I was a poetry prodigy. And the old veterans just couldn’t let me into the industry
It’s been four years since I last called myself a poet. Although I believe with all my heart that I will always be a poet, my 15-year-long career in the Romanian poetry scene came to a halt when I realised I was fighting windmills. And I just didn’t want to carry on anymore.
I wrote my first poem at age 5. For the following 15 years, it became my most important talent and craft. At age 7, I started publishing my poems in local magazines. Many years of contests and awards followed. At 14, I joined a writing society, where I was an active member for 5 years. The society made it possible for me to fully flourish and for my poetry to gain national exposure over the course of my teenage years.
Although I’d been an award-winning writer multiple times from a young age, my proudest years as a poet came between the age of 16 to 19. I could feel my poetry blooming under my increasing dedication to the craft and although I knew it would be a very slippery, very competitive, and not exactly popular career path, I wanted to pursue poetry at least as a side-hustle.
My poetry reached its peak in 2016 when I was offered my first book deal. I was 17 at the time and 18 when my collection, Leoaica, după vânătoare (The lioness after the hunt) was published at the literary festival Bookfest in Bucharest. Soon after, I was offered a second book deal, this time by one of the top publishers in the country. Since my first book had just been published, I had some work to do to gather enough poems for a second collection.
I spent my entire first year of university working on my second book, Arma din care țâșnesc spre mine însămi (The gun that fires me toward myself) together with an editor who was very supportive of my writing and cheered me on throughout. I was told my second book would be published during an even bigger literary festival, Gaudeamus, in Bucharest in November 2018. But that, sadly, never happened. This coming November, my second poetry collection would have been 3 years old. If only.
Why My Second Book Deal Fell Through
This was the moment where everything shattered for me. It was the point where, after years of fighting the misogyny, ageism, and elitism of the Romanian poetry scene, I finally came to terms with the possibility I might never have a place in the game.
The summer before the launch of The gun that fires me toward myself, I received an email from the editor I’d worked with saying the publishing house’s director decided to archive my manuscript due to “more pressing priorities”. Three years later, it’s probably still buried. This, I’m almost certain, was just an excuse to simply not wanting to publish me, despite having offered me the deal.
The same middle-aged men who run the industry had previously involved me in a social media scandal, after I’d submitted my first manuscript for consideration a second year in a row, despite it winning a deal the first time. I did this seeing as the publisher who’d initially offered me the deal had gone cold turkey on me and refused to tell me what would happen to my book despite my repeated attempts to get in contact with him.
My book was published in the end but at one week’s notice. What followed was a nightmare. Several dozens of middle-aged people, mostly men, talked about me on Facebook, dug out bits of my profile, picked me apart when I was 18 and studying for my Baccalaureate because I’d submitted my manuscript to the same contest twice. This happened on a Facebook group where most of the Romanian poetry elite was.
This is why I think my second book deal fell through, although of course, it never was confirmed. Before this whole conundrum, however, there had been many more instances where I felt like a misfit in the poetry scene. It wasn’t just me. Many of my female friends from the society had felt the same hostility, one of them even being told at one poetry reading event to “remain a muse” rather than keep writing — a very upsetting and belittling comment from, you guessed it, an old man.
On many occasions, I’d been the only female in a room full of old men, who was offered awards for her poetry. I was also one of the youngest poets to ever enter the scene and make a name for themselves. I was given strange looks, patronised, and mocked by the very people who’d recognised the value in my poetry. Only because I wasn’t who they had associated with the poems. A schoolgirl was not exactly who they’d pictured would shake their hands as they reluctantly handed their awards.
With poetry being such a niche art, not many young people understand it, much less practice it. And, as the situation probably still goes in Romania, even if young people do show interest, doors are being shut in their faces by a group of people too scared they might be replaced one day.
I’m not giving up poetry forever, though. On the contrary, I’m pursuing it in English, which can grant a wider reach and a lot more diversity of voices. And one day, I hope to return to my home country’s poetry scene and make sure no other young woman or person of an underrepresented background feels the need to escape the craft they love the most and are undeniably good at.
I’ll leave you with a snippet of The gun that fires me toward myself.
how I made myself fit in the real world
the moment you left me
was carved on my left palm
it awoke me
and I’ve been completely exposed to reality, walking through this beech forest
towards a very precise aim
if all your warnings were against a clear, calculated path
which leads exactly where it should, without any sudden fall down the stairs
then I’ve lost my last chance to an above-average fate
I’m growing old so calm and at peace
even with your absence
writing because that’s what I’ve been doing before even knowing I exist
but no noise comes through anymore
none of the words is insomniac, trying to re-shape itself to fit
no one speaks at night, I’m on my own and no matter how much I want to call for them it feels stupid
a glass of coke its bubbles shattering against the glass walls
the sound of fragmentation won’t reach me any longer
I grew a proper spine, no more effervescence
you belonged to my mind
a velvet thunder, a branch of me
smoke floating out of you after we spoke
like a shotgun that fired me toward myself
This post is a part of our brand new Behind the Scenes series, a collection of articles where we get to know the good, the bad, and the ugly behind an author’s journey to get published. If you’re an author and would like to either write a piece for Behind the Scenes or be interviewed and featured, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading!