Nora Iuga
“I had a beautiful life. Now I have a normal life.” Nora Iuga, Grande dame of Romanian poetry, prize-winning translator, and role model and mentor for many young authors, hardly means one but rather three lives of her own, and all three earn the description “beautiful” despite their being historically conditioned in the face of great adversity: “Everything was different inside Nora’s apartment … From one moment to the next we forgot about the miserable conditions outside, the dictatorship, the hunger, the cold, the endless threat posed by the ‘Securitate’… We all lived in poetry then, in an atmosphere of inner freedom never encounter today because we really are free,” writes the author Mircea C?rt?rescu in his 2007 epilogue to Nora Iuga’s volume of selected works, now available in German, “Gefährliche Launen” (Dangerous Whims).

Born in 1931 in Bucharest, Nora Iuga majored in German Studies and later taught German in Sibiu (Hermannstadt). She worked as a journalist, foreign language assistant, and editor. Her first book of poetry, “Vina nu e a mea” (It Is Not My Fault), was published in 1968. “The widows dance around the fountain / the widows on the electric chair / the horses sound asleep…”: already recognizable in these early lines is the connecting of a fantastical humor with a disturbing subtlety, one of the constant features of Iuga’s—highly versatile—poetry. In fact, her poems are so multifaceted that they defy categorization, even when referring to Iuga with recurring catchwords such as surrealism, oneirism, and balkanism. These offer only a vague orientation for no more than a portion of her work. In this respect, C?rt?rescu observes: “Each (of her) poem(s) is a puzzling statue on an empty square.” Since her literary debut, eleven books of poetry and four volumes of prose have followed, all of which prove Iuga to be one of Romania’s most important and original poets—despite the fact that, from 1970 onward, after publishing her second book of poetry, “Captivitatea cercului” (Trapped in a Circle), her work was banned for a period of eight years.

Verses such as “What should we do with the umbrellas / when every hello leaves dirt on our shoulder / and at night too, there is no water / and those who wear glasses beat their cats / until the alarm rings” harbor the admonition of a morbid eroticism. Since the 1980s, however, this has fundamentally changed. Today, Nora Iuga publishes a book every year, enjoys the general recognition of her readership, and her platonic embracing of a “second eroticism,” discovered at the age of seventy as the motor of her poetic output, is frequently quoted by admirers—her lengthy prose-poem “Feti?a cu o mie de riduri” (The Girl With a Thousand Wrinkles), published in 2005, was first presented to the public in Bucharest under this heading. Made clear at the beginning of this volume is the fact that, in Iuga’s cosmos, lust and pain are as inseparable as love and writing: “Before I began to write, my insides felt gagged, mishandled by nimble, brutal hands. I hardly knew where the pain came from or what it wanted. You never quite understand at first, that pain is what calls out to desire, that this writing, more fleeting than a dream, was part of something else, and that it comes out like Montaigne’s muffled cough, returned in the year 2005, one evening in the old city hall of Bordeaux, because the violinist tuned his instrument in front of the fireplace.”

Nora Iuga has received numerous prizes in Romania alone. In Germany, she received several grants, including a 2003 residency at the Akademie Schloss Solitude. On this occasion, her first volume was translated into German, her 2002 character poem entitled “The Bus with the Hunchback” (Autobuzul cu coco?a?i). Seated on this surreal, rather psychedelic bus is Sam, a quirky family man, who presents himself to the reader by saying: “i am sam / I have a wife with a green leg / and one ear cut off / I have a wife with a shaven head / and with tits as long as the udder of a nanny goat / in the morning when she goes to the market / dogs piss on her leg / and the rose blooms.” In 2006, for her services rendered as a mediator of German literature, Iuga was awarded the Friedrich Gundolf Prize of the German Academy for Language and Poetry. She has also made a name for herself as an outstanding translator of literary works by Thomas Bernhard, Paul Celan, Günter Grass, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Elfriede Jelinek, Ernst Jünger, Herta Müller, and others.

Nora Iuga, the poet with many beautiful lives, has a secret, and Mircea C?rt?rescu tells us exactly where it lies: “In her strength, as a woman and as a writer, to remain forever young…even today, young poets think of her as one of their own.”