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Roxana Cazan

Translator’s Note: Ileana Negrea

Ileana Negrea is the 2021 winner of the national Romanian prize for poetry, Mihai Eminescu, Opus Primum. Co-founder of Mad Pride Romania, Negrea identifies as a queer, feminist poet who seeks to reimagine the Romanian language as a home for a community of writers historically excluded from canonical literature based on their identity as women, LGBTQ+, or neurodivergent. By writing poetry, she intends to build a space where language can break out of a very masculine and male-centered Romanian literary history and describe the world of individuals who identify differently. She is specifically interested in allowing poetry to explore spaces inhabited by marginalized and underrepresented individuals in a society where the lives of those struggling with mental health issues or having a queer identity still do not matter. The poems included in this excerpt come from Negrea’s debut volume written in Romanian,  Half of My Life Now / Jumatate din Viata Mea de Acum (frACTalia 2021). In the poem entitled “B,” the poet explores the horrific confinement of being defined solely by one’s mental health diagnosis. Stereotypes about people living with mental health issues are further strained by stereotypes about being a woman. Following the logic of an abecedarian poem written about the letter B, Negrea demonstrates that pivoting towards spaces of resolve is not yet possible. This poem must be read in conjunction with “I am Sapoca,” a text in which Negrea expands upon hurtful assumptions made by a neurotypical and masculine world about the speaker’s difference. The poem contains references to four of the most notable psychiatric facilities in Romania, a reference that ties the stereotypes listed to a society unwilling to challenge the status quo. Suggesting that this hurtful patriarchal culture is internalized, “Perfect Recall” delves into personal history, depicting a private women’s history of invisible abuse. With the final two poems, the reader gets a glimpse into the book’s uplifting conclusion. Here, Negrea explores a slightly different aspect of a woman’s identity—her sexuality. By embracing sexuality and sexual desire as authentic tools of resistance to a patriarchal culture of exclusion and shaming, Negrea crafts a space where female power can emerge. The novelty of Negrea’s poetry is undeniable, and her unflinching stance on inclusion and acceptance constitutes a hopeful hallmark of contemporary Romanian poetry. 

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