Oana Avasilichioaei, author of Limbinal and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!
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IFOA: Can you tell us a bit about Limbinal?
Oana Avasilichioaei: Limbinal is a hybrid poetic book that intersects prose fragments with incantatory dialogues, poetic footnotes with photographic phrases, rebellious translations with liquid transpositions. In it, I explore various possibilities of what a “border” might mean, whether geographically, linguistically, culturally, nationally, bodily, textually, etc. As ultimately I believe that a border is a space rather than a line, the book spills out of itself and cannot be contained within one form or within its covers. One of its overflows is THRESHOLDS (2015), an audio-visual performance I have composed out of it, and which I’ll be performing at the Festival.
IFOA: In the book, you place yourself in dialogue with poet Paul Celan and Nobel Laureate Nelly Sachs. How did you get into their heads?
Avasilichioaei: I wouldn’t say that I got into their heads, but rather that I dove into their published words. I’ve admired the work of Celan for a long time, and had read works by some of his interlocutors as well, such as Sachs and Bachman, but had always read the work in translation until I came across Celan’s Romanian poems. It was so exciting to read his words in the original that I felt compelled to translate them into English poems (only one previous translation into English existed), and then to take this work even further in various ways in Limbinal. In part, I crossed the borders of translation and language, and created dialogues between my work and Sachs and Celan’s work, because some of Celan’s personal borders approximate my own: he was a German Jew born in Romania, who survived the war and eventually settled in France to write mostly in German, and was a man of linguistic and cultural borders, borders that kept shifting around him and which he had to cross and re-cross. I was born in Romania, spent my adolescence in Western Canada in English and now inhabit Montreal in French, English and Romanian.
IFOA: How does your translation work inform your poetry?
Avasilichioaei: Translation constantly teaches me a great deal about languages and expands the possibilities of my English. Because I switch back and forth between at least two languages when translating, this has also encouraged me to explore a bilingual and multilingual approach to writing poetry. I am curious about how the syntax, structure, sound, rhythm of one language can impact the syntax, structure, etc. of another language. I am also fascinated by the following questions: When faced with a word or phrase in a language we don’t understand, at least not its denotational meaning, what happens to understanding? What other ways do we find to “understand”?
In THRESHOLDS, for instance, I read across the frontiers of my translations of Paul Celan’s early Romanian poems, looking at the translations as a “territory” of vocabulary. I then composed new lines across their English territory, infiltrating them with other phrases and sounds, imagining various definitions of political, linguistic and bodily borders, both within his lexicon and moving beyond it. In composing poems out of a limited lexicon, the poems themselves become sites with more permeable boundaries, as some phrases or vocabulary move across various poems, yet take on different meanings because of their shifting contexts.
IFOA: Can you tell us about the visual text-works you created for galleries in Montreal and Vancouver?
Avasilichioaei: Some of the textual installations I have created came out of my writings and books, especially feria: a poempark (2008) and We, Beasts (2012). For instance, Gallerypark (2008), which was part of the exhibition Less is More: The Poetics of Erasure, Simon Fraser University Gallery, Vancouver, was an installation of several texts in vinyl lettering throughout the gallery space. The texts transformed to follow the contours of this new terrain, from the park’s wild industry to the gallery’s constructed nature. On exhibit, the texts became a sculptural landscape.
THRESHOLDS also involves the transformation of text into image, this time through video projection. The poems, which act like scores, were transformed from the architectural spatial environment of the page into the aural and visual architecture of a room’s environment. I collaborated with multimedia artist Jessie Altura to create a textual visual projection that accompanies and interacts with the performance. By simultaneously offering a contrasting, competing and sparse projection of the poem’s textual score (consisting of white text that is manipulated in various ways and is in constant movement against a blue-black screen), audiences can be in a space of in-between, immersed in the spatialized words and sounds.
IFOA: Which author do you most hope to bump into at the IFOA?
Avasilichioaei: Anne Carson.
Oana Avasilichioaei is a poet, translator and editor whose poetry collections include We, Beasts (winner of the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry) and feria: a poempark. In recent years, Avasilichioaei has also been mapping poetry into performative sound work (oanalab.com) and translates poetry and prose from Romanian and French. She has also edited several magazine issues, including Poetry in Translation. Avasilichiaei presents the collection Limbinal, which intersects prose fragments with incantatory dialogues, poetic footnotes with photographic phrases and rebellious translations with liquid transpositions.