Oana Avasilichioaei

On November 15th, the Elephant Room was inundated by wafting scents of cheese and fruit and the chatter of students as they slowly found their seats, waiting for the petite, dark-haired woman leaning against the wall by the enormous elephant portrait at the front of the room to begin. After experiencing some technical difficulties, her voice, clear and crisp, came through the mic, and the session began.

Oana Avasilichioaei was born in Romania and has lived in Canada since 1987, currently calling Montreal, Quebec home. Founder of the Atwater Poetry Project reading series in Montreal, she curated the event from 2004-2009, and regularly travels to perform poetry readings festivals across Canada, USA, Mexico and Europe. A freelance editor and translator, she gave students a taste of raw, authentic poetry like many had never before experienced. Utilizing her fluency in Romanian, French and English, she performed select works from her most recent book of poems titled We, Beasts, including “Crow Hour”, “A Song of Water”, and “Spells”. In addition to reading her art with complimentary facial expressions during the presentation, she recorded her voice using various effects to fluctuate her pattern of speech and navigated a foot pedal and the Mac book at her side to harmoniously layer the recordings with the ambient music, sounds that varied from the sound of a beating heart to the ghostly chanting of children and the snapping blades of scissors. In “Spells”, a ‘book within a book’ that was inspired by a Medieval French text that was the first to ever feature the storytelling of six women, Avasilichioaei focused on the sound of her words, stretching, condensing, and accentuating certain vowels to make the simple English she spoke almost unrecognizable. Building intensity and instilling tranquility, the talented poet effectively drowned the audience in the pleasurable ebb and flow of both recognizable and unrecognizable language and sound.

Between readings, Avasilichioaei explained some of the thought processes behind her work. Her inspiration for We, Beasts was taken from her fascination with fairy tales and the very essence of oral storytelling, which varies incredibly from standard written text, she confessed. Compared to her previous publications (Abandon [2005] and feria: a poemwork [2008]), she focused on the oral qualities of what she wrote, especially in terms of language variation. She immaculately and beautifully intertwined Romanian, French and English, alternating between them and effortlessly maintaining her soft or intense tone.

Later in the day, Avasilichioaei gave students the opportunity to participate in a literary translation presentation and discussion in the Poetry Video Lab in Clark Hall. She discussed the other gifted poets she had worked alongside, including translations for Romanian poet Nichita Stanescu and her collaborations with Erín Moure on Expeditions of a Chimæra. Near the end of the session, she gave students a copy of a Romanian poem and challenged them to translate it without any prior knowledge of the language, encouraging them to relate the foreign words and their pronunciations to English. Avasilichioaei stressed focus on the auditory effects of language, the cadence, flow and texture of dialectal rather than the meaning. After abandoning some of the most common and vital notions of poetry and literacy, the group found that some translations surprisingly didn’t deviate extensively from the literal meaning of the poem, illustrating the “subliminal elements of translation” present in every piece of truly bold literary genius.

In less than a day, Oana Avasilichioaei proved the bonds of language could be easily shattered, and for those who were brave enough to open themselves up to the experience, her performances were only intriguing, but inspiring. The experience deviated from everyone’s expectations and was far from disappointing. Brava, Oana. Brava.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 13, November 27, 2012.Oana Avasilichioaei