The forecast called for a 60 percent chance of rain, but the sun was still wispily gathered in the early evening, so rows were laid out in the courtyard and the fifth edition of Z9Festival, the young literature festival based in Sibiu, began.
Founded in 2015 and sponsored by the Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, the festival gathers poets from nine countries around the world to share their work with the Romanian public; the name can be read as either New Zone or Zone Nine, in an ode to both its focus on writers under forty and its international reach. So it is that in mid-July 2019, writers from the UK, Poland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy, China, Russia, and Romania descended upon the picturesque landscape of Sibiu to join one another in a night celebrating poetry, and its inherent ability to dissipate borders.
The wide-ranging lineup started with the prolific Romanian poet Elena Vlădăreanu, whose potent and veridical work regarding motherhood, stereotypes, and the physical costs of poetry gave the festival an air of brilliance from the beginning. She was followed by Livia Franchini, an Italian writer based in London, who delightfully proclaimed how good it was to read poetry in daylight. The celebrated Jakobe Mansztajn, reading in Polish, delivered his work with an assurance and steadiness that gave no hint to the fact that he was suffering from the flu. Up fourth was Jesica Baciu, reading poems punctuated only with breathing, light, and other ephemeral things. Then the lovely Nadia de Vries, from whom an outpouring of clipped, dangerously smart, and brutal lines came forth. Andrei Doboș, hailing from Cluj, gave his reading in Romanian, textured with consonants, and was celebrated by the crowd. Ioana Iacob, who was the winner selected from a pool of young, unpublished poets, read her unrestrained work with an equally enthralling lack of restraint. Richard Scott first charmed the audience, before breaking certain hearts with a series of gorgeous poems on queerness, sexuality, and love. Charlotte Warsen read her poems in German, experimental works which dealt with shame and consequence. Then it was my turn, and when I went up, I felt grateful, and chose to read poems that had something to do with that. Arno Van Vlierberghe gave to us an excerpt from what will become an 101-page opus, and he captured it in one line: “The art of riskless thinking.” When Eta Dahlia, the video poet, stepped up, the new-fallen night was given away by his abstract and startlingly coloured films, heavy with music. Ioana Vintilă cut a sharp shape with her clipped lines broken in purposeful places. Robert Gabriel Elekes ended the night with his grand, dark language.
Z9Festival is immaculately organized by a young team consisting of curators and writers Vlad Pojoga, Cătălina Stanislav, Krista Szöcs, Ilinca Pop, Daniel Coman, and grew out of a reading club founded by Radu Vancu, the renowned author whose brilliance is on par with his kindness. It was also almost unanimously hailed by the poets as one of the best we had attended. It had something to do with how genuinely we were thrilled by one another’s work, the low roofs of Sibiu that had eyes, the ripe night curious with our various languages, narratives, selves. Someone told me, during the trip, that if you ask Romanians the silly question of what it is to be Romanian, they will eventually come around to speaking about poetry. It has brought me immense joy to have taken part in and witnessed what will surely become a legacy—built up, line by line, by the courage and dedication of a nation of poets.