Literature as a European mother tongue: In our series “One is a CROWD”, we introduce you to authors from all over Europe who will be involved in the CROWD omnibus reading tour, taking place from May to July 2016, featuring 100 authors who will be travelling through 15 European countries. We asked them questions about text production, reception and mediation. In case you were wondering what a literary activist from Romania looks like, meet MARGENTO (a.k.a Chris Tanasescu)!
Who are you as a poet/writer/author/artist?
MARGENTO (Chris Tanasescu):
I αm (ʘmni)(B)US a (dot)com(I’m)m(p)un(ent)ity
What kind of literary tradition, authors or concepts have you found inspirational for your work?
MARGENTO: The (in fact multi)centennial traditions of jazz, blues, and rock, their music and poetry (not only the lyrics), and their performance culture—with its temporal topological templ(at)es or “houses of the holy.” Then the tradition of performance poetry from Sappho to John Chrysostom to Beowulf to Romanus the Melodist to Shakespeare to Dosoftei to Dimitrie Cantemir to Hopkins and Swinburne to Browning and Whitman to Tristan Tzara and Eugene Ionesco to the Beats and Jerome Rothenberg and David Antin to John Cage and Jackson Mac Low to contemporary inter/new/poly-media, (post)digital, and computational poetry.
Please name several contemporary authors who you think are most significant – in any possible sense – and why?
MARGENTO: Gellu Naum since he is most likely the most impressive figure to come out of the European avant-gardes which he blended uniquely with classic (ancient) literary, philosophical, and mystical/esoteric traditions alongside modern popular culture, science, and politics, while being so much more relevant nowadays for his mode-of-existence kind of poetics.
Derek Walcott since he is simply (as Seamus Heaney once put it) the best in the language. His epic Omeros is to me the best poetry book in English of the past few decades.
Czeslaw Milosz for his immense vastness and diversity and subtlety and craft and the way he is both a historical poet and a visionary forerunner of the global and transnational age in poetry.
Jerome Rothenberg for his legendary ethnopoetics and performance poetry and especially the groundbreaking poetry anthologies he put and is still putting together across ages, cultures, and languages.
David Baker because he teaches us how one can be a poet of place, an ecopoet, a postromantic, a subtle (and often experimental) formalist , a mainstream writer/academic as well as a performance poet-musician, a political poet and visionary/(post)mystic, all at the same time.
What do you think about the current state of the relationship between the author and the reader? Is there a mentionable shift in that relationship through New media as in terms of being alienated on the one hand or being enlivend on the other hand?
MARGENTO: Depends a lot on the specific market, context, and genre (or various sub-genres if I’m to stick with poetry). For instance, Romania (including the neighboring Romanian-speaking Republic of Moldova) is a relatively rich poetry market in terms of numbers of readers and printruns, the latter being generally at least as big as the ones in the US (whose population is ten times as large as Romania and Moldova combined). And yet, Romania is still a financially poor poetry scene (for various reasons), whereas the US, where “nobody” reads poetry, is in the black poetry-wise thanks to the university libraries and MFA programs that consistently purchase poetry collections (even from non-mainstream publishers). Therefore, in spite of the financial disparity, the author-reader relationship is perhaps a more natural one in Romania (where there is an actual readership beyond academe, in spite of the customary shoe-string budgets and often chronically flawed distribution) than in the US and North America in general.
But your question also covers subtler and more sensitive aspects. I think that on certain levels and in certain areas, the (meanwhile classical) modern program of involving the reader in the poem as the writer’s co-author is much closer to fulfillment in contemporary experimental multi/inter-media and/or (post)digital poetry than it was back in the age of (early) modernism and traditional/“page” poetry in general. Interactivity is a most salient feature of the former (be it strictly ephemeral compared to traditional literature, as certain critics have argued), while collaborative authorship, fundamental in digital humanities in general and in (post)digital and computational poetry in particular, renders the border between the author(s) and the reader/user even more porous.
What I think remains to be done, and I am trying to do with my team as part of The Graph Poem Project, is to employ big data and/or data intensive approaches to both writing/generating and reading poetry. The contemporary (graph) poem has to draw on “distant reading” and “cultural analytics” approaches; moreover, it has to represent an instance of distant reading in its own right; and it will have to become a distant reading tool (alongside if not part of enacting its aesthetic function and performance). It is not only the border between the author(s) and the reader/user that we are blasting apart, but between writing/generating and reading as separate activities as well, turning the poem itself into a computational app that is both a writer and a reader, both a (conglomerate of) (collective, “manual” and/or automated) author(s) and a digital reader/user/parser/analyzer of poems and/as ever larger (poetry) databases.
In terms of media, then, in the age of “beyond new media” and polymediation, the poem will not only have to become more and more interactive and performative, but will also have to internalize contemporary polymedia-related experiences, employ crowdsourcing, GIS and (thick) mapping, augmented reality apps, computer games, platforms, and social media, before becoming all of the above in its own right, while still striking us as an instance of poetry as powerful and impressive as ever.
There always have been interactions and disputes between the discourses of poetry and politics. Do you see possibilities of emancipatory strategies concerning contemporary interactions between poetic and political discourses and agendas? How can/should/do these literary strategies look like?
MARGENTO: All (good) poetry is political poetry. The issue though, just as your question hints, is that sometimes (or unfortunately more often than not) people, and especially politicians do not heed the voice of poetry. They probably will, more than they currently do, when all the objectives stated in the last paragraph of the previous answer become reality, for obvious reasons.
On the other hand, we have to be aware of our responsibility as poets that have to break away from the (post)romantic paradigm (or rather cliché) of the solitary (and misunderstood/neglected/thwarted) genius and take steps towards an actual involvement of the poet/poem in [(re)shaping] the various communities (s)he and it are part of and active in in a global, transnational, and digital space context. In critical code studies (and, again, digital humanities in general), it has been long established that code and coding are far from being apolitical, quite on the contrary, as the military-industrial complex and the political-financial-mass-media systems are insidiously yet deeply involved in most of the ready-made digital affordances and, therefore, in our lives, our thoughts, our decision-making. Resistance to that I think should go way beyond glitch art and should involve open source and hacktivism and (digital) nomadism and free association across all sorts of borders and “THATCamp” and non-corporate coding, and the tweaking of existing corporate code and apps into new open-source radically creative and subversive tools, among many other “lines of flight,” all part of the poem and its communal value and activism. The poem should, therefore, (and that is essential part of what me and my graph poem team are striving towards) (re)become the (convergence and concurrence of all) media (the body included), as comm(onal/oral/)(un)ity. Once that is accomplished, the poem will (re)gain its political stature, relevance, and effectiveness.
 Although it is probably true that traditional cultures involved a more durable kind of interactivity (as Roberto Simanowski, for instance, has argued), in digital art and poetry we have an act-ual interactivity per se, while, as C.T. Funkhouser (among others) has solidly stated, ephemerality is a fundamental feature (and not a drawback) of (especially more recent) digital poetry.