Monday, October 06, 2008

Recent Italian Poetry from Erri De Luca and Roberta Dapunt

I was fortunate on a recent trip to Italy to pick up the latest collections from these two poets. Finding very new poetry seems to be just as hard in Italy as it is here. Most bookshops carry very little poetry and publishing houses with the exception of Einaudi seem to play safe with the old classics.

Erri De Luca: L’ospite incallito 2008 pub Einaudi Turin ISBN 978-88-06-19261-7 67pp. €8.00

L’ospite incallito (The inveterate guest) is the third book of poetry by Erri De Luca, who is perhaps better known for his many prose works. The book is in four sections: Effetti personali, Natura, Historia, and Persone. Within these sections are recurring themes which preoccupy us all: life and death, war, opposites and dualities, love and relationships as well as the de rigueur (for a Neapolitan linguaphile like De Luca) poems on accent, dialect and language such as Da noi, L’estate del ’43 and especially Proposta di modifica:

‘ C’è il verbo snaturare, ci dev’essere pure innaturare

M’innaturo di te quando t’abbraccio.’

Some of these poems derive their impact and weight from a catalogue or litany of examples. In L’ospite incallito it is all the different ways and places where he has been a guest; in Prontuario per il brindisi di capodanno, it is all the different toasts one could propose; in the excellent Da un verso di Marina Z, it is all the different places where celestial attraction exists.
Other poems reflect De Luca’s political life and interests but seem to me to be more observational than expressive. For me, his exceptional poetry is that which deals with his relationships: Maniera, Coincidenza col padre, Il nome: Aldo De Luca amongst others. With its great range of subject matter, this collection will appeal to all sorts of poetry lovers.

Roberta Dapunt: La terra più del paradiso 2008 pub Einaudi Turin ISBN 978-88-06-18583-1 49pp €8.00

This is Roberta Dapunt’s third collection, the others being OscuraMente (1993) and La carrezzata mela (1999). The title ( The Earth More Than Paradise) comes from a line in the first, untitled poem of the collection:

‘Perché solo è il corpo ad amare la terra più del paradiso,
nient’altro che la carne a mangiare il pane e bere il vino.’

Roberta Dapunt’s poems are unusual and special because she uses an almost classical economy of phrasing rather than the more everyday style of some of her contemporaries, without ever sounding contrived or precious, and also because she includes some poems written in her local Ladino with Italian translations beneath.

Her faith is confirmed daily by the regular dependability of rural life, by the inexorable rolling in of the seasons, especially winter.

‘Tutto è qui nella riservatezza rurale che ripeto
mattina e sera’
(from Di ritorno dalla stalla)

The silence and the solitude of life on a mountain farm inform her work where reflections on religion, birth and death, the family, and the writing process itself are all woven into days spent in the cowshed, the vegetable garden, the fields, and within the confines of her room. She is immersed in the land, looking after it as if it was her house (La mia confessione fedele); the hay and the dung and the solitude are her covenant (Di ritorno dalla stalla); she is so at one with the seasons that winter is inside her (Un altro inverno); when she has died she knows she will be the hay that is eaten, the floor of the cowshed, the silence that devours time between morning and evening (Ora che posso obbedire a me stessa).

Other poems deal with the difficulties of writing: her coarse,smelly hands waiting for her to write something (Mie mani); being sorry that she has no regrets at all about her poetry (penitenziale); inviting a pretend friend to sit and listen (le intime riflessioni, i); realising the room where she writes is her refuge (ibid,ii); repeating her words in the dark so that they enter her soul (ibid, iii); while writing, being transported to the dark of the cowshed (ibid, v).

Local characters are described with acute observation in other poems. There are also the heart-searching talks between the poet and God which alone are well worth reading.

The most moving poem in the collection for me is ‘Padre, questo viso sepolto’ with its simple but universal regret:

‘se solo ti avessi incontrato di più e baciato.’

If only, indeed. Roberta Dapunt has an authentic, honest, appealing voice in these poems and I am sure we will be hearing more of her in the future.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Accelerating around this bolgia
for a fortnight: now it’s time.
These collisions will explode
the pondering of centuries.

The Atlas detector’s 1000 megapixel subatomic
camera surveys a billion points of impact:
the world’s fastest lenses blink, focus smugly,
million-gig computer banks across the planet
hum hungry for data, for deity.

Fifty years’ thinking destroyed in a millionth
of a second, unless Atlas finds the Higgs boson,
God particle, universe glue. Seed of dark
matter, dream until now. Birth and decay.

Hawking, who has lain with God, predicts these new
man-made black holes will self-destruct.
The rest of us wait in ignorant, fearful humility.

This is the second dawn of creation:
new dimensions arc and crackle
around the essence of life distilled
in the genesis machine
and God withdraws his hand.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Goodbye George

Mister Dow Jones plays FTSE with Nasdaq
said it once, debit lunch, credit crunch
snaps at the hotspurred heels of the Texan idiot,
president illegitimate, resident illiterate
reassuring as he bites his sound:
‘There is no slowdown.’ Oh, really?
Not going to Motown then, George, to see
a Detroit slump, feel a stagflation bump,
foodprice hikes, oilprice spikes?
As the demon dollar skydives
fat neo-con handjives won’t save the trophy wives
by their Hockney pools where the pizzaboy drools
and the suntan rules, cos the smart money’s gone,
solid gone post-Enron
and the tenants of Malibu, Dana and Marylou,
wait in the downsize queue
while you, George, sharp
as wrinkled linen trousers, parp
and gloop in the quicksand of
your final hours, your towers burned,
nothing learned from Najaf to New Orleans,
from Kyoto to Gitmo,
from Nero to Zero.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Current Accounts 25: The Talent of Suzanne Richardson Harvey

This latest Bank Street Writers’ magazine contains something for everyone from fairly ‘standard’ poetry to absolutely exceptional verse, with two short stories and an essay.

Dealing first with the local writers, Martin Caplan’s two poems are preoccupied with time. The second poem talks of cancer treatment and the unlikelihood of a cure: Watching us wither from day to day…Divesting us of our persona / Along with our hair. A bleak prospect.

Next is Bill Kelly’s ‘ramble’, set as an assignment in 2007, a series of apocryphal, essay-related meanderings. Not the easiest topic to write about. Some of Bill’s deliberate false links are positively serpentine.

Ann Hendy’s The Hike is one of those poems that reward the more one reads them, moving from direct narrative into more powerful, personal territory, the land of bittersweet regret.

Pat Turner’s Wuthering The Storm, a visit to Bronte country, is travel poetry with a difference and a killer last line. A very different piece is Joyce Neil’s Whispers, a fine poem of personification. Raymond Dean’s Ruthlessness in Nature is a witty piece. Raymond is better than most at rhyming, endstopped poetry and never fails to entertain. Tony McNeile’s Lost Freedom turns out to be not what you first thought and works on many levels.

Neville Southern is one of the best storytellers in the group: his One Short Sleep Past is a brief, eerie tale which should not be read last thing at night.

Three very different poems based on the group’s visit to The Lowry are next: Phil Smith’s He Should Talk sums up well Lowry’s affect on those who knew the places and faces he painted:He paints rubbish; looks inside your head. / Tells you what you were. Bill Brierley’s typically terse and brisk On The Good Ship Lowry refers to the design of the building, whilst Raymond’s A Lowri Painting has a clever, whimsical final couplet.

The rest of the magazine contains work from outside the group and this time includes the best in the anthology. Ian Grey’s No Flowers For Lizzie Bolden, Mike Gwynne’s Silver Anniversary and Marguerite Haywood’s The Deciding Words were for me the best of the U.K. poetry whilst David McVey’s short story Pigs at Dawn was eminently readable and enjoyable.

Out of the contributions from abroad, the one outstanding poet for me was Suzanne Richardson Harvey from California, whose two poems Over The Edge and Sonnet For An Unconceived Child exhibited a great grasp of imagery, movement and that finished, professional tone that is so hard to achieve. Particularly well-written. I will certainly read more of her work.

I liked almost all of the other American poems, though the odd one, whilst no doubt written in all sincerity, came across as a little pretentious. The one Australian poem, Found Art, was very good but the (maybe deliberately) excessive alliteration spoiled it for me. From India, Arun Gaur’s Small Places was a beautiful piece, reminding me of many works from India that hark back to a traditional poetry of repetition. The one Canadian entry, Joanna Weston’s Morning Reflected, had a sparse, economical beauty that is hard to convey.

Mindy Abu Barad’s Another Ocean III was a bit flat for me personally – I prefer some sort of imagery to connect with – but of course different readers will relate differently to this. Again, the poem works on more than one level besides the obvious one of diaspora.

To get into print in the non-group section of Current Accounts is a great achievement as there are always very many writers who send in work and we all know that rejection can be disappointing.

F James Hartnell

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Recent theatre and cinema

As is often the case with comedies, certain characters, not always the main players, get the most comic lines whilst others have to struggle with every line to get the laughs. In the Oscar Wilde pièce de moeurs An Ideal Husband, it was Milo Twomey (as Lord Goring) and Ann Furbank (Lady Markby) who had the plum lines and made the most of them. An immensely enjoyable evening in Manchester with the usual Royal Exchange excellence in both cast and direction and a fine start to the New Year’s theatre. Who could not love Wilde's disparaging views on curates, political corruption, the idle rich and society in general? Times have not changed so very much.

In the cinemas meanwhile, there is an abundance of good films at the moment. The Kite Runner is a beautiful film. The Guardian referred to it as such but also felt it was somewhat manipulative. I never felt that to be so. Poignant, tragic, affirming, real. With respect to another film, The Assassination of Jesse James etc etc, the one point that seems to have escaped the critics is that this is clearly a coming of age film for Brad Pitt whose acting is better here than anything else he has done. He exuded menace, doubt, foreboding, duplicity. A fine performance.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Rezzo – a blog is for life not just for Christmas (roughly quoted from Phil Crippen). I missed reviewing so many good events at the back end of the year and haven’t posted enough largely due to colds and coughs and lack of oomph. Well, for the faithful, here’s some news:

Bank Street Writers presents a new worldwide competition for poetry with serious money prizes – more anon.

Riders at Wood Street, Bolton – a great event just before Christmas and another coming up on 1st February.

Brief Reviews

The African Association Christmas Dinner Dance in Bolton – Excellent!
The Golden Compass – fair to middling
I Am Legend – fair to poor

Chinatown, Manchester, 25th Dec - Excellent!