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This poem is taken from PN Review 192, Volume 36 Number 4, March - April 2010.

City of Lost Walks (translated by Patrick McGuinness) Liviu Campanu

Liviu Campanu (1932-94) was a poet and university lecturer from Bucharest who fell out of favour with the Ceausescu regime. After writing poems about the demolition of old Bucharest, Campanu was expelled from the Union of Writers and accused of being a ‘reactionary nostalgist’. He was sacked from his post at the University of Bucharest and sent in 1984 to run a workers’ education centre in Constanta,
the Black Sea town that, under its Roman name of Tomis, hosted Ovid’s years of banishment. Campanu’s small but unified poetic oeuvre consists of regretful meditations on place and placelessness, and on a particular kind of precarious tedium that characterises intellectual life in a totalitarian state. Several of the poems are written as letters to his lover (and now literary executor), Cilea Constantin,
whom he never saw again after leaving Bucharest.

Though he was never arrested and was no worse off materially than many of his compatriots who endured the hardships of the Ceausescu years, Campanu’s travel was restricted and he was prevented from leaving Constanta. No longer a member of the Union of Writers, he was excluded
from the literary and cultural magazines, though still occasionally referred to by official critics. One such critic called Campanu’s poems ‘minor-key variations on a bourgeois Ovid complex’, a phrase Campanu liked so much he used it as the title for one of the three chapbooks he privately printed and distributed among friends. Along with these, his collected works consist of one book which appeared from the state publishing house in 1976 (a time of relative cultural openness in Romania), and a further file of poems and notes that was found after his death. Campanu’s intention was to collect these and the chapbooks into one volume, to be called City of Lost Walks, an allusion to the destruction of the old Bucharest he never returned to, even when he was allowed to do so.

After the fall of Ceausescu in 1989, which, according to one baffled critic, ‘his poetry fails to register except in the form of an omission so shocking that it quite overwhelms the work’, Campanu was offered his old job and a seat on the board of Romania’s most important literary review. For reasons still unclear, he refused this offer and stayed in Constanta until his death.

English-language readers should be told that the epigraph to Campanu’s ‘The Ovid Complex’ is from the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, himself an exile who made his home in France and wrote in French.

From The Ovid Complex (1989)
‘Exile, at the beginning, is felt as a schooling in vertigo’ (Cioran)


‘Vertigo’! ‘Vertigo’?
                              what’s vertiginous about it?
We all carry our provinces around inside us,
but there’s no such thing as a portable metropolis.
In Constanta now since last April, I’ve learned
two words to chill the heart: here and now.
I’d make a useless existentialist, but isn’t that the point?

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