Our first-ever poetry spotlight proudly shines on Happiness, that tender wound, a poem by Ioana Ileana Ștețco, translated from the Romanian by Gabi Reigh. In the translator’s own words: “I discovered Ștețco’s latest poetry collection,  Pay Attention, Madam (Ai să dai seamă, Doamnă), by chance in a bookshop in Cluj-Napoca, in Romania and was attracted by its playful title. Once I started leafing through the book, I was struck by the stark nihilism which offset this ironic playfulness, expressed through vivid yet ambiguous images that have earned her the title of a ‘subtle alchemist of existential melancholy’.”

Walking past your house today, I flinched to see
So many souls shielding away their plastic bliss
All of them flapping their arms
Flapping their legs
Flapping their wings
Igniting the air
The air burning
The air all burned away
Till there was nothing to breathe
The rocks gorged with heat
The sand and grass all flame
Only the vanquishing happiness
Of that buried plastic world.
I came by again the other day
The happy ones greeted me at the gate
With their plastic banners
and ticket stubs crusted with hearts
For the first time I dreamt of a weapon
Filled with arrows of sleep
To tear away the plastic hearts of happy plastic souls
And wake them to the fumbling of their burning fingers
Tracing the shadow of fleet-footed happiness
Under the bed.

— “Happiness, that tender wound,” by Ioana Ileana Ștețco, translated from the Romanian by Gabi Reigh


Ioana Ileana Ștețco was born on 24th September, 1952, in Borșa, Maramureş, Romania. A member of the ‘Romanian Writers’ Union’, she has published three poetry collections, spanning four decades. Her poems have been described as ‘remarkably vivid, tumultuous, overwhelming and grave’.  Ștețco’s poems have won several national prizes. Her latest collection, Pay Attention, Madam, was published in 2016.

Gabi Reigh is currently engaged in a translation project called Interbellum Series focusing on works from the Romanian interwar period. The first two titles, Poems of Light by Lucian Blaga and The Town with Acacia Trees by Mihail Sebastian, were published in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Women by Mihail Sebastian and Ciuleandra by Liviu Rebreanu will be out in 2020. She is currently working on a translation of A Bach Concert by Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu and A Star Without a Name by Mihail Sebastian.

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