100 bottled poets

100 bottled poets

Elena Vlădăreanu is invaded by ladybugs while writing poetry. Emil Brumaru focuses on what he has always loved best – a woman. Unfortunately, this time it’s only a woman cut out of red paper. Ionel Ciupureanu snorts words, and Nora Iuga, at the ripe old age of 83, crawls around on all fours, with a rose between her teeth, like a tiger.

All the images described above are part of the album “Sticle pentru minte, inimă şi literatură” (“Vessels for the mind, heart, and literature”), made by the cartoonist Ion Barbu and his son, photographer Mihai Barbu. And they were hung on the walls of Casa FILIT in front of the Palace of Culture, where it is fascinating to see the wordsmiths, at first in these unique photographs, and then, instantaneously, standing before you in reality. And, if you’re lucky, to see them while they have their picture taken once more by Ion Barbu while admiring their portraits framed on the walls.

“Vessels for the mind, heart, and literature” is a project that has been a long time in the making. The first photograph was taken in 2011. It wasn’t its preparation that took such a long time. First, the bottles (the “vessels”) were acquired – they were “of various size, of all colours and shapes, coming from all four corners of the world”. “I thought it was worth putting at stake my entire collection of bottles, and we also used a few dealers of empty bottles who carried home receptacles filled with western air. Last, but not least, I’d like to thank the second-bottle shops in my native town,” Ion Barbu told us. And persuading the 100 poets “was much, much easier. We relied on my past charm and on the current charm of my son, Mihai”.

“The most difficult thing for me was to photograph 100 people who were scattered across the country. While in the beginning we thought about waiting for occasions such as book launches and book fairs to meet them in Bucharest, it turned out this method was not that effective. When they did come, they were too busy and did not have time for us. So we decided to move our studio around the country, chasing them,” said Mihai Barbu, the one in charge of “immortalising” the poets. The props were lugged around by Ion Barbu, the one who also staged each of the photographs.

Collecting one poem from each writer did happen, in the end. Each poem, obviously, was put into a bottle, “with a clay stopper and sealed with wire”.

This is how they went through 39 photo shoots, over 10,000 pictures and the longest poem, of 68 pages, written by Chris Tănăsescu. But printing the result was the most complicated moment. The photos were sorted, and what was left was mixed together, seasoned and then put into just two copies of the volume, which travel around wooing publishers. “Although I’ve raised them as if they were my inexistent daughters, I’d have them marry tomorrow! Especially that they are good-looking, well-behaved, very obedient, good homemakers and, most importantly, virgins! We have now taken a second step: we’ve selected the best-looking publishing houses, the most potent we could find, and we made out matrimonial offer. We’re waiting for them to come off heat and make their decision,” Ion Barbu confessed.

Until then, part of the 100 poets have been on display, sitting quietly on the walls, at Casa FILIT.

by Răzvan Chiruţă