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BBC Word Service Interview about the book: “How I turned secret police records on my family into poetry”

NPR interview about discovering the secret police files on my family


“Carmen Bugan has the ability to transform deeply personal experiences into poetic language without losing the radiant particulars from which they sprang.” –Frank Beck, The Manhattan Review

“I can certainly attest […] now, after being in Bugan’s world of “frail syllables”, that such an equilibrium between history and art is not only possible, but is often the only way to assuage pain, to release the caged birds, to free oneself from the shackles of grief.” –Simon Gatev, Dundee University Review of the Arts

“Releasing the Porcelain Birds is endlessly suggestive. The rewards are both emotional and intellectual. Bugan’s juxtaposition of document and poem, perpetrator and subject, past and present illuminate poetry’s power to distinguish the shape of truth. She touches identity, narration, government. The subject could not be more contemporary, although the incidents occurred nearly three decades ago. The book is urgent reading in a moment when rigorous debate in our country about the meaning of truth and lies needs to be taken more seriously. The power of government to change lives for good or ill can be vividly explored in Bugan’s meditation. Government’s abuses take root when a population becomes indifferent or too frightened to critically pursue understanding its practices. Bugan shows us the importance of examining reality, however painful it maybe, to find a basis in realism for determining the definition of truth.”–Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, New Letters

“The situation evoked in Releasing the Porcelain Birds, Carmen Bugan’s fourth volume of poems, is undeniably fascinating. Over twenty years after leaving Ceauşescu’s Romania, Bugan (who has subsequently lived in the United States, Britain, Ireland and mainland Europe, and published a childhood memoir, Burying the Typewriter, in 2013) uncovered thousands of pages of secret police surveillance files on her family: painstaking records of their movements, possessions, conversations. This collection puts the poet’s own words in dialogue with those documents, responding to and ultimately rewriting their claim to an objective perspective on her family’s history. It is a rumination on the creative aftermath of police state surveillance, and the importance of remembering differently.”–Alice Troy-Donovan,  Times Literary Supplement

“Her exploration of the rift between the surveillance history and the collective memories of a family is pursued with all the skills and moral courage of a remarkable poet writing a poetry that must be written.” —Kelvin Corcoran (from back cover)

“Releasing the Porcelain Birds is dedicated to the years that the author and her family suffered the harsh isolation and dangers under the ubiquitous eyes of informers and the secret police itself, and the magical literary consequence to such an ordeal, through the expressive and original lyricism of her poems. Loneliness, resilience, intensity, desperation, estrangement are to be found abundantly in the memory of that time but also through their artistic vibrancy, for which we should be grateful to this gifted and inspired writer.”-–Norman Manea (from back cover)

“In Releasing the Porcelain Birds Carmen Bugan uses thousands of secret police files kept on her family when they lived under Romanian secret police surveillance. Poems are interspersed with excerpts from secret police files and the tension and pressure of living as an ‘Object of Observation’ (‘We are museums’) is explored in these sinister and exacting poems.”–Kim Moore in The Compass Magazine

‘In this collection of poems, Bugan reclaims the beauty of her life despite the humiliating experience of harsh isolation and constant surveillance of the Romanian secret police during Ceausescu’s reign of terror.’–Oweney Courtney in The Bishop’s Institute (Book of the Month review)