Simona Nastac and Raluca Popa, Polyphonic
Polyphonic is a poetry and moving image project started by art curator and poet Simona Nastac in 2018 in commemoration of the emergence of “Greater Romania”—the political union of major ancient Romanian principalities and provinces—after World War I (in 1918). While apparently joining the stream of official celebratory events and projects, and itself produced by the Romanian Museum of Literature, Polyphonic is nevertheless far from being your conventional “national day” festive initiative. The project chooses to revisit that huge historical milestone by veering away from the beaten national(ist) track and featuring the work of poets who, even if writing mostly in Romanian, are not all of Romanian backgrounds. However, Polyphonic is anything but a unidirectional subversive art collective challenging or deconstructing mainstream discourse. Rather, it showcases actual diversity on a number of levels, both apparent and subtle, from the ethnical and the political (both locally and globally) to the aesthetic and the genre-transgressive.
The latter aspect is particularly intriguing. What indeed is Polyphonic? A collection of film-poems? An art collective? A “group poem,” as Nastac calls it? A cross-artform project? A text and video-based performance? Perhaps all of these things combined, while none of them literally. As (some) of the videos/film-poems are available online, the definitive “modus operandi” seems to be the live public event, with the project being consistently presented at a number of major festivals and venues, such as the London European Poetry Festival, the Brussels International Poetry Fest, Haus für Poesie Berlin, the Bucharest International Festival of Poetry, and StAnza International Poetry Festival in St Andrews.
Yet, in being so remarkably versatile and multifaceted, Polyphonic is actually far from being alone in either Romanian literary tradition or present-day culture. A red thread going (just as “Greater Romania”) as far back as the early twentieth-century avant-garde school Dada and its founding father Tristan Tzara, continues to this day with a vibrant performative literary scene. For indeed, over the past two decades, Romanian approaches ranging from cross-artform multimedia to slam and sound poetry to post-conceptual and feminist to neo-avant-garde to reading series and relational poetics to computational/(post)digital performance poetry have made waves both at home and abroad. Among all of the above, Polyphonic is still one of a kind, perhaps best described by visual artist Raluca Popa as “a way toward translation,” operating as a connector and converter between various languages and arts, media and modes, cultures and genres.
The polyphony of Polyphonic is more than just phonic. It is one of genres and media and languages, right? Why, and how?
Simona Nastac: You are absolutely right. The project was produced by the National Museum of Romanian Literature in Bucharest in 2018 to mark the Centenary of United Romania, celebrating its ethno-cultural diversity and the social cohesion among different communities. The nine participating poets are Romanian authors of different ethnic origins (Hungarian, German, Ukrainian, and Serbian), from different regions of the country (Transylvania, Banat, Bucovina, Bucharest), Chișinău (Republic of Moldova), and the diaspora. With the exception of Henriette Kemenes, the rest are Romanian-language writers, who also write in their first tongues and translate from these into Romanian and vice versa. The polyphony of languages and identities is further enhanced by the rich interplay between image and text, visual art and poetry, which echoes the ongoing synthesis between media initiated by the concrete poetry movement that continues in other art forms today and relates to what art theorist Rosalind Krauss has called the “post-medium condition”—an entwined helix of genres and modes of production that holds unending potential for contemporary creativity. Innovation happens at the intersection of ideas, disciplines, and cultures, and this was my primary aim as the curator of the project, together with the possibility of reaching new and diverse audiences for Romanian poetry and art.