This month, Martin Dickinson (@dickinsonpoet) invites us to meet poet Carmen Bugan.
You can just feel it with some poets. They’re alive in the deepest sense – with their own special antennae out to the universe. I felt it the instant I opened Carmen Bugan’s Crossing the Carpathians in a bookstore in Oxford, England. These poems crackle.
Carmen Bugan was born in Romania in 1970 and grew up as the child of political dissidents. She emigrated with her family to the United States in 1989. Her poems in Crossing the Carpathians were written in English in America, Ireland and England.
Bugan draws us into the emotions and experiences of political persecution, exile, the strength of family and love. She holds us in this very beautiful world, in which the then of her lost and remembered country and the now of her present life fuse. It would have been so easy just to dwell on anger and loss. But hers is not the poetry of anger; not the poetry of grievance. Bugan’s voice is imbued with a spiritual depth that takes the reader by surprise — poem after poem. In a Bugan poem, you’re always waiting for what will happen next.
The Broad Street mentioned in "For my mother and sister" is the main street of Oxford, England, where Bugan was a student, teacher and editor of the journal Oxford Poetry. It’s an ancient street known simply as “The Broad” that runs in front of Balliol College and Blackwell’s bookstore. I love this closing poem of Bugan’s collection, especially because it was while I was browsing Blackwell’s poetry shelf that I discovered Crossing the Carpathians.
For my mother and sister
When she was a child and there was a drought
She dressed the cob of the corn in yellowed leaves,
Made overcoats out of rags to clothe the corn dolls
And threw them in the weakened river,
Then ran along the riverbank with the other children
Chanting prayers for rain.
That was long ago. Last night she remembered the chant
And sang it while she held my hand but I don’t
Remember the words now, for one never remembers
Things received abundantly –
‘Did it rain?’ I asked her.
I pictured a girl with brown hair,
She, orphan at three, growing along the river and cornfields.
‘I don’t know’ she said, ‘but I liked the magic.’
This morning she left with a suitcase – rain
Fell over the Broad Street all through midday –
She and the other one, my dark-eyed sister,
Who has a touch for driving away the pain
Just like that.
I stood at the window and waved, blessed with their strength
For there and then I could finally say: ‘Let health and fortune be
With you. I left you across the seas and you came to me
From the heart of love and gave generously.’
They walked along the current of the empty morning street
Carrying miracles with them.