New East Digital Archive

‘I didn’t think it was my fault, but thanks:’ feminist poetry from Romania by Ileana Negrea and Cătălina Stanislav

'I didn’t think it was my fault, but thanks:' feminist poetry from Romania by Ileana Negrea and Cătălina Stanislav
Image: Ileana Negrea (left) and Cătălina Stanislav (right)

28 January 2022

On 15 January, Romania’s National Poetry Awards sparked scandal. Gala organisers privately asked the winner of the event’s debut prize, Ileana Negrea — who describes herself as a “queer, feminist, mad poet” — “not to read erotic poetry” at the ceremony. “They cornered me and asked me not to ‘make a show’ and not to read anything erotic. I didn’t feel like I could read something erotic afterwards,” Negrea told The Calvert Journal.

Instead, Negrea shared the organisers’ request publicly, prompting other writers to rally against her treatment. Cătălina Stanislav, one of the five poets shortlisted for the same prize, used the gala to read a love poem that sparked conservative outrage for a different reason — its use of the verb “to fuck”. (Yes, that’s right: parts of Romanian society are that coy when it comes to the words that should be allowed to make it into literature.) “I don’t like to attract attention, I am not combative, or conflictual, but I can’t shut up in front of injustice,” Stanislav later wrote on her Facebook page. “I chose to read this poem precisely because of the asterisked word, because the whole experience was revolting and this was the only way in which I found the courage to say it.” The award organisers did not appreciate the sentiment. They promptly took the recording of the gala off their Facebook page, saying the “public page is also visited by children”.

The scandal divided the Romanian literary community, while also creating a wave of feminist solidarity that framed the act of censorship as “patriarchal”. The Left Wing Feminist Writers’ Manifesto, published today and signed by both Negrea and Stanislav, as well as 30 other authors, explains that the event showed that “the [Romanian] literary world functions in a normative way: there are criteria that define literature as (National) Literature and the creation as the unique and absolute attribute of the Man.” “We need another literary world, a kinder, non-oppressive one,” the manifesto added.

Negrea won the debut prize for her collection Half of My Life So Far (frACTalia, 2021) — her first volume in Romanian language. Until this collection, Negrea chose to write poetry in English “as a means of distancing herself from immediate trauma” of the Romanian patriarchal society. Meanwhile, over the past few years, more and more feminist poets have published work in Romanian, helping Negrea re-embrace her native tongue.

Stanislav is one of these poets, exploring modern relationships in her tongue-in-cheek debut Do Not Interrupt Me (OMG Publishing, 2021). A graduate in literature and gender studies, Stanislav edits the young literature and culture magazine Z9 and co-organises its corresponding Z9 International Poetry Festival in Sibiu. She is also part of the team organising the Sofia Nădejde Women’s Literature Prize in Romania and a translator from English into Romanian.

Making It Larger

Written in English by Ileana Negrea

He sends me poetry

I send back nudes from the bathtub

Let the foam go to its own heaven

Let my body leave this confinement

Stone hard verses filling

The distance

Between my legs

Trust me he says

Even when you’re playing games

I imagine calves made of iron

Pushing their way through this infected world

The towns are getting smaller

I have my own apocalypse boy

Should i talk to you about it

Would you turn around

In my poem we’ve all lost our ways

The women i loved

The men i crave

I fill in the declaration

So i can finally leave this place

At 35 who am i

Transparent as a jelly fish

I bite

I am night incarnate

My vagina reshifts

To accommodate more than fingers

I am always wearing a mask

Its cotton fills my mouth

Whenever i try to speak

It slips inside the back of my throat

Fantasies of being used

My looks used to kill men like you

In an instant

Click clack

The camera remembers me 20 stones lighter

I pass all mirrors and pray

For the half said truths

For the half written poems

For my life at which i am pulling

Making it larger

Engulfing men women everything in between

Swollen like a body on pills

Pop they go

And i outgrow my frame

My clattering identity

There’s nothing wrong

Just say the word


Wake up it’s time you see the whole of me

Pick me up in your mouth

As i am clinging for dear life

And for what comes after

Hospital Drama

Written and translated by Cătălina Stanislav

“It’s not your fault” is something you hear pretty often after a break-up.

I didn’t think it was my fault, but thanks.

It’s also a certain tonality.

Similar to how this lady I shared a hospital room with would ask me every morning:

“How are you doing, sweetheart?”

Plump and soft spoken

Me, bound like I’d just been in a car accident

I actually had a piercing infection, but it had become severe, as this is my talent, always.

I’m alright, is what I tell people, as if I’d been gravely ill.

It’s not like I can tell them

I’ve been watching series with doctors and beautiful women

I know Meredith is a terrible actress and has the most annoying laugh

but after like six seasons I grew to like her

Every episode seems to have two essential things:

there is always someone who dies and someone who hasn’t confessed their love

someone gets hit by the bus or dies in a plane crash

and, in the last minutes of their life, decides to say:

hey, so I just wanted to let you know I’ve been in love with you for like 10 years

then he cries

he’s also in love, but he’s a man, he wasn’t aware

let’s get a house and a dog, we’ll have a lake and a dock

he says between sobs

and one of those tire swings

(the tire swing and the dog will simply just be there when they buy the house)

I’m alright, I know that in real life people don’t barge in hospital rooms with a 10 minute frantic speech at the end of which they kiss sloppily against the walls while their friends watch from behind the glass door.

In real life I think people break up and then have mediocre relationships for years

while checking somebody else’s facebook status

and going on Russian websites

to anonymously look at instagram stories.

while typing the username in the search bar, their hearts beat so fast, their fingers shake,

almost as if they were barging into a hospital room

to declare their love to a dying person

In real life people buy plane tickets with ultimatums

they end up nowhere

and then they suffer quietly behind blue screens.

If you don’t wake up, see their face and are just completely overwhelmed with pure joy, then nothing is worth it anymore, is what a friend told me one morning in Bucharest, while standing drunkenly in the red light of the hotel by the train station. I never know if I feel lonelier when I come or when I leave. Or if I stayed.

I’m alright.

I’ve googled you three times already

I feel like I’m going mad

I am terrified

that if I die in a plane crash

we won’t even have those three minutes for me to tell you

how often I dream you’re in my kitchen in the morning.

Read more

'I didn’t think it was my fault, but thanks:' feminist poetry from Romania by Ileana Negrea and Cătălina Stanislav

‘The women who bore me slept too long, so they could run:’ 2 feminist poems by Croatia’s Ivana Bodrožic

'I didn’t think it was my fault, but thanks:' feminist poetry from Romania by Ileana Negrea and Cătălina Stanislav

‘Like a glass of vodka infected with blood:’ 2 poems by Angela Marinescu, the matriarch of modern Romanian poetry

'I didn’t think it was my fault, but thanks:' feminist poetry from Romania by Ileana Negrea and Cătălina Stanislav

‘A feminist in my own way:’ Romanian writer Magda Cârneci on her novel FEM