Behind the Scenes: An Interview with Simona Nastac

Can you introduce yourself? Where are/do you from/live? How do you best describe yourself? What are your hobbies?

I’m a Romanian-born art curator, critic and poet, currently based in London. I grew up during the darkest years of Ceaușescu’s dictatorship, in a small and cold town up North called Suceava. After the democratic change in 1989, I studied Art History and Theory in Bucharest, and then I gained an MA degree in Curating from Goldsmiths University in London. I like ice skating, long walks in wild landscapes, buying books that I never find the time to read, and getting lost on back alleys of old, untamed cities. I don’t know if these can pass as hobbies, I think the term doesn’t really apply to people working in the creative sphere, it is rather just process.

Why do you write?

To alleviate the (dis)comfort of being born. Of being an alien in Suceava, Bucharest, London, and everywhere else.

Where did the inspiration for this piece come from?

I wrote the piece for a live performance of embodied poetry in Manchester. I thought of an experience that tested the limits of my body and its extraordinary ability to think, move, heal and remember. Our bodies are sites of traumas of all kinds, but also instruments of fine precision, astonishing expressivity and infinite grace. I was a professional speed skater for eight years as a junior competitor in communist Romania and I’m still fascinated by the power and elegance of it. However, the experience of the earthquake (and this particular one was the third!) impacted my sensibility and imagination in a different way: I felt one with the earth, whole, breathing with it, with the magnitude of a sublime event, in the Kantian sense, a terrifying greatness beyond all possibility of measurement or imitation.

What writers/poets do you read, or have inspired your writing?

Antonin Artaud, W.H. Auden, Paul Celan, Clarice Lispector, John Berger, Ursula K. Le Guin, Osip Mandelstam, Kathy Acker, Italo Calvino, Etel Adnan, Johanna Hedva, Astrid Alben, to name a few. I am a very eclectic reader. I should add, however, that art, art theory and philosophy have inspired my writing much more than literature and poetry.

Why did you choose a prose poetry style for this piece?

I think the experience was so intense, a swirl of images and sensations, that I felt it didn’t leave time and space for breaks. Also, I was drawing level curves on a map, which needs a continuous movement of the hand on paper, therefore prose poetry style seemed more appropriate, the text is an extension of these gestures.

Why did you choose to title this piece ‘The Body Remembers’? What exactly is the body remembering?

As I said, the sublimity of the event and the shock of losing control over my body. Ultimately, the body remembers itself in the void of its metamorphoses.

Can you describe your writing routine? When do you write? Is your writing a reactionary activity to something in your real life or a continuous exercise of writing and editing?

Routine is not really productive for me. I submit to it if necessary, but more often than not the outcome is nihilism. When I write in response to a situation, there is a gestation period between the two events. I’m not a spontaneous person, I’m always thinking of the implications of my words. Language structures and shapes everything and I believe we all share this responsibility in varied degrees, writers and journalists more than others. When I write proactively it means I am being paid. Either way, I write more like George Seurat painting with dots rather than Paul Cezanne with planes of colour. Sometimes the dots never come together to form a legible image, but I don’t see this formless material as a failure, but rather as an insurrection against form, an opportunity for rethinking anew.

Why did you choose to position the body in a struggle against an earthquake as the particular geological occurrence? It’s also the only natural stop in the poem. Why?

In cities, before the pandemic, we have been rather disconnected from nature. If we are healthy, most of the time we don’t think about our bodies in relation to the earth, only in relation to each other, how we want to be seen and touched. But I believe the closer we are to the earth, like a soldier crawling through mud, or a farmer planting onions, the more perceptive we become of our entangled and interdependent existence and of our responsibility to Earth as a living organism, according to the Gaia Hypothesis proposed by James Lovelock since 1972. The earthquake was my closest encounter with Gaia. The natural stop is a marker of this dramatic and abrupt encounter.

I’m curious about the last line “Words last longer than flesh.” Do you often think about the impermanence of the body and the immortality of writing in relation to your own words and works?

More often than I’d advise others to, but I suppose writers and artists will always do it. Probably because by the nature of our work we spend time almost daily with dead poets.

I love the way you use repetition of the word “small” to conjure the Immensity of the universe and the smallness of the body. The body is small but you use the same adjective, “small,” to describe the universe. In your eyes, is the body the weakest entity, or does it compare to the universe in immensity and the ability to endure/last?

The universe is small if we think of the multiverse theory or the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. And I think the body compares to the vastness and endurance of the universe precisely through the human mind’s ability to imagine new worlds and dimensions.