Romani poetry

The large production of poetry that accompanied the birth of Romani literature in the second half of the 20th century and especially in the last thirty years clearly shows that for Roma, Sinti and Kale, poetry is one of the favourite instruments for questioning, reflecting, self-discovery and communicating. Despite the immense progress of science and technology, this transnational ethnic group does not hesitate to choose the oldest and perhaps also the poorest of the expressive media, but certainly one of those that leaves most room for testimony, creativity and imagination. Written use of the Romani language, handed down over ten centuries and until very recently only orally, is the most striking expression of this desire for identity. The core of the research underlying Roma poetry is the identity which interrogates, which scrutinises the place and destiny as if only the recognition of self could authenticate Romani existence, giving it a pretext for knowledge. This strong and secure awareness leads Romani poets to seek their rightful place in contemporary society and the planet, rejecting the reductive historical role of “marginalised free beings” which is reflected in the policies for the annihilation of Romani culture. They are heroic pioneers of the “third way”, or another way to exist without being assimilated or marginalised, but rather as active subjects free to express cultural specificities within society.

Finding a space for Roma is a tricky challenge in which one has to be daring, a challenge which, however, can lead to big advantages in having the great opportunity to offer their own cultural and human heritage in a multicultural context. The Romani poet peeps out from the page to look in a mirror, and the contrast between the negative external stereotypical images and his own inner self leads to uncertainty and bewilderment, but also brings with it a greater awareness of his own identity. And the stubborn search for identity is at the same time the search for a Romani mythology.

The presence of artists from different Romani peoples, traditions and communities are expressions of a multiplicity and fragmentation which lead to natural exchange and aspire, albeit with fatigue and uncertainty, to reconstitute a new unity and integrity. Such an operation is another expression of the same search that characterises the work of Romani poets as penetration of an entire culture. In the mirror of the page, the poets also seek a true reflection, bringing out unexpressed desires, prayers, spells and willingness to participate which find their fulfilment in the word.

The poets in this selection have been chosen from among the best Rom, Sinti, Kalé, Manouche and Romanichal artists who took part in the fifth “Amico Rom” International Artistic Competition. It is a very personal selection of some of the many poems by the most representative contemporary Roma poets. I have tried to provide the most complete range of Romani poetry possible, including various voices and registers (male and female), and also taking into account the poems of the young and the very young. What sets the poems of these authors apart is the vitality of their passions, their detailed description of natural life, their originality of expression and their dynamic and energetic use of the Romani language, whether derived from the quality of the vocabulary, their “rage” at misunderstanding or their determined will to be heard. Each poem is a diary, a transcript of life, a compendium of experiences. Explorers and settlers of the “third way” are true poets who must be read in their original language. In spite of the differences in style and content of these poems, they have some features in common such as immediacy due to the need to establish a point of contact with others to communicate; the essential nature of the language to ensure they are not misunderstood and prevent the frustration of not being understood; spontaneity to underline their good intentions and confirm their seriousness; simplicity, which reflects the desolation of reality and serene distancing; and the use of rhythm and musicality, due to the need to express emotion directly.

Read successively and all in one go, these poems can lead to a long conversation to break the deadly silence, to scare away the solitude brought about by the lack of communication.

A cèlé o kwitipé
ni kwitipé ka a lètte
ka civèle a tras …

There is a silence.
A silence that surrounds you
Inspiring terror…

(Giulia di Rocco)

But if lack of communication is not overcome, there is the danger of annihilation:

Ta na cèle nist ta kirèppe
anglàle ko kwitipé
to merribbé

But nothing can be done
before the silence
of death

(Giulia di Rocco)

Occasionally the use of allusions reveals hidden or unconscious thoughts, but more often the broad and rich inner world of the poets is revealed through their instincts, their feelings and their imagination:

O śil akharel mi godaqe
te del andre k-o mo vogi.
Okote maladoevav so kamav

The cold wind invites me to reflect
to watch my soul
here I find everything I am looking for

(Nicolás Jiménez González)

The often stifling environment that does not understand (thus invisible to Roma) seems to be a constant threat to the inner world, and hence there are some tensions:

Tor vast phandime, ke dikhav len sas
umblavde anda kala sastripen,
ćirikle dukhaqe, phaka ćinde

I saw your hands trapped
fallen between these irons,
birds of pain, wings clipped.

(Serena Weltz Zigler)

Romani poetry is “dramatic” in the sense that it should be heard rather than read, even though reading provides the best tools to decode the various levels of interpretation. It is realistic in the sense that it reveals the true world of the artists and the people they represent, establishing immediate contact with the heart:

Kana aven le tare ta atardeon
pasa o gori le paiesko
ando zaleno cimpo thaj ceri
oce astardeolpe o traio.

When a Romani caravan arrives
there, on the riverbank,
in a green field and under the sky
nature itself comes alive.

(Luminita Mihai Cioba)

This art in the hands of Romani poets appears as a vital and liberating agent, and reflecting spontaneous knowledge it is the search for the truth of one’s existence:

Kana le tare anzardeon
thaj le grast han e cear
le seiora pínrandea
prastean anda le vasean
tiden kast ande-l ghilea

When the tents have been erected
and the horses are grazing freely,
they run between the trees,
together the Roma sing in the heart
of the forest.

(Luminita Mihai Cioba)

It is living, genuine, spontaneous poetry, with a deep consideration of human values: love for life is great notwithstanding the sufferings and misunderstandings. Its way of “feeling” the world, nature and humanity is unique. The world is a threat and causes tensions and nature essentially means security for Romani poets, while humanity is an essential part of life to which to give their own culture. The transnational nature of this selection evidences this. It is no coincidence, then, that the Roma are transnational and the only people in the world who have never declared war on any other people, and who have never used weapons to claim territory.

Thus the authors of this selection bring together the essence of life through their intuition and inner psychology. The topics are those that have to do with man universally, as if to indicate that there is a single being, the human, albeit with so many different cultures. These are topics that range from the pain of life, love, family; the relationship between Roma and non-Roma, on the status of women; the marginalisation of the religious festival, including rich symbolism, such as the tree, the forest, the bird, the rain, the stars. The tree is the symbol of life, of fertility. The “ciriklò” (bird) is the soul of the poet, youth, travel, freedom. The forest represents security, family, creativity. Rain is a symbol of hidden thoughts and emotions. The stars represent the subconscious and also a hint of light in a dim and dark world. The long Romani road, travelled for more than ten centuries, leads to the roots of our existence and to the uncertain future.

This article was published in issue 25 of the journal I Tchatchipen.
Written by Santino Spinelli.