2018 – Ana Blandiana

Lifetime Recognition Award, 2018

On October 11, 2017, The Griffin Trust For Excellence in Poetry announced that Romanian poet, essayist, and political figure Ana Blandiana would receive its Lifetime Recognition Award at the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize Shortlist Readings on June 6, 2018. Ana and her translator Viorica Patea attended the events in Toronto, and read at the Griffin Poetry Prize Awards Evening on June 7, 2018.

Jo Shapcott pays tribute to Ana Blandiana of Romania at the Griffin Poetry Prize 2018 readings

Griffin trustee Jo Shapcott pays tribute to Lifetime Recognition Award recipient Ana Blandiana

On behalf of the trustees of the Griffin Prize, I am pleased and proud to announce Ana Blandiana as the winner of this year’s Lifetime Recognition Award. We’re here to honour her literary achievements this evening as one of Romania’s finest poets and as an important, vital figure in world literature. But it’s hard to separate these from her political activism, her brave dissidence and her continued stance against the backward forces which work against political and cultural freedoms.

I first heard Ana Blandiana read her poems in London back in the early 1990s. I was lucky – she was already a legendary figure and we knew her from her 1990 Anvil Press collection The Hour of Sand, poems from 1969 to 1989, written during the time of her opposition to Ceau?escu’s regime. In this period, she suffered many oppressions imposed by the communist state, including three bans on her writing. On stage that night in London, we saw a charismatic, inspirational figure, whose poems made metaphor meet emotion and thought with a direct force, an unselfconscious courage and which spoke through their sheer music of the importance of what language can’t touch but only reach for, of mystery and hope. She’s written, “Poetry is not a series of events, but a sequence of visions.”

Since that time, international recognition has caught up with her. For her contribution to literary culture and her outstanding record on human and civil rights, she was awarded the Legion of Honour in 2009. In 2014, the US State Department gave her the Romanian Women of Courage Award. She was given the European Poet of Freedom Prize in 2016 for her book of poems My Native Land A4. The “A4” in the title is crucial – it refers to the standard European size for paper – this – and it’s a neat acknowledgement of the wider importance of Romania’s place in Europe, poetically and politically, but as well as that, a new boundary for poetic thought and utterance.

After the fall of communism, Ana Blandiana was president of the Civic Alliance, the organization which helped realize Romania’s integration into Europe. This openness to the world is an inspiration to many of us at this point in history, and I’m thinking of my own country Britain among others in this, and I wish it understood the cultural and political urgency of the European project in the same generous way.

In 2004, she wrote that “poetry is born out of the desire to express what cannot be expressed, out of the obstinacy to define what everybody knows is indefinable, out of the need to offer something which people do not even understand they are in need of, out of a disquietude so difficult to bear that it becomes an affliction.”

We also tonight have the pleasure of welcoming her distinguished and long-time translator Viorica Patea. But now I have the overwhelming honour to invite Ana Blandiana to the stage to receive her award and to read to us.

Poet Ana Blandiana of Romania and translator Viorica Patea read at the Griffin Poetry Prize 2018 readings

Poet Ana Blandiana of Romania and translator Viorica Patea read at the Griffin Poetry Prize 2018 readings

I have always asked myself how it’s possible that, although there are no apparent connections between poetry and the idea of a reward, poetry awards are true cultural institutions.

No matter how strange this may sound, the explanation I have come up with is that goodness is the common point between such diverse notions. Just as an evil man cannot be a good poet, poetry awards provide a true secular definition of Goodness.

I thank the Griffin Foundation for confirming my illusion and helping me cross the ocean by means of poetry, as if in a paper boat.

There are moments, like the present one, in which I have no doubt that poetry can save the world.

Harvest of Angels

… Every now and then
a dull thump
like falling
fruit on the grass.
How quickly time passes!
The angels are already ripe
and beginning to fall.
It must be autumn in heaven …

Star of Prey (1985)

M-am întrebat intotdeauna cum se explica faptul ca, desi între poezie si ideea de recompensa nu exista conexiuni evidente, premiile pentru poezie sunt adevarate institutii culturale.

Raspunsul pe care l-am gasit este ca punctul comun între cele doua atât de diferite notiuni este – oricât ar parea de ciudat – bunatatea. Un om rau nu poate sa fie un poet bun,iar premiile pentru poezie sunt o adevarata definitie laica a Bunatatii.

Multumesc Fundatiei Griffin ca mi-a confirmat aceasta iluzie si m-a ajutat sa traversez prin poezie – ca intr-o barca de hârtie – oceanul.

Sunt clipe – asemenea celei de acum – în care nu ma îndoiesc ca poezia poate salva lumea.

La cules de îngeri

…Din când în când
Un pocnet înfundat
Ca la caderea
Unui fruct în iarba.
Cum trece timpul !
S-au copt si-au început sa cada
S-a facut toamna si-n cer …

Stea de prada 1985

Biography of Ana Blandiana

Ana Blandiana, born in 1942 in Timisoara, is one of the most highly acclaimed contemporary Romanian poets. She has published fourteen books of poetry, two books of short stories, seven books of essays and one novel. Her work has been translated into twenty-six languages and collected in forty-seven books of poetry and prose to date.

A prominent opponent of the Ceausescu regime, her daring, outspoken poems, along with her courageous attitude in the defense of ethical values, has made her a legendary figure in Romanian literature. She suffered various reprisals and prohibitions under two Communist dictatorships, and three bans on her writing (1959-64, 1985, 1988-89). Over the years, her works have become symbols of an ethical consciousness that refuses to be silenced by a totalitarian government.

Blandiana was co-founder and president of the Civic Alliance from 1990, an independent non-political organisation that fought for freedom and democratic change. She also re-founded and became president of the Romanian PEN Club, and in 1993, under the aegis of the European Community, she created the Memorial for the Victims of Communism, a research centre for historical studies. Blandiana was awarded the highest distinction of the French Republic, the Légion d’Honneur (2009), and the US State Department acknowledged her with the Romanian Women of Courage Award (2014). Blandiana was awarded the European Poet of Freedom Prize (2016), for her book of poems My Native Land A4.

In English, an anthology of Blandiana’s poems, The Hour of Sand, was published by Anvil Press (UK) in 1990. A selection of her poems translated by Seamus Heaney appeared in the anthology, When the Tunnels Meet, ed. John Farleigh (Bloodaxe 1996). Her most recent collection of poetry, My Native Land A4, (Bloodaxe 2014) translated by Paul Scott Derrick and Viorica Patea will be followed by The Sun of Hereafter & Ebb of the Senses (2017).

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