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INTERVIEW WITH FLAVIA COSMA

Write a bio of yourself.

Flavia Cosma

As time passes by, my bio seems more and more like a tale I've invented, in collaboration with natural elements such as weather, calamities, missed earthquakes, etc. and man made disasters such as a totalitarian society, destructions, suppression of Human Rights, disregard for the laws. And amid those, the rare moments of pure joy such as the birth of my son, the illusions of love, freedom as I imagined it. And, as I state at the end of the poem REMOTENESS:

"And meanwhile life, flowing downstream,
In parallel, indifferent courses."

What is really lasting and worth of mentioning are the books that I've written so far and the ones that I hope to write from now on.

Describe the room you write in?

I have no particular place where I retire to write. It is more of an interior space, where I can find, without effort, the right word, the simplest sentence to clarify and appease my mind. This can happen in the middle of a glorious sunset, a snowy December day, a limpid morning. Then I feel secure in the midst of so much divine beauty. I do believe that "inspiration" is one of the sure channels between our Creator and us, a moment of Grace in the Universe.

Talk about your move from Romania to Canada in 1976. Was this to escape oppression, censorship and the dictatorship of Ceausescu?

I left Romania in December 1974 after trying for a time to get an exit Visa, without success. It took me almost two years to reach Canada, spending some of this time in different Refugees Camps. It was obvious to me that my writings were not welcomed in the literature of the day, that, on the contrary, insisting on this front would only land me in jail. So, I kept my poems in drawers and published just children stories.

Talk about the writing scene at that time.

Compromise was the word most apt to describe the situation. Writers would compromise their integrity for the reward of being published and having some privileges. There were a few "fools" who tried something different, they ended up in jails or even dead. I was not so brave.

Since the fall of Ceausescu in 1989, do you visit home now? Are family and friends still there?

As soon as I heard the news of the so called "Romanian Revolution", me working in a TV Station in Toronto at the time, I organized "The Association for Democracy in Romania", a charity that over the years transformed itself in "Romanian Children's Relief", that to this day sends goods and medicine to 11 selected orphanages across the country. This gave me access to Romania as early as the spring and summer of 1990. Unfortunately by that time all my immediate family was dead but I had and still have lots of friends in Romania.

What are some of your documentaries about that you've done for TV?

My first documentary "Romania, a Country at the Crossroads" 1990, was awarded The Canadian Scene Prize for Television Documentaries, and dealt as the title suggests, with Romania, immediately after the change of regime. I followed it with "Freedom, Sweet Dream" 1992, dealing with the further changes in the Romanian Society. Social themes and social justice interest me, be it in Romania or Canada or anywhere in the world.

You have published numerous books. Talk about your publishing experience.

My first published book was "Fairy Tales by Flavia Cosma." This came about thanks to the Canadian multicultural policy at the time. My angels (particularly Saint Anthony) protected me and guided my literary steps from the very beginnings. I was blessed to find an American English Professor, Dr. Don Wilson, dead in a traffic accident since, interested in translating from different languages and cultures. Our first collaboration resulted in "47 Poems" Texas Tech University Press 1992, winner of the Richard Wilbur Poetry in Translation Prize. This was followed by "The Fire that Burns Us"-Singular Speech Press 1996, a novel dealing with escaping communist countries and the terrible consequences of such an act for everyone involved, the one who leaves and the one that's left behind. Later on "Wormwood Wine" Mellen Poetry Press 2001, 2004, and "Fata Morgana", same publishing house, 2003. The Romanian publishing houses started taking notice and in 1997 I was published for the first time in my country of origin. Four more books followed, the latest "Rhodos, Rhodes sau Rodi, a diary of my stay in Rhodes, March 2005.

You have a new book that just was published in Romania, a diary about your stay at Rhodes last March. Please talk about your stay there.

I had the privilege to spend the whole month of March 2005 at the International Writers' and Translators' Centre of Rhodes. Extensively visited by tourists during the summer months, the island was quiet at that time of the year. The weather was perfect, with the occasional morning rain and the strong gales, sometimes flapping the window shutters all night long. But this only added to the unique charm of the old, lovingly restored villa built as an observatory post in 1894 by the Governor Smith on the mountain that bears his name. Given the fact that the Turkish shores lay just 11 km. in front of the island, the post was a necessity at the time. The Italians added a new wing to the building in 1936.

My windows were facing the fabulous Aegean Sea. I have spent hours at that window, mesmerized by the sea's constant changing of colors. From the most innocent blue to the menacing navy gray, the Sea stunned and amazed me. I cannot forget the spectacular sunsets, or the nights when a full moon was tracing a wide silvery path on the perfectly still waters. I have rolls and rolls of film to remind me of the natural beauty of Rhodes.

The old town, a jewel in itself, is a unique phenomenon in Europe, due to the fact that is still very much inhabited. Within its tall, double walls, one can visit the famous castle of the Knights of St. John, now housing the ancient and medieval museum, incredibly rich in old, old, treasures. Byzantine churches, dating from the ten century on, are open for mass to this day.

I immediately fell in love with my surroundings. I had to put aside other work I intended to do, and I wrote instead the book about my stay in Rhodes.

But, I was impressed most of all by the warmth and friendliness of the locals, who were trying hard to make you feel at home in their country.

Given a chance, I would certainly go back and revisit Rhodes, which stays in my memory as one of the closest places to Paradise on earth.

I find your work to be so beautifully written and powerful. I am curious as to what you are working on now?

I have different projects on the table right now. I had just finished to roughly translate the book about Rhodes into English, and now we have to give it an English literary form, I am in the middle of translating into Romanian a book of poetry by a famous Canadian poet George Elliott Clarke, and I work on a new collection of my poems, tentatively named "Deceptive Seas". I intend to expand my collection of Fairy Tales from three to seven and to adapt some of them for a marionettes' theatre.

You have spoken about Human Rights recently to children. What sort of questions do the children ask you about Human Rights? With all your experiences, how does this find its way into your writing?

It was very interesting to see the major interest children of a democratic country like Canada have in Human Rights and the lack of them in a totalitarian state. Seems that every one of them had a question or a suggestion on the subject. Personal experiences such as mine fascinate them. They wanted to know about the Secret Police, devising various ways of escaping them, about the liberties of children such as "were they allowed to have pets?" The lives of old people. Very touching.

I draw strength and trust in the human race when I see their innocence and their willingness to correct the society's ills. Next week I am going to speak to older kids (grade 12) about life in the Refugee Camps. I am sure that these almost adults will participate fully in discussions and I am looking forward to talk to them.

What writers that you read inspire you?

Different writers from different epochs and cultures influenced me my entire life. I started of course with some Romanian classic poets, Eminescu, Bacovia, Cosbuc. Arghezi. Later on, the Romantic French poets were my favorites. Baudelaire went hand in hand with Edgar Allan Poe. I had some years of Homer and Greek Tragedies, Ovid, Virgil and so on. Dante has his place in my heart. The list is long.

Out of all the books you published, is there one you feel more partial to than the others?

No. It is always all of them, but especially the next one, the one I can hardly wait to write.


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