NEA Literature Fellowships

Sean Cotter

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(2011 - Translation)

"Laughs and Tears" by Nichita Stănsecu

[translated from Romanian]

Eyelid with teeth, with a tooth-marked tear
and specks of falling salt,
the proof I cannot live in the present
are my memories, one and all.

The proof I cannot see without a witness
are my childhood and adolescence,
doubling the nonbeing of these seconds
with nonbeing from some other time.

Ah, laughs and tears
ah, laughs and tears
break over me when I talk
to the old moment that rots in the moment
of today.
Ah, laughs and tears
ah, laughs and tears
in the eye of cold things
and the tooth, like the scepter
of uninvented kings.

Excerpt in Romanian

About Nichita Stănsecu

This collection [Belgrade in Five Friends and Other Poems] will connect readers with a powerful, starkly metaphysical poet, whose poems transform our relationship with the world of objects. Nichita Stănescu produces a startling intimacy with images of eggs and spheres, eyes and angels. Written in accessible language, in tones ranging from humorous to horrific, his poetry seduces the reader away from the human, enabling us to reconsider ourselves from the objects' points of view. His poems have had a profound resonance in Romania, where he is still very popular, almost thirty years after his death, in 1983, at age fifty.

Sean Cotter translates Romanian poetry and fiction, most recently, Liliana Ursu's Lightwall (Zephyr Press, 2009). His essays, articles, and translations have appeared, among other places, in Conjunctions, Two Lines, The Comparatist, Translation Review, 22, and Romania literara. He has lived in Romania as both a Fulbright-Hays scholar and a Peace Corps volunteer. He is Associate Professor of Literature and Literary Translation at The University of Texas at Dallas, where he is a part of the Center for Translation Studies.

Photo by Justin Schoolmaster

Translator's Statement

The NEA grants to literary translators recognize that translation is vital to a country's imaginative life, that literary work in the United States improves when it converses with that of other languages. They also acknowledge that if that conversation is to be rich, intelligent, and stimulating, translators need time to study the originals and create their new texts. I am grateful that this grant will give me time to engage Nichita Stănescu's astounding and challenging poetry.