expressive is the roundel of spring coming late contained in his volume “The Fountain in which souls are seen”. If we look carefully, we shall find in a single quatrain seven elements common to haiku poetry, with many a kigo:

Once again our spring is late
With shining sun and rain for flowers
With insects, butterflies as a dower
And I miss dear cranes from my gate

It wasn’t to be so. Ion Untaru, together with Radu Patrichi, has created a tanrenga, tanka written by two authors. It’s called “From the secrets of friendship” (Amurg sentimental, 2006) and has been written by the two men who have never met in reality.
Ion’s travel from classical poetry to haiku lasted ten years. All his experience determined him to start on a new literary path. Although he doesn’t know all the secrets of the matter, he has had success from his debut pocketbook “Picking up stars” (Ambasador, Târgu Mureş, 2004) he has published as an independent haijin, having much to tell. In his vision, a poet is like a blossoming sweet cherry tree knocking on the window. Pick me up, people, it seems he is telling us in a specific wordless language. He generously offers us his poems instead of fruits:
Before the mirrorwith cherries to the earsa teen-age girl
Even though the Procust’s (Lilliputians) size of the haiku are not entirely fulfilled, the poet creates his poems with touching fragments of life. Formal imperfection is balanced by internal tension posted on such little space. Look how natural two fiancés are, although represented only by their shadows:
Fiancés on the foot bridgetheir shadowsshake hands
The pocketbooks „Prepeleac with moon” and „Inscriptions on the grain of rice”, issued a year later by the same publishing house, the „Haiku” collection edited by Ioan Găbudean, and the latest one confirm the quality of the haijin Mr. Ion Untaru. It rarely happens that one easily write a haiku. Despite its Lilliputian size, concentrating more and more ideas and feelings by less and less words, as even the poet confesses in this sentence:
The wholesterile mountainfor only one haiku
The poet seems to be secluded. In other times he would have been a hermit, a recluse. As there are no caverns, as he says, he exalted himself in the middle of the city, not in a nacre tower. This means an inside exile, sad, without higher hopes, but fruitful. Because solitude is sine qua non for creation.
If up to now he has not become a well-known haijin, his “Birds and words” will enable him to take a good place in the Haiku Constellation of the Romanian language.
After his honorable economist career, Ion Untaru is building his literary career accounting stars and numbering words.


(English version by Ion Untaru)

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