Profile: Laura Munteanu – Romani poet and activist
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:
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.
"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.