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Ursu's book focuses on a place that is at once a literary crossroads and at the same time isolated in the Carpathian mountains. The eighty poems that make up the three sections of Goldsmith Market are all marked with the longing for travel. The first section, unnamed, presents a series of portraits and scenes, from Nobel Prize winners to busboys, all uneasy in their present place. “False Landscapes,” the second section, explores the images of the Mediterranean we receive through writers such as Sappho and Cavafy, and shows us how isolated we are from the actual places by the mythology surrounding Carthage, Lesbos, and Alexandria. In the third section, “Goldsmith Market,” Ursu follows the connections between Sibiu's history as a meeting place for poets and its contemporary location, with the same attention to distance and longing. The three sections are united by Ursu's interest in precise, provocative portraiture.


#5 Mint Street

In Alexandria a red cat
in the window of a sick poet
and books sadder than the sea under fog.

Wild dogs bark in his brain
At another window, the bourgeois dine
clinking glasses, white bones on china plates
whiter than the bones of a drowned man...

On a blue chair a flickering candle
All that remains after paying his creditors here
and in Hell.
No one whispers his name.
There is no one.

In Alexandria a red cat
in the window of a sick poet…


Song for the Spice Seller

Under the withered cherry tree
the spice seller counts the days
he has remaining.
Dried peppers, clove, cinnamon
amber, myrrh, the untamed musk rose.
Only the barren clink of gold keeps him warm.

“Let's put cherries, cool cherries over his ears
just for him” whisper virgins of Egina.
He who long ago stopped seeing
he who long ago stopped hearing.
Only the barren clink of gold keeps him warm.


Romanian poet Liliana Ursu was born in 1949. She was a Fulbright fellow at Pennsylvania State University in 1992 and 1997. Goldsmith Market is Liliana Ursu's third book of poetry in Romanian, and her third book to appear in English (after the two anthologies: The Sky behind the Forest [Bloodaxe] and Angel Riding a Beast[Northwestern UP]). It is also the first translation of an entire book as it appeared in Romanian. Three poems have appeared in Sean Cotter's translation in the journal Beacons, and two poems from this book were included in The Sky behind the Forest (“Rain in Sibiu” and “In the Town that Was”), both of which appeared, translated by Ursu, Adam Sorkin, and Tess Gallagher, in The New Yorker.


Sean Cotter Cotter at UT Dallas has translated three books of Romanian poetry. He worked in Romania from 1994 to 1996 as a Peace Corps volunteer, and from 2001 to 2002 on a Fulbright-Hays research grant.

Goldsmith Market, by Liliana Ursu

  • Goldsmith Market
    Liliana Ursu
    from Romanian by Sean Cotter
    ISBN 0-939010-79-8 (paper) 
    5¼ x 8
    208 pages [Bilingual Romanian/English]

  • These poems are luminous, numinous, they have the power to change The Black Sea with a splash of a palm into a spring. Liliana Ursu is a dancer, an archeologist of light. How she makes The Black Sea again, how she expands the places of myth is beyond grasping: your skin, your mind, your heart rejoice. Gracious, hard-edged, generous and moving.
    —Tomaž Šalamun


    Liliana Ursu's poems are like flowers at the edge of the abyss. They are beautifully clear and precise, but behind them one glimpses the presence of an ineradicable dark.
    —Mark Strand

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