Alexandru Bulucz

- Germany -

Poet, translator, and critic Alexandru Bulucz was born in Alba Iulia, Romania, in 1987. There, he spent his first 13 years before emigrating to Germany with his family in 2000. He attended a sports-focused boarding school and nearly became a professional basketball player, deciding instead to study German and comparative literature in Frankfurt am Main.


Bulucz has published poems, articles, and reviews since 2013, and has since 2015 served as editor of the philosophical conversation series “Einsichten im Dialog.” He is editor of the online magazine Faust-Kultur and translates authors from Romanian and French (including Andra Rotaru and Jean-Luc Nancy). As (co-)editor, he has published on Joseph Brodsky, Paul Celan, and Werner Söllner, among others.
He made his poetic debut in 2016 with Aus sein auf uns (Allitera). For poems from his second volume, was Petersilie über die Seele weiß (Schöffling 2020) he was awarded the Wolfgang-Weyrauch-Förderpreis and a one-year fellowship from the Berlin Senate. In June 2022, Alexandru Bulucz was awarded the Deutschlandfunk Prize at the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize for his lyrical prose text “A few country borders further east, seen from here”. He lives in Berlin.

Hoops & Verse. The German-Romanian Poet Alexandru Bulucz

I first met Alexandru Bulucz in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, around 2013. At the time, he had just launched a magazine called Otium with a few other literary-minded characters. Born 1987 in Alba Iulia, Romania, Alexandru's literary work initially seemed to me as a wayward attempt at integrating fragments, shards, meandering conversations, even fleeting impressions and vague memories into a larger, narratively coherent body of work.


In Frankfurt am Main he translated the poetry of Alexandru Vona (1922-2004) and prose by the French savant Jean-Luc Nancy (1940-2021). He conducted amazing long-form interviews with philosophers, such as Dieter Henrich, Peter Strasser, and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, published in a book series, entitled Einsichten im Dialog, that quickly ran through multiple editions (the publisher was Edition Faust, Frankfurt am Main). Alexandru appeared, to me at least, to be omnipresent as much as he was often aloof. I collaborated with him in editing a book on the Romanian-German writer Werner Söllner (1951-2019), whom Alexandru had deeply admired.


For a while Alexandru and I even lived next to the same church, the Roman-Catholic Church Herz Jesu in Frankfurt/Eckenheim, though I must admit he lived at the portal, while my apartment was in the back of the building. We often met and discussed literary matters, as one might imagine. In doing so, I often appreciated that Alexandru Bulucz marked the difference between poetry and criticism, both of which he engaged in, with a bright line. Recently, I read an essay by Philip Rahv (1908-1973) that in deportment and melody reminded me of something that may as well come out of Alexandru's mouth: »The critic is, after all, concerned for the most part with discovering and verifying truths about the literary process, while the creative writer is concerned with the invention and formal elaboration of [his or her material].«


Criticism & Imaginism

Having moved to Berlin upon arrival of Alexandru's first child with his partner, the poet, translator and publisher Daniela Seel, he expanded his critical work a great deal and now regularly reviews poetry with some of the leading critics in German public broadcasting, such as the Deutschlandfunk, as well as in various newspapers and magazines. While his editorial and critical work is informed by a profound knowledge of the contemporary literary scene as well as serious consideration of literary theory, his own literary work is a totally different animal.


His poetry operates intensely autobiographical, thereby superimposing layers of literary history, mythology, reflection and recollection. While his verse may appear nostalgic at first glance, it affords readers, willing to give it a close reading, with a deep and empathetic understanding of the condition humaine from the perspective of a 21st Century Westernized Eastern-European perspective. In his poetry, he offers or creates a hybrid perspective that, though not rare in contemporary German literature, is conveyed by an engaging, highly creative and capable, always endearing poetic sensibility. There is something pastoral as well as urban in the way Alexandru treats his subject: »[…] back in Alba Iulia. / Those stainless-steel knife tips / still strike, or spur on, sparks of images to this day. / Was it meek deference to the poverty of the thirsty? / Smart move, anyway, by the fruit-&-vegetable vendors, / giving customers who’d selected their watermelon / a first taste. They weren’t for sale by the slice, / it was all or nothing.«


Certainly after his second volume of poetry, »was Petersilie über die Seele weiß« (»what Parsley Knows of the Soul«) in 2020, it thus shouldn’t surprise anyone that at 35, Alexandru received some of the most prestigious literary awards in the language for his work, such as the Wolfgang-Weyrauch-Förderpreis (2019) as well as the Deutschlandfunk-Prize (2022) at the Tage der Deutschsprachigen Literatur in Klagenfurt, Austria. He also was awarded a research grant and a stipend by the senate of the city of Berlin and was invited to Czernowitz, Ukraine, in 2020.


Background & Literary Context

But I'd like to explore this poet's context and background a bit more, if you don’t mind. Because before Alexandru Bulucz began garnering the attention of others for his brains and adorable versifications, he started out in professional basketball. I'd like to note this fact in the poet's life, because – as I have often observed – it imbued his personality with an energy that sets him apart from other average coy and lethargic literary types.


Sure, all the splash and hustle of German minor league hoops couldn’t keep his inner poet silent, but it left him aware of the importance of pandering to a crowd. And that’s something to be appreciated in an environment marked by arcane and reclusive sophisticates. He didn’t stick with basketball, because Alexandru had too much to say as to be content with dropping dimes or taking shots from downtown. But he still knows how to score a glitzy metaphor, taking a shot from the moon.


As mentioned, Alexandru was born in Romania and came to Germany as an adolescent. With family ties being somewhat fraught, his mother took matters in her own hands on the cusp of the new millennium and departed Romania for Germany with his younger sister, leaving the boy behind with his father in west-central Romania. Accompanied by a few belongings stashed away in a backpack, at age 13, Alexandru would soon later brave the voyage to Germany on his own in a long-distance coach.


Naturally, the road was rough when he set out to write poetry in a foreign language. Unlike prominent Romanian writers in Germany – such as the Nobel laureate Herta Müller, Ernest Wichner, Klaus Hensel, Franz Hodjak, or Werner Söllner (just to name a few), – Alexandru Bulucz did not come from the German speaking minority in Romania (Banater Schwaben, Donauschwaben or Siebenbürger Sachsen) that had been transplanted there by Austro-Hungarian colonial endeavors during a by-gone era.


Having settled in Aschaffenburg, a town roughly 30 miles outside Frankfurt am Main, his new home at first did not smoothen his path, but was a catalyst for a bag of issues his life and his family´s life had been confronted with. He disliked Germany. He revolted violently against his new stepfather and felt resentment towards his mother. Being a promising athlete, he took flight and asked to be sent off to a boarding school in rural Central Germany focused on prepping basketball novices for major league.


I think it is important to weigh the fact that dice of this aspiring poet's fortune had rolled for a while until it showed its number. When I consider Alexandru's early poetry, published in the aforementioned Otium at Frankfurt's Goethe University, their urgency combined with the plethora of literary allusions, gleaned from authors like Paul Celan or Emil Cioran still strikes me as the product of a young voice in search of a tradition. »So they lean the anti-ladder / up against the wall of the memory chapel. Had I climbed down / yesterday, I could have gone & visited whatever lies buried / beneath the skull’s roof. But maybe it would have been closed. / You know, Kafka’s coachman said—or was the coachman Kafka?— // when he came to a tall wall & needed to stop the carriage.«


Alexandru's formative years in Frankfurt am Main coincided with a new appreciation within German literature for the innumerable linguistic biographies in a language that for perhaps too long recruited its writers from a pure stock of native speakers, benevolently or, one might say, graciously othering literature produced by authors with e.g. Turkish or Italian backgrounds as Gastarbeiterliteratur (Guest Worker's Literature). The term, for apparent reasons, is controversial and outdated. Even though authors, such as Frank Biondi or Cyrus Ataby, gained some prominence towards the end of the 20th Century, the dominant vernacular in German literature until recently had been decidedly and purely German-German. But a generation of new poets introduced a new attitude and lifted their particular German vernaculars out of the aura of tokenism and the judgment of charitable white Germans. They spilled their experiences into the vast system of tributaries in what may be a stream of mutual understanding, reinventing German as a lingua franca of sorts.


Hail, Rose, have mercy, I mistook you, I took you for what

exactly yesterday, for a Stein, a stone among migratory birds.

It was a waterbird, & I in the throat pouch a rootless

duckweed, so as to bloom in other places, other waters.


Take pity on my secrecy. I am the lord who dwelt with you

& with her at the same time. We flew along Carpathian hills,

above the Southern Bug. On Bukovinian questions, where homeland

begins, memory ends, I place faith in the question marks.


Poetry cited in this essay has been translated by Jake Schneider

Essay on Alexandru Bulucz written by Paul-Henri Campbell