Profile: Laura Munteanu – Romani poet and activist

 

07 September 2017 / Laura Munteanu

Laura A. Munteanu comes from the Ferentari district in Bucharest, Romania. She was born in 1983, under a communist regime which was toppled when she was 6. She moved to England in 2008 to follow an education, and she's been living in York since.

Laura has a degree in English Literature and an MA in Creative Writing. She considers herself very much a work in progress. Laura is fluent in Romanian and English, horrified that the English are unfamiliar with Eminescu, Creangă and Caragiale.

She can make herself understood in Romani, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic, particularly in an argument. Laura won the York St. John Historical Story prize in 2012.

Her work has been featured in the Rowntree Park Writing project. Laura also features in Beyond the Walls (York St. John, 2014), VoiceIn Journal (2015), Say Owt Slam Anthology (2015), Lupul Carpatin (2016), Romani Chib (2017).

She performs her poetry frequently and she's a political activist. She is currently finishing her first novel, and in 2015 published her first collection of poetry, which she launched on the steps of the block where she lived, in Bucharest. Street Dog Music is available on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Street-Dog-Music-Laura-Munteanu/dp/1519101384

Laura has kindly allowed the TT to publish two of her poems – Crow and Porrajmos:

Crow

As I sit here, shivering in the rain

My begging bowl catches only water

You march past me, I'm invisible 

To your causes, to your son or daughter.

 

As you exercise your right to protest, 

And shout about the cards they deal you

You don't spare me even a glance, 

Lest that connection could somehow steal you.

 

I close my eyes and hear the tiger's roar,

The elephants in my ancestors' blood

Tricked onto the long walk west,

With the promise of work, gold and food.

 

Five hundred years we worked as slaves

Worked with metal, copper and we dug gold

We fashioned spoons and mended pots 

And did mostly what we were told.

 

We trained bears to dance and caper

We were singers at every wedding feast

The spoons with which you ate your cake

Were made by those that you call "beast".

 

Forced to work as slaves for five hundred years

Denied our language when you freed us

Evicted from the land we worked as our own

Now that you no longer need us.

 

Over three hundred thousand dead

From over-work or bullets shot

Hidden from the textbook taught in school

By the victors whose crimes you all forgot.

 

My neighbours laughed at my missing teeth

When I smiled to make new friends

They call me "crow", "gypsy", "grimy", "thief"

And tell me how my life will end.

 

Ask my neighbours, what crimes I'm guilty of?

They'll tell you that I'm ignorant, immoral, lazy 

That my daughters fuck 'til their belly's fat

And that I beat my wife until she's crazy.

 

Of how I'll drink myself into a feckless grave

Of how I'll never read a book

Of how I live just to cheat and steal

And curse you with my evil look.

 

Oh, the country that I come from 

Where my poor family live as well

Where we're despised for having skins too dark

And for how bad we're told we smell.

 

I didn't eat much this week, I'm cold and wet

I creep about, like a hungry mouse

I only rest in the late morning night

Shivering in my cardboard house.

 

I think we deserve to dream as well

We'd like a better future too

We'd like our kids to learn at school

To have the same chances as you.

 

So be gentle, when you curse and kick me

May the spit you send me miss

Maybe my granddaughter will be

The girl your grandson, will one day kiss.

 

Porrajmos

"What do you think you're going to find 

With your nose stuck in that book?", my brother says.

He wants to take me out for some pizza and some beer

And he hopes that I will pay.

 

I say, "but I'm not finished here!"

In ’36, they would have put us on a list,

In the ghetto by '39

By ’40 we'd be in the work camp 

By '44 we'd be running out of time. 

 

My brother's rolling his eyes

My words, they make him nervous

He shrugs, and asks me why I care

Because my words, they’ve got no purpose.

 

"The past is past, it's dead and buried 

It’s no bearing on the life I lead 

It's sad so many fought and died 

But they no longer bleed. 

 

Close your book, and put away

The dead things there, that haunt you.

Let them go back to their sorry sleep,

And forget their words that taunt you."

 

He's right, in that I have an itch 

That I do not have the fingers, yet, to scratch

I hear the marching feet of the genocide 

Who's sorry song my ears catch.

 

I hear the melody of the forgotten choir 

The drum of the victims' tread

The fear, captivity, the oven's fire,

And the waste of the murdered dead.

 

We couldn't even give it a proper name 

Unlike the Jews, we were not listed

No one knows how many died 

Because no one knew how many of us existed.

 

Maybe only three hundred thousand, 

Or maybe five times as many 

It took Germany 'til ’82

To disclose the contents of their dragon's belly. 

 

And whilst we're mentioned in the museums, as a footnote 

We didn't get a country. 

My grandfather's people shrug 

Because he knows your hearts for us are empty.

 

Both the Roma and the Sinti 

Know the war against them never ended 

We survive hard lives, without pay

Without hope, or knowledge who our friends are.

 

We have many names for it 

When the Devil, he came calling 

The name we chose to describe what you did 

We called it 'The Devouring'. 

 

We are not the only people that the world forgot 

That died without our names

We're not the only ones who live on, without support 

Whilst you continue your great games.

 

So I close my book, and find my money 

And take my brother out for a meal 

And whilst it's good to eat and laugh 

There are still sad things I feel. 

 

Why should my people die nameless, 

Freezing outside, in the winter's cold 

Whilst the victors grow fat 

Spending my people's stolen gold. 

 

I raise the wine to my lips, and for a moment,

The bitter taste is quenched

We return, whilst the wild dogs bark 

As by the rain we’re drenched. 

 

And though soaked, my brother looks at me 

Standing by him, in the night

"What's up?", he says.

We shouldn't have had to fight.

 

The world is big enough for all

To choose what way we all could live

It's not just about what you take 

It's also about what you give.

 

And all the lives my people gave 

All the lives we will never know 

When will the world pay us at last

What it still does owe? 

And as the wild dogs sing their song 

And my brother begins to laugh,

Despite my better judgment 

I find we walk my father's path.

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