Jamie Cameron

‘Calendars’ – An Interview With Andreea Iulia Scridon

Andreea Iulia Scridon is a Romanian-American poet and translator. She is the author of the full-length collection, A Romanian Poem, and two pamphlets: Across The Nile-Green Sky and Calendars. We sat down to talk to Andreea about the second of those pamphlets, Calendars, published last year with Broken Sleep Books. We touched on her tri-cultural heritage, the importance of coincidence in poetry, and what it means to belong to a poetic ‘tribe’…

I want to start by asking about your process of composition when you put together ‘Calendars’. Can you tell us about when and where these poems were written? 

On the tube to Tooting Bec. In the Southbank sand. In a doorstep in Belgrave Square, a primary school in Maida Vale, and so on – but that doesn’t mean they were necessarily ad-hoc creations. The book came together in a spontaneous but purposeful way. I thought about the concept for a very long time before I put the manuscript together – and it is the autobiographical result of my lived experience – but also trusted the way the individual poems informed each other in order to communicate the vaster whole, which is a practice I totally believe in when it comes to crafting books. 

This is a book very much born out of London then. Do you think London is a good place to write poetry? Do you even feel there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ places to write?

London is a fantastic place to write – like a real metropolis, it infuses with you a sense of possibility, as if life renewed really awaits you there. A poet in particular should know London, because its poetic inheritance is like an invisible footprint on every cobblestone. Despite its continual bustle, it’s tweedy enough to give you the feeling that William Blake or T.S. Eliot just might turn the corner.   

That said, I don’t believe there are good or bad places to write – just look at Flannery O’Connor or Emily Dickinson. Writing is a state of mind, body, and spirit.

‘Calendars’ is an interesting name for this collection of poems. It almost suggests someone looking ahead, but in poems like ‘Madrigal’, ‘On Pain,’ and ‘Sonnet’, time seems to be passing painfully slowly  – what does the title say about the poems? 

I wanted a simple title, in comparison to the heavily conceptual individual titles which you refer to, mostly because that makes it open to interpretation in a delightful way – it leaves room for the imagination. I initially envisioned it as the central speaking figure being in a state of emotional paralysis while the seasons around her change, growing colder and colder, similarly to what you perceived – but the humour present throughout the collection might suggest hope for the future. 

The individual titles, since you mentioned them, often refer to Medieval and Renaissance songs and dances and represent a postmodern pastiche of the troubadour trope, particularly important as the speaking voice is decidedly female – which completely turns the troubadour concept on its head.

Speaking of postmodern pastiche and conceptual titles – how do you integrate those things into the writing? Do the poems come first or the concepts? 

I keep a mental and written tally of coincidences – not in the “voodoo” sense, but rather out of the belief that if a phrase, image, or idea reappears in my life in a short period of time, I should watch out for it and pay it special attention. For me at least, there are usually several essential or one titular poem that serves as the eye of the cyclone – these occur naturally, through a burst of inspiration, and I usually build around this structure with more cerebral poems that basically drive my message home. So in short: the concepts. 

One of the brilliant things about these poems are their range – the matching of high & low culture, classical forms and postmodern deconstruction – but poetry, like a lot of things, can be quite tribal, there is a sense that you have to nail your stylistic colours to the mast, do you reject that idea? 

I’m so glad you think they’re brilliant. I do like to make patchworks and mosaics out of my books – with the condition that the concept remains harmonious even if I write the individual poems in varying styles, registers, and lengths. 

Like you, I recognise that homogeneity is paramount to our understanding of poetry today – if it was always the case, I can’t say. A great trend in contemporary poetry is its cerebral and monochromatic tone, which can so often be done impressively, but does leave me anxious as regards real individual expression. 

I’m not too surprised by the fact that I’m not integrated into a contemporary current or group of poets because I’m socially ambiguous, as a bi- or tri-cultural individual. I see this as a great privilege that gives me comparative force and semantic flexibility, from the years I lived in Romania, Florida, and London. 

Being a poet more often than not stems from an initial sense of radical difference, a propensity towards estrangement – you and I have previously spoken about the poem’s ability to tightrope between familiarity and foreignness – and so of course there is something of a paradox in loners or alien elements of society coming together in tightly bound communities – though poets certainly aren’t the first to make that happen. 

I get the sense that this tribal state of affairs, which you rightfully identify, is more a byproduct of poetry’s incompatibility with the way in which our very corporate world is constructed. Personally, I would be keen to glean an insight of how people who are not part of “the poetry world” are absorbing poetry unconsciously through music and cinema. I’m more interested in the individual, emotive experience than any theory.

As you mention, you’re Romanian but you spent your adolescence in Florida and studied in the UK. All three of these places appear in your poems – the cherry trees of Bloomsbury, Florida’s stars ‘like cystic acne’ and the lyrics of Anton Pann. Do you draw equally from each of their traditions? 

Although they are distinct from each other in my vision to an Apollonian degree, I really do think I am influenced by all three “players” in equal measure, and I’m quite proud of being a cosmopolitan product of a modern world. I believe nationhood, particularly from an aesthetic and imaginative perspective, remains very important even in a globalised intellectual sphere, and the role of nation and tradition need to be re-examined even after they’ve been deemed partially superfluous. As someone who has been an immigrant as long as she can remember, I can say that these elements do still matter, that they can absolutely co-exist in harmony and render art all the richer for it. 

This being said, I sometimes wonder how much of myself is nature vs. nurture in that way, but given the fact that I’ve always been attracted to people who are somehow unique no matter what nationality they belong to, I think it’s fair to assume that a deep sense of selfhood – so deep it seems to have developed in utero – remains the transcendental point of light convergence, and what nods to place and tradition is only a side effect, rays which emanate from a centre. 

What has your experience been of Florida generally? You said you don’t believe in there being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ places to write but how is Florida different from London? To me it feels almost hyper-American in a very particular, southern, Disneyland kind of way… 

I think that’s a funny question, because it seems to me as though Europeans and Americans are wildly curious about each other, but neither party wants to admit this fascination. 

Florida isn’t much of a literary place – it doesn’t show up in literature so often, nor are very many famous authors from there. But it’s a terribly Romantic place – savage, unpopulated, and so very still – a stillness that you can almost hear screaming. I mentioned Flannery O’Connor previously, and I definitely felt the thrill of the Southern Gothic many a time in Florida. But it’s a strange mix of blinding brightness (like you say, the Disney element, which even shows up in Calendars) and a more dangerous, gloomy history that lies dormant and mysterious. 

In terms of what really permeates your subconscious, I’d say it differs above all spatially rather than culturally: I was used to more cramped spaces in an urban environment from my Romanian childhood, so London in my imaginary space remained very tied up with what was European despite Brexit happening shortly after I moved there. Florida has this incredible mass of sky which really seems never-ending – it’s no optical illusion either, there is some scientific explanation for this phenomenon. Of course it’s not the same in New York City, where you get the feeling that you’re about to hit the top of your head on the sky and have to duck. So you’re right to say that there’s something distinct about Florida, and I’d dare add that it’s even magical – as its dreamy name would suggest.

An anglophile cultural influence is very obvious in Florida and the US in general, after all, what you and I read growing into our writerly forms probably didn’t differ too radically – spanning from classic texts to more recent works that examine postcolonial or minor literatures. Or maybe you perceive it differently, as a British reader, Americans might seem more foreign, sillier of course, than vice-versa. 

I experienced that same sense of vastness when I lived in North Carolina – your description of it is very evocative… Andreea, we like to finish our interviews by asking people what was the last great thing they read –  what have you enjoyed recently? 

I’m currently on an Italian bender, so after David Gilmour’s The Last Leopard: A Life of Giussepe Tomasi di Lampedusa, I recommend Axel Munthe’s The Story of San Michele – a massive hit with older generations, now more or less forgotten or less known to younger people. 

For something newer on the market, try Sean Cotter’s translation of Mircea Cărtărescu’s ‘Solenoid’, which is more than a trippy ride through Bucharest – in my opinion, a dissection of what it really means to be a writer. 

Thank you Andreea. 


Buy the pamphlet here. Calendars| Andreea Iulia Scridon | Broken Sleep Books (2022)

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