Continuing our current life-writing series, Catalina George describes memories of writing her first poem from a flat in Romania one New Year’s Eve…
We lived on Stars Street, and that is an approximate translation as in Romanian we would have another, more poetic word to name the celestial bodies.
Our flat faced a corner where one long road, crossing the neighbourhood nearly from one side to the other, met another narrow street leading towards the industrial estate and the end of the tramlines.
Sitting at the square brown table facing the windows in the main room of the flat, my eyes on the snowfall whirling graciously under our faint streetlights, I wrote my first poem.
It was New Year’s Eve and we watched the television until late at night. Our communist channel broadcast the most loved show of the year: a few hours of traditional music and dancing, a big batch of comedy sketches all about family and friends and holiday preparations, and a powder of quite romantic Romanian pop music.
I watched the show with my grandparents; we skipped the President’s speech, burned the hand-held firecrackers which every household stashed for the winter holidays, had some cookies and probably hot cocoa milk – I was nine years old at the time.
And the poem grew inside me like a firefly born out of a single sparkle of light, a concoction of dreaminess, emotion and images all coming together.
My first poem talked about the joy of New Year’s Eve, a time out of time when nothing felt restricted, or impossible, or unreachable. I wrote it in the soft light of my desk lamp, the black and white television screen humming in the background, and I remember my excitement as I showed my grandparents the words shaped on paper.
“I could not live without writing,” I told my mother later that year. She treasures my declaration to this day: to her it holds the same meaning as her choice for my name. She loved reading poetry and she knew the name of her future daughter long before she had even met my father – Catalina, the princess in the romantic epic poem Luceafărul, by Mihai Eminescu, a classical Romanian writer. The fair maid falls in love with the Evening Star, an immortal soul who would need to take human form to be with her.
One could suspect that mum raised me to be a poet, planting in me her ideals and wishes, which is probably true to a certain extent. She most certainly put the first books in my hands, and she tells me my first word was a baby-talk version of Cenusareasa (Cinderella in Romanian).
An image takes contours in my mind: a dark majestic castle raises as you open the pages, right in the middle of the book. Mother says I had such a book at a very early age, about 10 months old, and they would hide it on top of the wardrobe, out of reach and out of sight. One day I reached my hands up toward the magical object and cried ushasha with such persistence that they realised it was my first word, it was the name of the book, and there was only one way to make me stop crying.
Catalina George is a Romanian writer who has lived in the UK for seven years. She currently writes poetry and fiction exclusively in English, and attends events around the Black Country. She publishes regularly on her own website www.landinside.co.uk and is working on her final project for an MA in Online Journalism.
The photo in the main body of the article is Catalina on holiday with her mother. It was a custom for tourists to be photographed with stuffed wildlife, hence the bear on the left… The image above is Catalina on her birthday.
All images: © Catalina George