I would like to thank all the translators involved for their contributions to this supplement of Italian poetry and, in particular, Caroline Maldonado for her enthusiastic support of this project and the scrupulous care with which she has co-ordinated it. [Ed.]
Italian poetry has featured previously in the Translation section of The High Window and partly for that reason I have chosen some 20th and 21st century poets who, although they are important in their own country, may not yet be the most familiar to English readers. This exciting selection includes fresh translations of work by poets some of whom have grown in stature after their death – during their lives having been marginalised due to geographical location or gender or other reasons, as well as new unpublished poems by contemporary poets. The styles and themes are various. There are poems of place, rural and urban, and others exploring current concerns such as our relationship with our environment and response to the refugee crisis. I am very grateful to the poets and their excellent translators for giving me the opportunity to present their work here. CM
Attilio Bertolucci • Rocco Scotellaro • Cristina Campo • Andrea Zanzotto • Franco Scataglini • Maria Luisa Spaziani • Patrizia Cavalli • Maurizio Cucchi • Laura Fusco • Antonella Anedda • Franca Mancinelli
Allen Prowle • Caroline Maldonado • Adele Bardazzi • Chiara Salomoni • Olmo Calzolari • Peter Robinson • Jamie McKendrick • John Taylor
THW22: Russian • THW 21: Austrian • THW 20: Macedonian • THW 19: Swiss-German • THW 19: Spanish • THW 17: Franco-Canadian • THW 16: Modern Greek • THW 15: Kazakh • THW 14: Hungarian • THW 13: Polish • THW 12: Classics • THW 11: Catalan • THW10: Hispanic • THW 9: Hebrew • THW 8: Bulgarian • THW 7: Japanese • THW 6: Dutch • THW 5: Portuguese • THW 4: French • THW 3: Italian • THW 2: German • THW 1: Italian
Attilio Bertolucci: Five poems translated by Allen Prowle
Those cloudy, torpid days when
the sky is a dull silver, where to turn,
indifferent, sealed in our pain?
Sheltering some tools and leftover hay
there’s a porch, a place where no one comes
at this uncertain hour of day, March
is a month of to and fro. We sit
bent over a game played with sticks and dust,
a few words fall, sparse drops of rain,
then stop in the silence of this last spot on earth
where your restive body finds its place.
In a humble, abandoned porch
in the grey course of a morning we have
felt through our aimless hands
time running and the dust of the game.
But let me praise as well the dullness
of the aura of that empty day when past
if my dear companions smile wryly
as today anxiously they watch.
from In an Uncertain Time (1955),
This is a year of poppies. When, between May and June,
I came back home again, our fields
brimmed with their wine, so sweet, so dark,
it made me drunk.
From cloud-banks of mulberry
to the grass and the grain, ripeness was all,
spreading in gentle heat and dawdling sleepiness
through this world of green.
Halfway though my life I saw my sons,
grown men, escaping out of sight,
freed from whatever binds
the swallow to its flight
across a stormy evening’s fading glow.
And, as is human, my sorrow eased
when the house lit up again,
for another supper, the air cooled
by a far-off flurry of hail.
HOUSE DECORATORS ARE ARTISTS
To Roberto Longhi
The son arrived first. It was that radiant hour
after lunch and sun and wine, so utterly silent
you could hear the brush on the wall
extend the blue of the sky.
Not once did he look outside;
his youth and health were all that he required,
helped him to paint, precise and true,
the dark blue edges for the wash of light blue
which, drying, became lighter, as he had meant it to.
Then came the father, bringing a stencil,
and the green, the red, the pink,
the tiredness of all those years, and the pallor.
The sky in place, with all his skill,
he had to make the roses flower,
but the green mixed for the leaves
just never seemed to do. It would not match
what, beyond the window, taunted his failing eyes,
that maddening intensity of green, as evening
came close, and its fading of colour.
Later, crimson corollas, shading into pink,
blossomed in the room,
one here, one there,
kin to the last ones which had held his gaze,
before the darkness, outside and within, ended a long day,
not without reward, and left to those who came
to sleep, and then awake inside these walls,
the wonder of roses and of sky.
THE WIND AND THE RAIN
Why is it today when the wind
brings nasty weather
the children hidden by the blue corrugated iron shed
vent their anger on the sick bitch, and the little cat
with sweet-eyes, she’s a female, carries
the mouse in her mouth like a son
before finishing him off?
This wind they call a sea wind
will drop and be followed by
a tepid rain
and other things will sadden me. Then
fair weather will come back because it’s summer
and when night comes
in the woods black with chestnuts the drying houses
will seem new again lime-mortared by the moon.
WAITING FOR RAIN
What will become of us if clouds
are no longer seen
in this land loved precisely
for its green humidity,
if supplies for us and for the animals
run out before the winter
and every morning the fine weather
just dampens the corners
of the windows like a poison
and every night the moon
enters our rooms and stops us
sleeping, if we no longer know
which flowers to take to those
who are waiting to find out from us
why they still have not been roused
around dawn by the sound
of rain on the burnished tiles
so that the talk can resume
that was interrupted in another
autumn when love lasted
even until the consummation of pain?
from Winter Journey (1971)
Attilio Bertolucci was born in Parma in 1911. He published eight collections of verse between 1929 and 1997. His work is characterised by a lyric accessibility that marks it off from the previous generation of ‘Hermetic’ poets such as Montale and Ungaretti. A passionate Anglophile, when discussing his influences he quoted as many English and American poets as Italian. In 1994 he published ‘Imitations’, a book of his verse translations that reflected this; it contains versions of, among others, Milton, Wordsworth, Landor, MacNeice, Hardy and Edward Thomas. He died in Rome in 2000.
Rocco Scotellaro: Five poems translated by Allen Prowle and Caroline Maldonado
THE GARDEN OF THE POOR
The basil has grown
in the garden of the poor:
they have robbed the windows of air,
sowed the seeds on two boards.
The sparrows will come,
the flies will come,
in the garden of the poor.
Now when you don’t know what to do
pick up the pitcher in your hand,
then I will see you grown among the roses
in the garden of the poor.
My father would measure the right foot
and sell shoes made by a master of the craft
at fairs amid clouds of dust.
With his cobbler’s knife he cut
the sole like a loaf of bread,
and once opened up the guts
of a son of a bitch.
It was on a night not to recall,
and when they wanted him talk about it
he would scowl at them all.
He threw the scales at my brother
who never could write down
the tax returns.
He always kept up his sleeve
a blade ready sharpened
for the tax collector’s belly.
It was he who planted doubt in the mind of his friend
who got himself arrested
when one day in despair
he sent his bench to the tax office
together with a note:
‘Now you, owl eyes,
can wear yourself out’.
By then he had lost all hope,
my shoemaker father.
From one of the steps he replied
to a monsignor, “May He always be praised”
. with a quiet laugh and without a blush.
And already tired, his eyes
peering over his ample cloak,
he defended the men gathered in groups
and stood on the square at their side.
And he died – as he had wished to – suddenly,
his peace still not made with the world.
When he felt the attack
he reached for mamma’s hand in the bed,
he squeezed it, she understood and pulled back.
They stretched him out, his face contorted,
words of revolt still in his throat.
Then they said what a fine man he was,
even the tax-man, and they made such a fuss.
DESPAIRING CUCKOO, YOUR CALL KEEPS US AWAKE
All around the brown mountains
your colour has come back,
our old September friend.
You’ve settled in among us.
Our women have heard you quite close
when castaway crickets
fleeing the burnt stubble of our fields
rise up and screech at the doors.
From the ceilings hang
strings of dried figs and green tomatoes;
there’s a sack of hard wheat,
a heap of felled almonds.
your call keeps us awake:
yes, we’ll trudge back along the paths
and tomorrow get down to work
when water streams yellow again
under the furrows,
and the wind billows
our coats in the cupboards.
THE MONOTONOUS SINGING OF THE LUCANIANS
Our Arabic song howls
because we only ever trusted
The gypsies steal
herds from their masters.
And we sing we sing
through the night with them.
The king of gypsies is with us.
With us he eats stolen meat.
And we only sing the praises
of the king of gypsies.
The lady gypsy is the most beautiful
of all the women who have looked at us.
And we sing the graces
of the beautiful women.
The gypsies’ animals
have the docile eyes
of travelling companions.
And we buy the horses
that the gypsies sell us.
And only gypsies
make us laugh and cry
just out of joy.
Gypsy fire in the breast
on nights that our drum
summons the Lucanian peasants,
beating along the dark alley.
TICKET FOR TURIN
Turin, big of heart,
you’re a young girl, you take my hand.
I set off on my journey:
they sent me far away,
here, where people dream of you
as I do, in the Fiats’ stream of wind.
They fondled me on their knees,
my hard Saracen fathers,
would laugh at the rhymes that I made up;
just like a puppet they would make me jump,
the dark beautiful women.
Then one day I saw them weep,
dark rumbles of thunder in the air,
and how to weep, with those dark faces,
they did not know.
And on their knees I sang another song.
So they put me on the ground and said:
go on, you can walk by yourself now.
How keen I was when I came to touch
the workmen’s blue overalls:
I want to tell them that, those Saracens.
from Your call keeps us awake (Smokestack Books 2013)
Rocco Scotellaro (1923-53) grew up in the impoverished area of Basilicata in Southern Italy, was active in the post-war struggle for land reform and was elected as the first socialist mayor of Tricarico at 23. He died of a heart attack shortly after being imprisoned under false charges following conflict with local landowners. In 1954 Carlo Levi edited a posthumous selection of his poetry E Fatto Giorno which was awarded the prestigious Viareggio and Pellegrino prizes among others. In 1986 Mondadori published a complete collection of his poetry.
Cristina Campo: Five poems translated by Adele Bardazzi
from FAREWELL STEP
We will die far away. If only
to lay my cheek upon your palm
on New Year’s Eve; if in mine
you trace the tracks
of another migration.
We know little enough
of the soul. Maybe it will drink from
the bowls of concave nights leaving no trace,
will lie beneath airy plantations
turned to stone…
Oh lord and brother!
Some thousands winters hence
scholars peering into a solitary glass case
perhaps will write about us:
‘No bond united these dead ones
in the deserted necropolis’.
The snow was suspended over the night and streets
like destiny between flower and hand.
On a soft chime of bells
you, beloved, arrived…
Age has flowered on this staircase as on a thin branch.
Oh tender tempest
of the night, human features!
(Now all life is in my gaze,
a star above you, above the world that your step encloses).
Today, my love, your name
slipped from my lips
like a foot from the last stair,
Now the water of life spreads
and the whole staircase
must be trod again
I traded you, my love, for words,
Dark honey that you inhale
from within diaphanous vases
under a sixteen hundred years of lava –
I will recognise you
by your immortal
Devoted as a branch
sagging under drifts of snow
cheerful as a bonfire
in hills of oblivion,
on sharp metallic surfaces
in a white mesh of nettles
I will teach you, my soul,
this farewell step …
THE BOW MASTER
from ‘Little Notebook’
You, the Absent One that we must love…
term that evades and pursues us
like a bird’s shadow on a path:
I no longer wish to look for you.
I will vibrate without aiming my arrow,
if the heart’s string is not pulled tight:
it is the teaching of the Zen Bow Master
who for three thousand years has watched You.
from La tigre assenza (Milan: Adelphi, 1991)
Cristina Campo (Bologna, 1923–Rome, 1977), pseudonym of Vittoria Guerrini, was a poet, essayist, and literary translator. She published her first poetic collection, Passo d’addio, in 1956; her first collection of essays, Fiaba e mistero, in 1962; and she translated poems by Marianne Moore, John Donne, Emily Dickinson, Simone Weil, William Carlos Williams, and Virginia Woolf, among others. It is striking that Campo remained rather unknown until the late 1980s when her work was re-presented to the Italian reading public; this was mainly thanks to the influential Milanese publishing house Adelphi.
Andrea Zanzotto: Five poems translated by Chiara Salomoni
Photograph of Andrea Zanzotto © Archivio Masi
The coils swell up once again,
huge coils of water
and seem to offer
food and drink.
It rains from everywhere,
whirlpools and spinning tops of rain
which first take you
and then suck you in
with their stroking tongues.
Water takes back all
its old quarters,
its wells now suckle
and after it will be their turn to nurse –
just thinking about them, about these things
you feel wet, drenched
cirrus, cumulus, clouds,
driven by winds
they run after us into our nothingness.
Louder, louder, nature,
turn up your stereo, more of your dark
of microphones already turned off.
Come on, let’s get together
to shout out words
like “Qualis artifex pereo!” what an artist dies in me
from the second section ‘Canzonette Ispide/ Edgy Jingles’ from Sovrimpressioni (2001)
The following poems were published in the subsection ‘Fu Marghera (?)/ Was it Marghera (?) of the second section ‘Tempo di Roghi/ Time of blazes’ from Conglomerati. It refers to the polluted industrial area called Porto Marghera visible from the train route from and to Venice. This section relates to Dante’s City of Dis (from the sixth to the ninth circles of Hell).
Death of deaths
skeletons left out of flames
of which you are the unpredictable
a hard push against a city of ruins
a lost city,
such a death to be busy with
to be the ghost of yourself –
your haughty gibberish
even in the annihilation
of chemical spectres
badly stretched nerves
– The eternal trembling of leaves
– Stop for a moment!
– That’s enough
– Get to the point
– With so much green nebula
flaming in vain,
a vertigo of awakenings
from clefts in the cement
– Continuous induction into hypnosis
stimulated by suffocating fingers-eyes
– It’s suffocating – it’s time – come on, stop
pretending to wait in spasms
– We permit you patents and licences
of high seduction – but that’s enough
– Sequined destinies, pinocchios, openings,
twistings of déjà-vu, but that’s enough
– Tiny mould of the planet or grated
wooden bread with
a logos defeated anyway
– And again! That eternal trembling of leaves
– «The evening falls, grey, and mingles
with the sound of the microwave»
1 Humanity seems just some insignificant tiny mould which took root on earth just above zero (273), revealing its nature to be also poisonous to itself and to everything else. But the words to explain this concept are already too many. And how can the world of concepts coexist with this mould and even be secreted by the mould itself?
We are reduced
to such an evil hour
to ask – to beg
the return of death
as the lesser evil
The following poem in ‘Isola dei morti – Sublimerie ‘/ ‘Isle of the dead – Sublime things’ from Conglomerati relates to Dante’s Paradise.
While stench, hail and accumulations of war persist
While all things tremble in the climate’s delirium
and the evil lust to kill invents invents
Rare are the places in which to resist,
places where the Muses gather together
to keep the echo of some harmony,
to remind us again that the sublime exists
to praise ancient glories and welcome new paths
Rare, still, and buried in the shadowy woods of total warfare
a Place: and now it is reborn trying to shield us
from the wrath of the cosmos.
Andrea Zanzotto was born in Pieve di Soligo in 1921 and died in Conegliano in 2011, in north-eastern Italy. One of the most influential Italian poets of the twentieth century, he was also a translator, an essayist and a teacher. Zanzotto published several poetry collections covering a variety of themes like linguistics, politics, nature and science. He collaborated with Federico Fellini doing some writing for two of his films. Andrea Zanzotto took part in the Resistance during the Second World War. In 1950 he won the Premio San Babila (judged by Ungaretti, Montale and Quasimodo) for his unpublished work which became his first poetry collection Dietro il Paesaggio. He received other awards including the Premio Viareggio (1979), Premio Librex-Montale (1983), Premio Feltrinelli dell’Accademia dei Lincei for poetry (1987), Prize of the city of Münster, for European poetry and its translations (1993) and Premio di poesia Pandolfo, 1998.
Franco Scataglini: Six poems translated by Caroline Maldonado amd Olmo Calzolari
YOU LEFT A GARDEN FOR ME
Some will leave a poem
others will leave nothing,
muteness for them
is a feature of living.
But you had me deceived,
old man, for so as not to die
mute as you lived
you left a garden for me.
This dire want is a torment
in the hustle and bustle of the fair;
you’re here: eyes of mint,
your head, blond air.
You catch your image,
so lovely, in the shop window.
I watch you from behind
ogling like an old fellow.
LIKE A ROUND OLIVE
I want to kiss the laugh
in your throat at its source:
bathe all of my face
in that stone’s transparency.
Like a round olive
on the bed of a clear river,
in the water that floods me
I’d lose the bitter flavour.
FACING A STRAIGHT WALL
On a feast day, one afternoon,
on half-empty streets
where my tyres laid down
two grey tracks,
facing a straight wall
I was seized by a desire,
blind, deaf, fatal
to press down on the pedal.
IN THE CLEAR LIGHT OF ICE
With you that morning
in the clear light of the ice
covering the whole hill,
on top of the stemless
froth of fennel – a flash,
the pale blue cabbage butterfly
at the edge of the field.
That speck of world
was a fresh watercolour
reflected deep down
in the eyes of a bird.
AND FOR A FRUIT TREE THE WHOLE GARDEN’S A DELIGHT*
The patience of kitchen gardens
behind their loose nettings.
Trees, the dumped and the rotten:
crates and jugs and skins.
But the light basks
on that mess without motion,
lifts onto a branch:
how round, the persimmon.
*a line from a sonnet by Jacopo da Lentini
Franco Scataglini (1930-1994) was born into a proletarian family in the Marche city-port of Ancona. His first ‘hermetic’ book of poetry (Echi, 1950), a frustrating experiment written in the language of the Italian canon, led to a long period of research into his local dialect and alternative models with terms, modes, and tropes of traditional literature – from the lexicon of the Italian and French medieval poets, to unorthodox Renaissance and Modern sources. During this period he was working for the Ancona postal railways. After twenty years, he published E per un frutto piace tutto un orto (1973), which combined the linguistic materiality and the lower class themes of his dialect with the modes of canonical Italian and European lyric. Throughout his whole career Scataglini continued exploring issues of cultural exclusion, psychological marginalization, and state-imposed relegation into ‘bestiality’ through his new language. His collection Carta Ianiena (1982) won the prestigious Premio Carducci and he is currently considered one of the major voices of twentieth-century Italian poetry. He never left Ancona.
Maria Luisa Spaziani: Four poems translated by Peter Robinson
MARCH IN RUE MOUFFETARD
Stinking and cheerful, the Mouff descends
through Gregorian rhythms and mosque laments.
The geranium pierces the rubble, a windy
backdrop from Algeria wrangles
beyond decrepit roofs, amongst the hundred
eyes in ambush at Contrescarpe.
Dried cod, arquebuses, incunabulum,
seal’s lard, damasks, cymbals
over the paprika and cinnamon river.
At dusk, a subtle fever
perturbs the labyrinth, it calls
the anthill to the fire. Quiet, patriarchs
with daggers in deep clay necropolises
engrave the millennia
on the tender moon.
At night, black rumbas stir
the derelict refuge of Verlaine.
USEFULNESS OF MEMORY
The things I lose others will acquire
extremely slowly, day by day.
They’ll have fresh senses, bite
shuddering into the bitter pulp,
at dawn will start with delight
should an airy finger of gold graze them.
But thank heaven I remember everything,
the memory I have is young and strong.
Maybe Robinson Crusoe sweating
to draw one spark from two sticks
doesn’t recall so well the coffer
indisputably his back in London,
where a thousand guineas treasure
in saecula saeculorum lies waiting?
EVER MORE RARELY
Ever more rarely do we hear the angels sing.
The world overflows with exorcisms, an engine humiliates them,
a jet clips their wings, our poor hurry
breaks the long wave, the net with which they’re caught.
They’re like the Nymphs at the pagan era’s end,
taking refuge in caves, in woodlands,
so intimidated and hunted as to hate their own splendour.
We won’t entirely bar to the messengers
the doors of the spirit, our senses.
They strike us with treacherous caresses
between a howl and a screech: a green breath of wind,
a ridge of cloud, a presage
or few notes of the concert in things.
Most discreetly they call for our attention.
You do not deny the condemned man his last wish.
in the wind they sowed their long phrases
– like scarves flapping in the wind –
by chance the wind ripped many scarves
and carried them away in the shape of cloud threads
the poet always scatters her words to the wind
– three thousand bees die if one touches the queen –
they write they write, and they’ll know no more dying
if the page were marble, or were water –
you who write uselessly question,
set your eyes on your horoscope or angel –
sometimes the water turns to marble once more
and this is the paradise to which different names are given –
you thought you were a raft, you’re an admiral’s ship
you thought an umbrella, you’re a beautiful kite
you thought a heavy stone, incapable of shining,
and you’re silver, you’re the pyramids’ height –
and the most distinguished marble can suddenly reveal
flaws slenderer than a hair,
then everything cracks, breaks, and the proud menhirs
melt in wind-swirls, suck away your name.
Maria Luisa Spaziani was born in Turin on 21 June 1923. In the 1950s she became involved with the poet Eugenio Montale (1896–1981) who encouraged her to write poetry and was a significant influence in her early style. Her first book of poetry, Le acque del sabato, appeared in 1954. After travelling extensively in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Spaziani chose to settle in Rome. From 1964 she taught French language and literature at the University of Messina. Nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for Literature, her poetry combines a vivid and immediate sense of the natural world with a rich appreciation of literary culture and tradition. Spaziani died on 30 June 2014 at the age of ninety one.
Patrizia Cavalli: Poem translated by Peter Robinson
THE ATLANTIC DAY
When with my judgment I lay
myself out to the tepid peace of each day,
to docile afternoons, wide and natural
sleep, no longer opposed to the climate
caressing me, rather, equal and still
– the clotted voices close and let me in
and the street smells pay court to me
and I give myself at piazza corners
to old men’s and girls’ looks, and chastely
in love I find every excuse to let me stay –
at once there returns the Atlantic day.
The high light, high sounds of the light
and the distances open. That glimmer
of milk at the blinds is enough, those shadow
slots both dense and deep, the dazzling freshness,
fanning boughs from the balconies,
look summer’s here and the sky becomes sea.
The city arises and sailing off wavers
moved by the breeze. Called from the heights
with no anchorage or weights my senses
no longer gathered but wandering loosed
absolute and alone are lost in the air
and they send home news of terror.
News: while at home every object
rediscovers its drawer, its shelf
I become marginal to myself.
My substance evaporates.
The solid dark island reappears to me.
That thick substance, promise of remedy,
let me come in. Bear me to my limit
surround me, mark my boundaries with caresses,
with the weight of your body give me body.
But it’s the remedy produces the pain.
Patrizia Cavalli was born on 17 April 1949 in Todi, Perugia, but lives in Rome. She is the author of many poetry collections, including Con passi giapponesi (2019), My Poems Won’t Change the World: Selected Poems (2013), Datura (2013), Flighty Matters (2012), Pigre divinità e pigra sorte (2006), Sempre aperto teatro (1999), and L’io singolare proprio mio (1992). Her poems have been frequently translated by, among many others, Jorie Graham, Jonathan Galassi, Kenneth Koch and Mark Strand Cavalli herself has also published Italian versions of the plays of William Shakespeare and Molière.
Maurizio Cucchi: Four poems translated by Peter Robinson
The window of Barawitzka engineering
was at the entrance to the clotted street,
opaque and personal spirit of Milan.
Lambrate, like Niguarda,
where I had been fortunate.
But the mind’s street is a fixed source,
walls of via Varé, of via Candiani,
between the puddles, the yards and workshop
of Luigi Cucchi.
Via Verità, and the street’s
dream-like desolation, pride,
truth without beauty
showing at the skyline its sub-history
in a drenched palisade,
in an elsewhere anyplace
not worth the memory: impassive,
THE CITY TRAVELLER
The city traveller
goes at ease through streets in working hours.
He caresses the house walls a moment,
studies balconies, rust, and slips
between lodges and storage.
He believes he’s indifferent, estranged,
but at times memory, it takes him,
he’s troubled by a disinterred feeling.
But then there is always, on the top floor,
a restless girl pulling back a curtain.
from AT THE CAIRO
The man from the Bovisa could hardly imagine
that his future, so quickly,
would turn to prehistory.
He comes back and ponders on those names: The Emery Company,
the Gasworks and discovers like a monument
the highest of brick towers,
where workers clambered up inside.
In a maybe dreamed oblivion, those tumbledown structures,
and the aisles in the sun or the mud,
immense strange trees against sky, in lunchbreaks,
they teach him the quiet dignity of ruins.
from IN THE YOUNG MOTHER’S COURTYARD
The women of the nineteen forties
showed off elegant hairstyles,
side partings, peekaboo bangs
or ringlets opened onto the neck
barely to skim their shoulders.
They’d smoke in cinemas rapt
at Gone with the Wind or Giubbe Rosse,
would dream of looking like
Lauren Bacall or Veronica Lake,
Gene Tierney, or Ida Lupino, alert
in the stalls for bag-snatchers and toughs
who worked with skill, unseen,
at the handbags and the feet.
October ’54, to B.B.)
Maurizio Cucchi was born in 1945 in Milan, where he studied at the Catholic University, and where he still lives. A prolific translator of French authors such as Stendhal, Flaubert, Balzac, and various Nineteenth Century French poets, he has also translated work by Poe, Lorca, Cavafy and many others. Alongside his volumes of poetry, he has also published novels and edited the Dizionario della poesia italiana.
Laura Fusco: Four poems translated by Caroline Maldonado
MAIS C’EST QUOI?
Sun gleams on the cars
and the wall lengthens to support the lizard fleeing
from the hand of the boy who’s dreaming he’ll be the one to drive them
Every night his father reaches the dream with empty hands.
He no longer has a mother.
Like the tides
now high, now low,
with a life to start over again. First
the eviction from the squat at La Chapelle
then the occupied school Jean Quarré
and Saint Ouen.
Mais c’est quoi?
Metro Stalingrad, Parigi, Paris, Péris.
After the thunder and hailstones he steps out of a rainbow with a
What will be, will be. Like all the others
he’ll line up his French days to rewrite his language,
they’ll either let him do it or not.
Life’s not paradise.
But if you step out of a rainbow most of it’s done,
Then he starts to run.
THE BALKAN ROUTE
In Polycastro, Presevo, Sid
it used to be famous but now is only travelled by birds
They walk down the railway tracks
following a dream that has brought them to a 500 litre
saucepan of rice. He washes
in the sky that runs in the puddle,
looks at himself in the mirror between clouds,
tries to remember if it’s beautiful,
yes it is beautiful,
Clothes dry their colours on the spiked wire.
He’ll put them on before it begins to rain again,
he’ll go a short distance along the railway tracks to reach his tent,
luckily his parents are thinking about other things,
even here sometimes everything goes to plan
THE NEW LIFE
They say that memories attach themselves
to long hair and tie it into knots.
For hours, absently, she tries to comb
then cut it
in the centre of a lotus flower
in the centre of the quilt
on a mattress among many
separated by clothes hung in a triangle
for a little
On the one next to her
an old woman speaks to the snow and is angry
that it’s falling.
They are as red as the new-born back in their own countries.
The dark blue of Mare Nostrum,
the violet of bougainvillea scrub and oleander,
the silver of olives tormented by wind, all crooked wood and leaves,
wicked white blazing out from dry stone walls and polytunnels along the steps,
the cicadas’ song
that if you close your eyes deafens with a colour encapsulating all the others of summer,
their scent vaporized by heat until you listen with your nose and see with your ears.
500 in Ventimiglia station alone.
And on the rocks, in church, in the gardens between the slopes,
along the tunnels and the small roads crossing the border
where years ago the passeurs died smuggling cigarettes
which is why they’re called roads of death.
They die in a line walking normally doing nothing out of the ordinary.
It could be a day trip as the midday sun softens and the evening
cools on bark and grass and finally fills with rust and crickets
and for a few hours the undaunted cicadas dream of chirruping, in silence.
There’s a moon, too, and it doesn’t seem possible that in such a landscape one can die having done everything to escape death,
that it could be so simple, come so easily,
a wrong turning after hours without food or water,
a few degrees cooler, a streak of lightening that looks beautiful from the window,
a cliff edge round the bend
unexpected like love and death.
from Liminal (Smokestack Books 2019)
Laura Fusco, poet and stage director, has been translated into 5 languages and published in the US, UK, Europe and Argentina. Her publications include Aqua nuda (2011), Da da da (2012), La pesatrice di perle (2015), Limbo (Unicité 2018), Liminal (Smokestack Books, 2019 English PEN Translates Award), Nadir (Unicité 2020). She has performed her poems in various countries and festivals and they are studied in universities and music conservatories. Convinced of the power of the Word she has supported campaigns for the environment and the defence of human rights, including Amnesty International.
Antonella Anedda: Five poems translated by Jamie McKendrick
They could be going hunting – only they don’t carry guns.
They advance cautiously through the olive groves;
if they’re tired they sleep
propping their backs against the drystone walls.
From here their ruined city is out of sight:
the glow between houses – not stubble but fuses
with burning camp beds and tyres aflame.
They could be going hunting, if they had a place
to return to, blankets for their bones and a fire
in the hearth, real fire not the fire they call
friendly fire, unwitting foe also of children.
‘…plenum exiliis mare, infecti caedibus scopuli.’
Tacitus, Historiae, I, 2
Today I think – among the many dead – of the two
found a few yards from this sunny coast
beneath a ferry, in a tight embrace.
I wonder if coral could grow from their bones,
what the sand would do to their blood.
So I study – look among the old books
of forensic medicine my father has
for a manual where the victims
are photographed alongside the criminals
pell-mell: suicides, assassins, genital organs.
No landscape, just the steel sky of the photo,
occasionally a chair, a sheet-covered torso,
feet sticking out from a gurney, naked.
I read. I find the proper term is livor mortis.
Blood gathers in the lower regions and clots
first red then livid bluish till it turns to dust and so,
yes, may well eventually dissolve into the sand.
Rereading the sixth book of the Aeneid
in front of this artificial lake with the ruins
of a church only reachable by boat
I think how this image – the house of the dead –
has endured for centuries, and how
desire goads the living into the jaws
of the underworld only to simulate
an impossible embrace, and how the hands I hope
to touch are branches of holm oaks, fir trees,
Christmas trees, a species rare in these parts.
In the antique landscape there was a river
where women went to wash their things.
Laying out the sheets over the stones
they told how the shades of their mothers
would take turns to climb down from the rock
to dry the tears that continued to flow.
I conclude from my geography that hereabouts
there are no volcanoes, the earth doesn’t split, and houses
remain nailed to the bedrock. The island has no lava,
no adders. It slides imperceptibly as do the continents
which shift at the rhythm of a nail lengthening.
It cracks only because of the sun, too old to tremble.
A Sardinian proverb has it that the devil
is indifferent to bones, perhaps because
skeletons radiate a deep peacefulness
laid out in display cases or desert landscapes.
I love their smiles composed entirely of teeth,
their skulls, the grace of their eye-sockets, the lack
of a nose, the void around their sex
and finally the hair, mere tinsel, blown away.
It’s not a taste for the macabre
but the bald realism of anatomy,
praise for exactitude and order.
To consider ourselves without skin
makes us virtuous. There’s perhaps no better
route to heaven than returning to stone,
knowing ourselves to be heartless.
Antonella Anedda (Anedda-Angioy) lives in Rome. Her work comprises poems and essays, as well as translations, primarily of poetry (including authors such as Alcmane, Ovid, Philippe Jaccottet, Anne Carson) Viareggio-Repaci Prize. Her latest book, Geografie was published in 2021. In 2014, she was awarded the Premio Pushkin for her poetic and essayistic oeuvre. In 2019 she received a doctorate Honoris causa from the University of Sorbonne, Paris IV. An English edition of a selection of her poetry collections, Archipelago, translated by Jamie McKendrick, was published by Bloodaxe in 2014.
Franca Mancinelli: Ten poems translated by John Taylor
A LESSON FROM A SUNFLOWER FIELD
under a stone, life.
It’s moving. All of a sudden.
And you head under another stone.
In your interstitial existence:
Find the strength of an ant.
it’s morning and you’re here.
Dressed up while alive—the weight calls out
in the depths: you can put a foot down,
it’s the beginning of a ford.
the lesson of a field
of sunflowers is clear
like a constant
of energy emerging from the origin.
distance is a root, between the two of us
the exact square of thought.
you can strip yourself of fear
—on the threshold, on the ground, a mirror.
One step and you lean out
or fall. Come in. —There is everything
you have forgotten
to wish for.
the division between the air and my body
doesn’t bleed: it’s the season
of cutting. —I will have a brighter color.
Take. I’m cork oak.
cannot scatter itself
puts itself back together at every turn
like a flock flying onwards.
inside this enclosure
you breathe with little leaps.
—You have a quill left
to rejoin the species.
you’ve written. You’ve lost—a blank
sheet of paper, life in an estuary
for a dam and its opaque mirror.
again be a pile of stones
to mark the way
make yourself into a trace with your tomb.
the desert of paper
and film advances.
It’s time to plow your field of vision.
To wait for rain
with devastated dirt clods.
And we will resurface
inhabiting this sphere
like a merry-go-round or a nest.
Franca Mancinelli was born in Fano, Italy, in 1981. Her first two collections of verse poetry, Mala kruna (2007) and Pasta madre (2013), were awarded several prizes in Italy and later republished together as A un’ora di sonno da qui (2018)—a book now available in John Taylor’s translation as At an Hour’s Sleep from Here (Bitter Oleander Press, 2019). In 2018 also appeared her collection of prose poems, Libretto di transito, published by the Bitter Oleander Press as The Little Book of Passage. The journal The Bitter Oleander devoted a special feature to her writing, with an in-depth interview, in its Autumn 2019 issue. Her new collection of poems, Tutti gli occhi che ho aperto / All the Eyes that I have Opened, appeared in Italy in September 2020. Most of the poems from this new book, as well as a substantial number of her prose texts and personal essays, have already been translated and published in journals: The Bitter Oleander, Trafika Europe, Journal of Italian Translation, Strands, AzonaL, Osiris, The Blue Nib, Right Hand Pointing, Bengaluru Review, January Review, The Fortnightly Review, Cholla Needles and Mantis.
Allen Prowle’s translations of poems by Leonardo Sinisgalli and of sonnets by Jorge Luis Borges have appeared in previous numbers of The High Window. His translation of Bertolucci’s ‘Poppies’ was awarded the Stephen Spender prize’ in 2007.
Caroline Maldonado’s Italian translations are published by Smokestack Books: Your call keeps us awake (2013), poems by Rocco Scotellaro co-translated with Allen Prowle; Isabella, poems by Renaissance poet Isabella Morra (2019) and Laura Fusco’s poems in Liminal (PEN Translates award 2019) and Nadir forthcoming 2022. Some of her own poems can be found on: http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/carolinemaldonadopoems.shtml
Adele Bardazzi is Extraordinary Junior Research Fellow at The Queen’s College, Oxford. She is the author of Eugenio Montale: A Poetics of Mourning (Peter Lang 2021), co-editor of Gender and Authority Across Disciplines, Space and Time (2020) and A Gaping Wound: Mourning in Italian Poetry (Legenda 2022). She is the co-founder of Italian Poetry Today.
Chiara Salomoni is an Italian poet and translator living in London. Her translations of Andrea Zanzotto and Corrado Govoni have appeared in Poem, Blue Nib, Wild Court and on the Translators Aloud You tube channel. Her translation of a poem by Silvio Ramat received an Honourable Mention in the 2014 Stephen Spender Prize. Her own poems can be found on http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/chiarasalomonipage.shtml
Olmo Calzolari is a doctoral student at the University of Oxford. He is one of the founders of the Queen’s College Italian Poetry Today and participates in the coordination of the study centre Leopardi Studies at Oxford.
Peter Robinson has published books of aphorisms, short stories, fiction and literary criticism. He has been awarded the Cheltenham Prize, the John Florio Prize and two Poetry Book Society Recommendations for some of his volumes of poetry and translation. His Collected Poems 1976-2016 was published by Shearsman Books in 2017. Bonjour Mr Inshaw, poems responding to the painter’s work, appeared from Two Rivers Press in 2020, as did Poetry & Money: A Speculation from Liverpool University Press. Shearsman Books will publish The Personal Art: Essays, Reviews & Memoirs and Peter Robinson: A Portrait of his Work edited by Tom Phillips in 2021.
Jamie McKendrick’s poetry has won numerous awards including the Forward Prize, the Hawthornden Prize and the Cholmondeley Award. He has translated The Novel of Ferrara by Giorgio Bassani and his translations of Valerio Magrelli’s poems and Antonella Anedda’s poems both won the John Florio prize. His most recent publications are a self-illustrated poetry pamphlet The Years (Arc, 2020) which won the Michael Marks Illustration Prize and a book of essays on translation, art and poetry The Foreign Connection (Legenda, 2020).
John Taylor is an American writer, critic, and translator who lives in France. Among his many translations of French and Italian poetry are books by Philippe Jaccottet, Jacques Dupin, Pierre Chappuis, Pierre-Albert Jourdan, José-Flore Tappy, Pierre Voélin, Georges Perros, Lorenzo Calogero, and Alfredo de Palchi. He is the author of several volumes of short prose and poetry, most recently The Dark Brightness, Grassy Stairways, Remembrance of Water & Twenty-Five Trees, and a “double book” co-authored with Pierre Chappuis, A Notebook of Clouds & A Notebook of Ridges. His first two books, The Presence of Things Past (1992) and Mysteries of the Body and the Mind (1998), have just been republished by Red Hen Press.