Place in Contemporary Italian Poetry:
Anna Maria Robustelli, Annamaria Ferramosca, Patrizia Cavalli, Sara Ventroni, Silvia Bre
Edited and translated by Anamaría Crowe Serrano
Anna Maria Robustelli lives in Rome. She is a retired secondary school teacher of English language and literature. In 1992 she published the anthology Quadrangolo (Fermenti) in collaboration with other poets. From 1993 to 2002 she ran the Donna e Poesia Association at Casa Internazionale della Donna in Rome, along with other women, where she presented and reviewed poems by several Italian and foreign poets. More recently she has published an article on Christina Rossetti with translations of her poems as well as the essay Le Sorelle di Shakespeare (tr. Shakespeare’s sisters),the result of a literary project with a 4th Grade class at Liceo Orazio, Rome. Her poetry has appeared in several Italian journals.
Place in Robustelli’s poetry responds to the crisis of modernity. In a manner that recalls Christina Rossetti’s sense of loss and emptiness, Robustelli tells us “Incessantly / I paint a landscape”, in order to fill her own spiritual hunger. Robustelli’s sensitivity towards landscape and its tranquil space makes for a very contemplative kind of poetry. Even at home, the privacy of a room in the house, or thoughts on love and poetry are filled with metaphorical landscapes which lead the poet along a circuitous route out of herself and back.
Nature in Robustelli’s poetry is always observed from a distance, as if it were untouchable, impenetrable and although she is struck by its magnificence, it is never idealised. It’s always time to “go back”, or a subtle change in the weather provides “our cue to leave”. All of life is intensely absorbed in the mystery of itself, the “age-old enigma”, and even if it remains enigmatic, as long as the poet maintains some link to its wonder, her angst can be assuaged. Through the delicate imagery, her lines of haiku-like brevity and simplicity, Robustelli draws us into a profoundly philosophical and peaceful place where we can begin to understand the value of her engagement with landscape.
(I am very grateful to Anna Maria for her feedback on some of the translations in this supplement.)
Growing closer to pink
Me in a cocoon of feelings.
Once again I walk the street
of thoughts of music.
The hill expands.
Growing closer to pink
scattered and aching.
When the children came
the room filled
and serious thoughts.
The puppets moved,
the first words
invaded the premises.
to one side,
mother of firs.
I wait for the clouds,
wandering over the peaks,
the flight of the bird
that inhabits you,
the tireless thunder
of the torrent at your feet,
thoughts brushing past you
love always sought,
in the thick of trees.
Mountain of my virgin thoughts,
of stories assuaged,
of paths to be forged.
cloaked in green
among the fickle humours
of the sky.
heart of mine
the fresh air
of the new
on herbacious borders
from the walls
I am not
I’ll map out lines
remember the mountains
trail my thoughts
and old, crumbling
onto the thick grass
of the meadows.
Under leaves and pods
a miniature world
The birds at this
hover their unassuming
through air and water.
The park is absorbed
in an age-old enigma.
At every lap the passing
racers grow restless.
A chatter of fowl
in the middle of the lake.
The flutter of gulls
under the leaden envy
I await the hour.
As grief is rinsed
my gaze fixes
on the clear horizon.
The swan has glided
from one side of the lake
to the other,
The light brightens
– cawing, splashing,
of tiny conversations.
is picking up.
Our cue to leave.
The House and I
the house and I
those glowing lights
I, hugging the quilt
but the house, more virginal
restrained and somewhat astral.
Its whitened doors
come away from the wall.
The outside din comes in
from an engine
from persistent cars
that jar the senses.
The alarm clock ticks
the dresser clicks its bones.
For a while, thought
extends along the avenue
following the hustle and bustle.
The house remains unchanged,
its things contained,
it perfects its poses
reveals its hues
the house and I
gaze at those glowing lights
and the world carries on by outside.
in a jungle of gurgles.
At night life rears up
and falls silent.
Now it paints the air with charms,
sinks into the wait,
as children would.
Invited to hope,
we agree to be carried
with apprehensive joy,
like beloved infants.
Daybreak is a predator.
To my mother
With stories you nourished
brought from an ancient
To me they were wonderful
to you the love you longed for.
It is my destiny
step by step
the absence you carried inside,
that you could not quell.
You would only speak
One day, sitting
on a step
in the old part of Rome
that still held nooks
open for memories,
over things past.
thirsts for you
and I search for the stories
among the ruins
Landscape with Love
I paint a landscape.
The highs and lows
of cooing doves.
The pace of my day
after I wake,
a gaze directed all around
in undefined space.
An uncertain route,
paintbrush colours spread
to placate pain.
Paper touched, savoured
like a stone.
not the passion
of the early stages,
not the tedious
but the flame that rises,
exposes itself to the wind,
breaks away from the root
and gets blown out.
Poetry cradles me
in a rondo of feelings
foreign to the present,
rekindles primeval passions.
A clearing in the woods appears
waiting for my footsteps
and before my curious eyes
a city of old emerges
its courtyards ravaged by time.
From bashful windows
lights faintly shine
and over its piazzas
beauty pauses, brushed
by promiscuous trade.
Poetry takes me
to rediscover myself in a melody
that turns pain
into an incessant question.
Poetry follows me
in a race where
the heart rebounds and gathers
by the mill that grinds the days.
Poetry spoon-feeds me
while grief increasingly scars
and my hunger grows.
Annamaria Ferramosca is from Lecce in Southern Italy, but lives in Rome.
Her work to date includes Il versante vero (Fermenti, 1999; tr. The real mountain side); the chapbook Porte di terra dormo (Dialogolibri, 2001; tr. Earthen doors I sleep); Porte / Doors (Edizioni del Leone, 2002) which received the Forum 2003 prize; Paso doble (Empirìa, 2006, co-written with Anamaría Crowe Serrano, tr. by Riccardo Duranti); and Curve di livello (Marsilio, 2006; tr. Contour lines) which was awarded the Città di Castrovillari-Pollino 2006 prize.
One word that comes to mind on reading Annamaria Ferramosca’s poetry is movement. Wherever her poems begin, by the end of the poem, the reader has been transported elsewhere. With each collection she publishes this phenomenon becomes more pronounced, as if she deliberately explores further and further afield, opening doors onto the world to highlight the fact that there is a world out there, and everything in it is inter-related and inter-dependent. The overall effect is of embarking on an odyssey through landscapes which are familiar to us, but which she transforms into a vibrant, fantastical land of revelations.
The journey is sometimes personal, as in the very moving poem, “Had I had daughters”, but Ferramosca usually goes beyond the personal to the geographical, cultural, scientific, linguistic, and political, with consciousness evolving from the local to the global. This creates wide open spaces in Ferramosca’s poems where the reader discovers that everything is possible (Per vocali per sillabe). Dialectic variations in pronunciation, for example (Isoglosses), or references to local customs (Mary on Good Friday), rather than self-referentially evoking the charm of small communities, recall the wider context of Italy’s history and delve at the same time into issues of universal import – the environment, genetic engineering, tolerance and harmony between people. Ferramosca appropriates foreign words in her poems, creates neologisms of her own, and comfortably transgresses the most controversial of poetic boundaries into the world of science (which is her professional domain), highlighting a language not usually associated with things poetic.
May the signs continue
May the signs on the rocks
continue to unveil time
the profiles of warriors and bison
running under a tiny sun
the shape of a star
for rain-dazzled kilometres
the profiles of drivers and trucks
submerged in radio waves
not far away
a dolmen vibrates
with a stillness of strength
calling for hands and branches
– the smallest family saved from the flood –
you could watch them in silence at night
with your ear against the olive tree trunk
feel you are rock lymph voice
the ark docked and fused to the ground
May the signs on the pages
continue to trace time: far away
strips of sky beating on the waves
flood the screen, join together
Give me words, so, and signs
cry on my shoulder, or laugh
offer me joyful scenes
before the forest is uprooted
before the darkness of error falls
before the last laugh
(the earth’s rotation
is its own continuous laugh, cracking up)
Mary on Good Friday
In hushed tones, Mary,
I can hear you, despite
the dramatic folds of your gown
the mourning in your eyes
Sister to all my wailing sisters
you loll, carried on the shoulders
of doubting men
through abandoned minefields
You’ll go back behind the paper flowers
on the shrine at the crossroads
where paths diverge
and stand motionless, weeping
an entire sky of mothers
All around there are whores
and the fury of the wind the race
of men and leaves — as they run
they will become dust and are already dust —
Mary, we are earth changing colour
old paintings buffeted by the wind
Fluttering in the bustle a rustle
all cosmic molecular love
of gowns crosses leaves
She’s here, somewhere
an unknown Celtic sybil
The feel of her gown
where the wave ripples
her breath, where a feather
vibrant multitudes alive
the voicesong of spring water
telling of the sacred attraction
entry to the feast of bodies water
accompanies the dissolution
slowly, to the rivermouth water
the response on leaves: clear
earth, upside down, reflecting the sky
And we, at the bottom, are nothing
but the memory of words
Had I had daughters
I would have named them after flowers
Amaryllis Artemisia Lily waking them from myth
healing Sage Veronica Euphrasy
In the garden of days, a simple flower
to laugh with about the world and sing through the chores
– cobwebs cleared by the sweet brush of song —
would have made me happy, even if
flowers never reveal their fleeting secret
offer the heady pre-scents of the day
only at night
and the youngest one, still budding, might quiz you
on the ambiguous nature of fire
and all you can say is
it’s useful for civilisation
I would have tidied wayward petals
taught them ikebana airs
conceded new geometries of autonomy
endured rebellious perfumes
wafting across the boundaries
Our plans would have flowered
because flowers know about symmetry and fantasize
about the volatile dew and invincible forests
our asymmetries and disproportion
transferred to the branches, swallowed by the winds
the brevity of colour, the dimming
of life’s din as the sun sets
Leave me wither now
against a filial stalk
and wait on the edge of the calyx
for the bloom
I used to hear it from the shore, hugging the coast
that song of the drifting tongue
Flowing with the tide, rhythmical, sure
as the instinct of migrating swallows
I’d remember the story
of sounds crossing the sea
along with amphorae, hidden
in the cavities behind the lips
Soaked in spices, ready to seduce
they dock at other lips, found colonies
The branches of the gene tree ingeniously
weave more rafts
The wing of theòs pounds the sea
with its tongue between its teeth
from Thessaloniki to Athens
then to the venthi
blowing in Calabria
Sin autorización it presents itself
at the palacios of Spain
after occupying su espacio there
returns to the ocean — its thermal cradle
the Gulf Stream —
For the third time it docks in England
its advent now on the teeth
of every continent
With vowels with syllables
Words like glow-worms hug the coast
of darkened lands, deaf
hanging from a mute sky
that has for millennia been open wide
We are flashing our light, hunger in the mist
with the dignity of ship-wrecked men
in the message there are signals
the distant memory
of a common course
Someone instinctively replies with a mime
then with guttural offerings
Later, identical roots are discovered
the familiar fragrance of etymo
Along the meridians resound
the ancient con-scents, despite the melody
having faded, the pace grown exceedingly slow
through intersections, along shadowy tracks
firmly interwoven with the light
They chat in the reverberations, sometimes
– tongues of fire –
sometimes in the rigour they stammer
– tongues of ice –
the desire to return to the first language
(in the beginning was the verb)
what the journey will cost, how long it will take
Because everything can happen
with vowels with syllables
A hunger for air. The breath
mutinies and running
to the window won’t do
Something lures me towards the ground
something possibly graver than gravity
makes me stiffen, mineralized
lumped on this second floor
I walk under a stone sky
on well joined stones, each one
with its thin vein-shout
at being uprooted
I touch stones born
of crumbled stones
compressed squared rigid
like well-behaved, humanized pups
Covering in a row they’ve all darkened
the living clods of turf, below
they’ve interrupted the swarming of microcosms
the dendritic music of the grass
harp-like hypnosis for the mass
of seeds embryos larvae to be rocked to sleep
There’s a paradox here to live
in man’s city, you must remove life
to celebrate the fixity of these
rooms denied to the sky
these lost alcoves
interstices of the world blind to the world
I fear the return to order, an ironic event
the earth having the last word
In Latvia the sun is mother
in Latvia the sun is mother
a vital fairytale the sheen in hair ripples through branches
life is lived with the names of trees:
waiting for the rays
summer so brief the life of an almond
no sooner unshelled than swallowed
by the furrows of the night
trees having climbed
high on the terraces, “behind the sun”
the baltic-grey wish has been granted:
to catch if only sparks
of wasted summer light
turn them into pearls
the rock splits and shines with amber drops
each one the forests’ (minor) revenge on shade
lived for millennia in shade
Patrizia Cavalli was born in Todi, Umbria, and lives in Rome.
Her collections include Il cielo (Einaudi, 1981; tr: The sky); Poesie 1974-1992 (Einaudi, 1992; tr. Poems 1974-1992); La Guardiana (Nottetempo, 2005; tr. The overseer); Pigre divinità e pigra sorte (Einaudi, 2006; tr. Lazy gods and lazy fate), for which she was awarded the Premio Internazionale Pasolini.
Cavalli’s poetry is remarkable for the paradox it contains. The deeper her sense of disengagement from everything around her – her inability to communicate with the world, reduced to nihilistic silence – the louder she manages to speak. Even her epigrammatic two-liners speak volumes.
Her first collection, Le mie poesie non cambierano il mondo (Einaudi, 1974; tr. My poems won’t change the world), introduces us to the overriding theme of much of her work: the poet self-consciously not quite belonging, always playing a part in society in order to appear acceptable. She concentrates all her energy on the minutiae of ordinary things, as if clinging to banality, exalting it through irony and the musicality of her language, might somehow give meaning to life and prevent her from going insane.
But there is a gradual progression from the need to escape nothingness by living inside her head, scared of going outdoors, to a slightly more comfortable relationship with open space. In Sempre aperto teatro, (Einaudi, 1999; tr. Theatre always open), for which she was awarded the Premio Viareggio, the poet’s musings on, and coming to terms with unrequited love is played out in the context of the theatre – a peculiarly voyeuristic stage on which the curtain never comes down.
I’ll go out to my friends I’ll go for supper
console myself for what I suffer
I have to feign vulgarity and betrayal
to sit on the sofa
to exchange glances; as I explain
the thirteen folds of a thought
I decipher the wise sentence which falls
on my sentimental words which I say
which I say feigning love, too
and in the pretence I recognise the perfect moment
the only possible moment of certainty.
If I don’t talk about myself
and don’t listen to myself
what happens then
is I get confused.
What do I care about your swollen nose.
I have to clean the house.
Even when it seems that the day
has flown like the wing of a swallow,
like a handful of dust
tossed away that cannot be
collected and the description
the story find no need
or ears to fall on, there is always a word
some little word to say
if only to say
that there is nothing to say.
I’ll climb the stairs ever so slowly
so as not to be too quick to reach
that sleep that will abduct me
from the hoaxes of a day
grown for me among streets and words
I go through so many temptations
on my way from the bedroom
to the kitchen, from the kitchen
to the loo. A stain
on the wall, A piece of paper
fallen on the floor, a glass of water,
a look from the window,
hello to the neighbour,
a stroke of the cat.
That’s how I always forget
the main thing, I get lost
along the way, fall apart
day by day and it’s useless
to try and find any way back.
Now that you have left
that you are probably gone
I have to recognise
I’m not mutilated.
I’ll go for a walk
as far as via delle Grotte.
To distract yourself from time you need lots of things to do,
duties, deadlines, bills to pay and put on the long finger
put in the post, until everything is over
and everything naturally, inevitably, reaches a deadline.
Sheets of paper remain, crumpled, eyed
a million times over and then dumped. No kidding
but years go by and immersed in this sense
of having something really important,
really urgent to do, you keep on living
in a neverending day before yesterday.
The first assault comes when you would like to close
the window and there’s a question left,
an insignificant absence, a slim doubt,
a draught of air, a slight danger
to your bare feet and you have to put on
your woollen socks.
Of all the distances the best possible one
is the one of an average sized table,
a restaurant or kitchen table, for example,
where maybe I could catch up with you
but in reality I won’t.
And outside, the same light as yesterday, the same blue
open up other distances
and I ask the clouds in their kindness
to intervene, the grey ones better than the white,
to reveal the deception of the blues
feigning such grandeur, feigning infinity
ephemeral light – such a thief!
But where am I going now, where will I go,
night getting dark late and already over?
I was trying out the sidewalk with the snow
sliding to New York on the sidewalk
snow having turned it into solid ice.
If I took a scorching hot piss
I could melt it a bit, open up the street
a bit. That’s how practical I am and slow
to see clearly: the moon growing, the wind descending,
now I’m asleep, but tomorrow I’ll be back.
Behind, standing up, from afar,
passing by, with the taximeter ticking over
I’d look at her, look at her hair,
and what would I see? My stubborn theatre,
the curtain refusing to fall, always open theatre
best leave once the show begins.
The stage is mine, this theatre is mine,
I’m the stalls, I’m the foyer,
I have everything I could wish for, all mine,
that’s how I want it, empty,
and empty it shall be. Full of my delay.
Full soul, living room soul,
fuller, always full, tearful.
Still soul that remains in the room,
closed tenacious absent dreadful.
The headache arrives on Sunday
and on Monday becomes lukewarm.
Adults by now, ah more than adults, lukewarm.
We’re talking in the plural actually and I say we,
a very generic we
almost a reformatory from the past.
I hide myself, implode.
Hands in the right pockets, up high,
I find the happy sailor stride,
barely stretching my legs I break
the hard wave of rough cobble stones.
My open jacket is my sail
against a breeze only revealed
at a brisk pace that could quickly
turn into shipwreck. Sea of land,
where am I to go at this pace?
I change tack and enter the square,
anchor in a quiet terrace there.
Motionless in the middle of things
matter having no hierarchy
all matter smooth in various shapes
each thing strong noble and absolute
yieldingly I appear to nature,
I with no belongings, hers once more.
Sara Ventroni was born in Rome in 1974. Her poetry has appeared in many literary journals in Italy. As a performance poet, she has taken part in international literature and jazz festivals and won the first Italian poetry slam in 2001. For RAI Radio Tre she produced programmes on Jim Morrison and David Bowie (Storyville). In 2005 she published the play Salome and her first collection of poetry, Nel Gasometro (tr. In the Gasometer), made it to the shortlist of the Antonio Delfini prize for an unpublished collection. It was subsequently published in 2007 by Le Lettere.
Nel Gasometro is Sara Ventroni’s only collection of poetry to date, published in February 2007, and already it has caused quite a stir in Italy. I say a collection of poetry because that’s what it’s always referred to as, but it’s quite a bit more than that, containing prose, letters, doodles and drawings on music manuscript, collage and a storyboard for a short film on the Gasometer.
Each section of the book, be it poetry or some other genre, could be seen as an artist’s support study towards the complete work. Ventroni explores the tiniest elements of the finished product from as many angles as she can think of. The scope of Ventroni’s exploration of the Gasometer as a place and a thing is what is peculiar about this book. To say it is obsessive would be an understatement. The poet herself admits to the obsession and uses it to her advantage thematically and linguistically incorporating it as a recurring theme throughout the collection to comment on poetry, social history, politics and the nature of obsession itself.
In the Gasometer
Limbs have slow movements, mechanical motion, the skull
is an anomalous container: has no primary colour, scatters
its salt into the atmosphere, its seed:
Weightlessly they scrape away rust:
bodies bring bone back
to the colour red. Gold doesn’t tarnish, white doesn’t exist,
the human is unnatural:
rarefied just right for iron (gold is still too
and water and wind do a dirty
subjected to time the Gasometer
has no sense has no verse is not space.
It doesn’t hold matter,
expels it skyward
The rarefied body smooth in iron has no movement
has no verb.
An aim is an aim and is empty.
The head moves skyward. History goes on and won’t go, is gone
but often the skull
to the iron age.
There is no flesh there is no time in time.
Ingenuity is always ingenuity.
War gives time, has the time
of technique over space.
Flashing signals or light-sources.
Does war have or not have a language?
The skull is technique devoid of time reproduces devoid of sex.
The body gravitates in the cosmos as in a dream:
it has no time has no motion but has mechanics
the gesture dances
is full of grace:
it doesn’t hold back, doesn’t drive
time is emptied by the sacred.
Insert a pause, a weight
a tare a measure, the skull
has the structure of armature.
When we were in space
there was no time, nor as much
weight to worry about.
No mass attractions or falls.
The head not a single verse:
what seems upside down here
had no point of reference there.
So many things entering the ages,
in the time of metals:
gold iron steel lead
and plastic matter.
Meanwhile we live for a spacesuit:
our mouth attached by a cord
to our lung: it’s unnatural, we need
to study the instructions.
Then, as the mind is fixed on becoming free
many people tend – out of a hankering for the original
floating all graceful gestures —
to burn themselves out.
Every day on the way home I take
There’s room upstairs too.
Summer or winter, it makes no difference: it’s hot and cold
to your heart’s content.
During the journey I try everything that can be
the roller coaster, the big dipper. And if I’m in the mood, the loop-
how strong a structure it is.
(in the Gasometer lab the Celibate Machine is perfected)
Maria the Hebrew woman invents the still, the bain marie.
Marcel the grinder for grinding waste
It has no sex is not male
this corporeal object.
It’s not female does not regenerate
but squashes and soars with the vapours.
Inhaling delicate gas, natural gas spread on the glass
indifferent to the space taken up
by iron by metal.
A crevice, a cretto. A hole in the ground.
A yellow furrow plotted with the sulphur from a claw.
A pen stroke different from the use of the verb, the tail
of the diaballo.
(Translator’s note: you can read about Cretto here.)
Those who are persecuted by an obsession proceed by accumulation. And in
accumulating they become victims of intimacy with the obsession. They risk madness,
they risk disaster.
Is it right to adore the very thing that colonises you, that denies you freedom of choice?
But if obsession is your destiny, how can you help it?
love your obsession
put every instrument at its disposal
don’t ask when or where it’ll end up
VII. Everything In the Gasometer, nothing outside of the Gasometer.
I was born in the age of the collapse of the gasometer.
gasometer is a common noun that derives from the proper noun “Gasometer”, written in uppercase. There are many gasometers that’ll never become Gasometers, even though the Gasometer has generated all gasometers. Every proper noun is an illusion because the idea of it will never touch the substance it hides. Every proper noun can give life to an obsession.
An obsession is pure strength, without content. It uses every means to survive in time, even against our will.
An obsession doesn’t explain where it comes from, though it always tries to go beyond its own borders.
An obsession is tyrannical in that it won’t tolerate distractions. It requires that even distractions lead back to itself.
An obsession wants everything. It’s never satisfied.
An obsession is ideological.
Example: a gasometer as experienced by man is of a religious nature: the idea of G-d; or political: the idea of Social Justice. Another kind of gasometer is poetic. There’s also the scientific gasometer, and the philosophical. There’s the phantoscientific gasometer, there’s the soccer gasometer. There’s the cetacean gasometer, an architectural one. All gasometers are interlinked. Each of these gasometers contains many others within itself, like a cabbage, infinite gasometers.
A man of faith will see the presence of the gasometer in the eyes of a child as in the bark of a tree and will be able to justify the existence of evil in a bigger picture, which leads back to an order which is linked to that gasometer. For a man of faith nothing is outside of that gasometer, even free will stems from there.
And so it is for all other gasometers. Nothing is outside, everything is inside. But inside what?
Its incommensurability and its deformity. The Gasometer is not like anything else, it resembles only itself, even if everything else can resemble a gasometer. Whoever falls prey to a gasometer attempts to stabilise nature, form and finality. Whoever falls prey to a gasometer identifies totally with it. Like Achab, like Ismael.
I believe in one Gasometer
only son of Gasometer, born of Gasometer
of the same substance as Gasometer
This year’s winner of the championship is the Gasometer
I only like odd-syllabled gasometers
Nanni Balestrini is a really good looking Gasometer
Gasometer theory has changed the age we live in
I have a Gasometer club card
You don’t get gasometers like you used to
The mark of a true Gasometer is its timelessness
Faithful to the Gasometer, through the ages
To the Unknown Gasometer
They killed in the name of the Gasometer
When were you born? What Gasometer are you from?
This summer I’m going on holidays to the Gasometer
I’m a Gasometer with a Gasometer ascendant
He won the Oscar for best Gasometer
Let’s break the Gasometer’s back
I went down to the country to save the Gasometer
Either for the Gasometer or against the Gasometer
Abandon Gasometer, quick!
This room stinks of Gasometer
A man who shoots at the Gasometer
They were married in a lovely country Gasometer
Make love to the Gasometer
I’m concerned I’ll catch a Gasometer
I’m making a nice hot Gasometer for myself
The rebels took shelter in the Gasometer
The Gasometer borders the
My son is a doctor of Gasometer
I’m not ashamed of my Gasometer
Gasometer is illegal for under twelves
Today the teacher explained the Gasometer
I’d do anything for the Gasometer
The Gasometer is mine and I manage it myself
They don’t know what Gasometer to make their appeal to
He entered the Gasometer tunnel
I’m paying back a Gasometer loan
Gasometer yes, gasometer no
Not too many Gasometers are up-to-date
The Nobel prize has been awarded to the Gasometer
You’re right not to trust the Gasometer
The Gasometer has no end
Let’s put an end to this Gasometer!
Silvia Bre was born in Bergamo and lives in Rome. Since the 1980’s her poems have appeared in literary magazines in Italy. She has also published Snack Bar Budapest (Bompiani, 1987) a novel co-written with Marco Lodoli; I Riposi (Rotundo, 1990; tr. The rests) a collection of short stories; and a translation of Louise Labé’s poetry, Canzoniere (Mondadori, 2000; tr. Song cycle). Her poetry collections are Le barricate misteriose (Einaudi, 2001; tr. The mysterious barricades) which won the Montale 2001 prize, and Marmo (Einaudi, 2007; tr. Marble) winner of the Viareggio prize
.Silvia Bre’s poetry is steeped in a sense of dislocation in time and place, which is sometimes attributed to her move at 11 years of age from her home town of Bergamo to Rome. Certainly, she approaches place as if it were always new, with the wonder and disorientation of seeing it for the first time. She never quite understands (or trusts) exactly what she’s seeing.
But Bre is not so much interested in place as a physical locus as much as a metaphysical one. Place is very much linked with a specific moment in time, usually the “now”, with concerns about the connections to other place-time, and the cross-over from external to internal landscape (The Park, I). The poet’s explorations pit her against a world which seems at odds with her, yet heightens her self-awareness, leading ultimately back to the most mysterious place of all – herself (Anonymous Woman, Capitolini Museum). The return to self as a cohesive force in life is deeply reflective, expressed through simple language that resonates through strong rhythmic patterns. The pulse of the poems and their immediacy – now, here – hold everything (a park, the sky, time, the act of arranging flowers) in place.
Anonymous Roman Woman – Capitolini Museum
and here where I am I am nothing
but the profound peace within myself
and no longer know who I am
and not even a thought comes to me
in this place abstracted from history
much as I wished for ease in life
never as much ease as I wished in death
but since I came here
I am at peace
all the same
as if in a dream
I feel two unknown eyes
inside my stone eyes
The ecstasy of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, blissful
as he sculpts Ludovica Albertoni
Ah midnight unadorned hair
along a neck of pearly sighs,
on your high forehead heading
into an unfamiliar morning — crowned
you’re such an image to behold, so much everyone’s!
If you’re not mine is having had you all the more mine?
Make me ask again, again
not about what, only all the more, with a glance
with the dawn, in any case again and know nothing of it
my poverty my mould
blind joy, what forces you might have defied
to enter my mind
where I stroke you without a single move.
But I have to stop you so as to fall at your feet
to come back to myself
full of a face without a further thought.
And I am already saying “I had you” and already
you waver from the interminable corner of your eyes.
The explanation throbs in marble, begins again.
All that remains is the unfolding of sight
of a discourse that doubts, of time,
and the very sound it makes seems to say
that I too, the sculptor, am a castoff.
For Anne, making collages while I look on
We find ourselves with lunch already over,
among chairs strewn about and apple peels.
Now all we need do is imagine
the table teeming with life,
the sound of voices talking together,
the colour of the wine against the clean tablecloth,
the taste of bread.
Before us, there existed a time in the present
that we listen to, the way the living do before they die,
in an extreme effort to unite life with life,
sometimes, at an anonymous moment,
that time reaches us from afar,
it places the truth in our time, sets it alight
the way every morning at six we wake
to the silent spreading of the day.
Maybe our true art
is no more than compassion of thought
for all matter
that is good within itself
within a shape.
So you arrange your cuttings
and forge another original world
like the original one,
a neonatal time with its clear skies
or its boats disfigured by the winters:
a normal space where we can hang out,
where everything is part of a part
but can awaken complete admiration.
I sit beside you, lost for words
we stare at the centre of our life
rising under the sun,
and of itself our gaze is almost a murmuring,
like a two-part choir:
one is the reality carried on the wind
the other sings amidst its own noise.
But there are thoughts
that never come to light
So they remain secret
calling to each other in the dark. Music.
This is my father, or maybe
It is as he was,
A likeness, one of the race of fathers: earth
And sea and air
I knead red sand with water from my river
into an idea less defined than my intention. I invent.
There is no one with me here. Now
I attempt the task of moving
the freshness of a flower I have in mind
to a lasting thought I can look at:
I want the voice of its name
to rise and rise again from the soil
and continue to persevere for eternity.
If it’s not magic who will notice my gesture?
But despite my delirium I’m living
a great beginning.
I am Lish, of Uruk, Sumerian.
In this still universal silence
the first man in time
How much faith
does it take to trust
what weighs on me
if, by thinking about it
annihilating the space that separates
so as to re-route myself
inside a time that is one and the same
I can no longer find it
and this very place
is elsewhere, scattered and immense
and even being here now
seems far away.
left outside by mistake
I come to visit you, truest home, wherever.
And the visitation is this life
that loses its walls as it moves forward:
the loss is infinite, and it precedes me, is beside me,
is behind me, and full of life
it lives in words the way it would at home.
The image that remains, then, is marble
that tramples on me while I talk to myself
so that the temples will open up ringing in the air
so they might flow far away, into a present –
nothing of mine, nothing ever again of one’s own
in this listening to something you’re watching over
and that still might want.
I go in the direction of a feeling
that is the shape of the park I now see,
and what I see is the avenue where winter
is branches, stone, waters, the north wind,
and the footsteps of a woman walking.
But from the way she advances and lifts
her timeless gaze towards the leaves,
she is the species, and the rhyme on which
the whole world rests returns to her —
and so the quality of the day drifts
continually between words and the sky.
My lesson is the apple tree high on the hill:
and I come and visit to talk to it,
I base my empire of meditation
by evoking its fruit, its abstract branches
that fade into the mist.
I don’t meet the apple tree, I imagine it,
make it natural in my day:
there’s a split second when it seems to feel
that words and the world are the same
in their distance from perfection —
and in the stillness the icy clarity
of an ordinary winter’s minute,
it’s as if my thought can be happy
with itself, like the unreal apple tree.
She has an eagle in her eyes
that watches her life from afar
to make it look like other lives
like different things.
She takes her thoughts with her to the park
the way mothers take their children
and children their noise.
There isn’t a path she could take somewhere.
A bench, a dog, an old olive tree,
an old man, a big square, a descent —
and then the golden moment of rhymes
when she can say this this this
this leaf, and simply be there
as if she had stuffed the whole sky
into the only thought that brings joy.
I know what I think about: good, clear verse
that I try to compose, that keeps me thinking
while the sky over Villa Glori is wide
and between the trees the path twists and turns.
My conversation with life
can only resemble words
that try for a moment to calm it.
Meanwhile, night falls, things grow dark
and now the mind can’t distinguish anything.
Nothing truer has taken place
than the passing of time
until the day becomes complete.
Maybe I wished for some thing,
to shake words like hands,
and I don’t know if it happened —
but even wishing shows generosity,
and this strolling is a break for me.
A verse has cradled me all day
like a mother sleeping in me as I sleep.
Anamaría Crowe Serrano is Irish and lives in Dublin. Her translations of poetry from Spanish and Italian have been widely published. In 2002 she took 3rd prize with co-translator Riccardo Duranti at the John Dryden Poetry Competition (sponsored by the British Centre for Literary Translation and the British Comparative Literature Association) for her translations of Valerio Magrelli’s Instructions on How to Read a Newspaper (forthcoming from Chelsea Editions, New York, 2008).
A first collection of poetry, Femispheres, was published by Shearsman in March 2008. Other publications include a collection of short stories and a one-act play. She has received two Travel Awards for her work from the Arts Council of Ireland.