The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry: An Anthology Hardcover – Mar 27 2012
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“Geoffrey Brock, editor of the elegantly conceived FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry . . . does everything he can to force his readers to hear the translations he's assembled as English-language poems . . . The poems gathered in The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry are similarly adept performances in the English language . . . To read through the anthology, poet by poet, is to be struck immediately by the fact that over the last hundred years Italian poetry has not developed so much by successive generations . . . as within generations: everything seems to be happening at once . . . A few anthologies . . . are so thoughtfully conceived that the experience of reading them feels like the experience of reading an intricate novel; you don't want to skip anything, even if you know it well, because the pleasure lies in the buried narrative created by the anthologist's choices. The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry is such an anthology. Dip into it, if you like; look for a particular poet, listen for a particular translator. But for the most rewarding experience, read the whole book slowly, page by page.” ―James Longenbach, The Nation
“To edit an anthology of modern poetry in translation is no easy task: not only must individual poets and poems from a broad time period be selected, but the editor must also find available translations of enduring quality. Geoffrey Brock resourcefully resolves the challenge in part by doing his own translations of a significant number of poems, a job for which he meets the criteria set in his translator's note--‘translators must also be poets'--by being himself an accomplished translator and poet. He has also assembled an unusually varied group of translators who are themselves practicing poets, including already familiar names--Ezra Pound, Ted Hughes, W. S. Di Piero, and Jonathan Galassi--along with somewhat less familiar ones, such as Susan Stewart, Rina Ferrarelli, and Alan Williamson. Additionally, Brock invigorates the collection by presenting established poets like Pavese, Penna, and Pasolini alongside less-established poets like Alfredo de Palchi or virtually unknown ones like Saturno Montanari. The result is a book with a dazzlingly eclectic sweep, a collection with authoritative artistic breadth and an unusual tonal unity within individual poems . . . a rich anthology that will encourage rereading for years to come.” ―Rita Signorelli-Pappas, World Literature Today
“The rich harvest of modern Italian poetry includes the metaphysical . . . questing intellectualism . . . bittersweet odes . . . Also biting social commentary.” ―Benjamin Ivry, Newark Star-Ledger
“Even before it brought political revolutions, the twentieth century birthed literary revolutions throughout the West, if not, indeed, the world. The first and archetypal poetic movement, the Futurists, arose in Italy, reacting to the insufficient break with the past it descried in the work of two foremost poets, Giovanni Pascoli and Gabriele d'Annunzio, samplings of which begin this marvelous dual-language anthology. Representative Futurists' work follows, and then those of such other movements or groups as the worldweary Crepuscularists, the ‘difficult' Hermeticists, the linea lombarda poets, the Neorealists, the Neoavantgardists, and the Gruppa 63. Then, after 1968, editor Brock points out in the excellent introduction, there are no more movements, though at last women show up more than very occasionally in Italy's poetry and several poets elect to write in vanishing regional dialects. All along, poets who wrote outside the movements, including some of the very greatest--Umberto Saba, Dino Campana, Sandro Penna, Cesare Pavese--were also active. Appearing here in translations by Anglophone poets and translators of legendary status (Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Samuel Beckett, James Merrill, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, William Weaver), they all seem brilliant, all quintessentially Italian in their resplendent gaiety, gusto, and, more often, haunting, umber somberness. This is the one big Italian poetry anthology for virtually all Anglophone libraries.” ―Ray Olson, Booklist
About the Author
Geoffrey Brock is the author of Weighing Light and the translator of numerous volumes from the Italian, including Cesare Pavese's Disaffections: Complete Poems 1930–1950. His awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the New York Public Library's Cullman Center. He teaches in the MFA Program in creative writing and translation at the University of Arkansas.
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Brock introduces the many shifts of Italian poetry during this long span. Starting with Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912), those inheriting the message of political unification and linguistic accessibility focused on "the small things," moving Italian verse away from the grand or the mythic. As politics loomed, complimentary movements emerged. Crepuscularism and Hermeticism speak in darker moods as the shadowy and the sealed-off turned attention inward under Fascism. Postwar neo-realism rallied "a popular, progressive, anti-elitist stance; its dangers were didacticism and paternalism."
Brock's introduction surveys dramatic changes after WWII. Pier Paolo Pasolini remains best-known as a daring filmmaker, but he also contributed to poetry. Meanwhile, akin to the experiments in cinema mid-century, a neo-avant-garde hearkened back to the Futurists. They had dismantled poetic language, similar in their quest to Ezra Pound's vorticism, which he expressed just before WWI.
The final three decades of the last century find Italian poetry running parallel to its development in Anglophone realms. Its exponents claim to speak for diversity and inclusion, but without allegiance to a central idea, Brock regards the Italians today as "increasingly untethered-- for better or worse-- from the larger cultural and political dynamics of the nation." Women play a greater role, as well as regional traditions. Brock reckons the latter resistance against conformity may prove a redoubt against standard Italian's entry through television and popular culture, into every living room.
This short review will be able to cover only a few of my favorite poets. Trieste's Umberto Saba's deceptively plain-spoken verse, rendered through six translators, merges passion with precision. He dares to take on erotic themes. He laments as an assimilated Jew in the port city where his friend James Joyce taught. Saba's impact may be compared to Whitman; he kept revising his singular book of poetry over his life. Like Joyce, Saba left his native city. Unlike Joyce, racial laws were to blame.
Another Irish writer abroad influences Giuseppe Ungaretti's spare, fractured syntax. Samuel Beckett as well as Ezra Pound echo in this modernist verse, with its raw minimalism. Third of the great talents of the early century, Eugenio Montale polished his marmoreal verse. It tone looms as colder, as if marble rather than, say, the colorful shards of Ungaretti or the pretty stones cut by Saba's words. However, true to the modernist craft, Montale over a long career matches T.S. Eliot's eloquence.
Italian eloquence, as Brock observes, comes under assault from informal registers in journalism and the media. The courtly style rejected by Montale survives as a counter-idiom to American contemporaries coasting towards a duller demotic. As an aside, Verona-based critic-novelist-translator Tim Parks in his 2015 essay collection, Where I Am Writing From, laments this parallel shift in his adopted language's prose, as globalization and Anglo-American markets blanch the color out of Italian. Contemporary authors dilute, Parks and Brock agree, the flavor of this lively tongue.
Endangered by this change, regional dialects try to sustain their legacy over many centuries. A few poets conserve this heritage. Raffaelo Baldini's Romagna phrasings, Adria Bernardi's colloquial and casual address and Alda Merini's allusions to her mental illness demonstrate the range of local choices. Merini's erotic allusions and her spiritual tensions complicate her barbed or wry aphorisms.
Vivian Lamarque's "A vacanza conclusa" illustrates the value of comparing the potential within the Italian to the rendition sensed in our English. This aim parallels the complementary nature of this dual-language resource. "A vacanca conclusa dal treno vedere/ chi ancora sulla spiaggia gioca si bagna/ la loro vacanza non è ancora finita:/ sarà con sarà lasciare la vita?" Peter Covino offers his version of her 1996 verse: "At vacation's end from the train see/ who still plays and bathes on the beach/ their vacation isn't over yet/ will it be like this will it be like this/ to leave this life?" Covino extends the original's four lines, drawing out "sarà" and increasing its plaint, its cry from the mortal.
The value of this hefty book lies in its range. It appends notes about the poets and their translators. Seamus Heaney, Marianne Moore, Ted Hughes, Geoffrey Hill, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Robert Lowell join Beckett and Pound, a distinguished lineup. Brock's decision to let more than one translator express a poet's Italian widens the scope of this volume, with over 125 translators. By allowing voices to mingle as they meet within the intersection of Italian with English, this anthology represents a lasting achievement which should beckon more to hear both of these vibrant languages.