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Romanian-American poet Claudia Serea documents the end of the Ceausescu regime in these poems of first-hand witness.
Romanian-American poet Claudia Serea was a witness to the last days of the Ceausescu reign of terror and a participant in the revolution that toppled his regime, so her first-hand account of living through those times is an essential historical document as well as vital, vivid verse. “I could draw the details from memory,” she says of her childhood, and she does, including surprisingly revealing details. Of the dangerous days following the Chernobyl disaster, she recalls that after a “Summer came quickly / with no birds” her mother bought a rare treat of cherries that “glistened on the plate” – the absence of birds having increased the yield of fruit. Explaining “How I earned 10 lei in second grade” by following her music teacher’s instruction to keep playing no matter what, she recounts playing her violin in a recital despite a neon ceiling fixture “crashing / with a bang / at my feet.” These childhood experiences prepared Serea well to survive many other crashes to come, including the crash of tyrants; and to learn to seek joy in the midst of tragedy. “We never talk about the past,” she says of her family, and of a past beset with famine and hunger; but she breaks with that tradition and speaks powerfully of her past, in the process finding her way back to her roots. “The road home belongs / to those who dare” — Claudia Serea dares to take that road, and to take us along on her journey.
“The poems in Claudia Serea’s new book, In Those Years, No One Slept, might keep you awake all night. They are beautifully made, haunting, often incantatory, and always searingly honest.” —Lloyd Schwartz, author of Who’s on First? New and Selected Poems
“From the threshold of her American life and with a poetic sensibility unlike any other’s, Serea takes stock of a past shaped by the terrors and austerities of authoritarianism to survey the damage, but also to feed the ghosts and salvage beauty from rubble, to resist and testify. Listen in, so we may never again have to count the dead ‘like cornmeal and beans,’ exhale ‘a small cloud’ in the murderous cold to prove we are alive, or ‘hang on the clotheslines / silhouettes of unborn children.’ Both ‘prayer pinned to the moon’ and dazzling ode to the wound, this is a haunting collection of bold tenderness.” —Mihaela Moscaliuc, author of Cemetery Ink
“In Claudia Serea’s startling new collection, the intersection of life and death is beauty: the eyes of the dead bloom chicory and milkweed, the moon searches for baby teeth in the dark crevices of a thatch roof, and glistening cherries are coveted by a Romanian mother for her children during the birdless summer after Chernobyl. Even the quiet beauty of a young girl reading alone in a shed is touched by impermanence and mortality: she reads ‘old books stinking of mice, falling apart.’ And yet mortals still spread luminous wings, starlight sprouting on their hands.” —Sharon Mesmer, author of Greetings From My Girlie Leisure Place
“No one wears the ‘shackles’ of memory as palpably as Claudia Serea in this lyric testament to the poetry of small survivings in Ceausescu’s Romania. The motion of her gaze passes seamlessly across the village, the darned socks, the harrow of years in which everyone ‘slept standing,’ but what astonishes me most is her refusal of the tragic, her insistence on the life as it was lived—on the scents of sunflower seeds, the dry of red poppies, the language of the landscape speaking despite the fear and silence. To write despite the burying is to write to spite the dictator. Serea’s evocations of memory leave no tree’s language unheard. She leaves no silence lyre-less.” —Alina Stefanescu, author of Dor
Claudia Serea is a Romanian-born poet, editor, and translator with work published in Field, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, The Malahat Review, The Puritan, Oxford Poetry, Asymptote, and elsewhere. She is the author of six other poetry collections, four chapbooks, and three books of translations from the Romanian. She is the recipient of the Joanne Scott Kennedy Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of Virginia, the New Letters Readers Award, the Franklin-Christoph Merit Award, as well as several honorable mentions and short-lists for her poems and books. Her poems have been translated in Russian, French, Italian, Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi, and have been featured on The Writer's Almanac. Her collection of selected poems translated into Arabic, Tonight I'll Become a Lake into which You'll Sink, was published in Cairo, Egypt, in 2021. Serea is a founding editor of National Translation Month, serves on the editorial board of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets, and is one of the curators of the Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Readings in Rutherford, New Jersey.