George Wallace


Canio In Italy:
Canio Pavone Commences Translation Of Lalla Romano Poetry

A new initiative in translating the works of influential Italian novelist and poet Lalla Romano (1906-2001) was brought to light at a reading recently by Romance language scholar and New York area friend of literature Canio Pavone.

Pavone taught romance languages for many years in Greenlawn, Long Island, in the shadow of Walt Whitman's birthplace, but was more widely known for his work as a literary impresario in the intellectually-rich Hamptons. This was an effort for which he achieved near-legendary stature -- from the early visits from such literary fellows as EL Docterow and Kurt Vonnnegut to accolades that sometimes bore quasi-coronation proportions (he was crowned in laurel at Guild Hall, Easthampton not so many years ago). Along the way he created a bookstore in Sag Harbor which became a touchstone for writers visiting the Hamptons and a small press publishing house of some repute.

Now with his latest effort, Canio Pavone has made good on two of his greatest talents -- the nurturing of unrecognized talent; and his continued exploration of Italian literature and culture -- with this ongoing series of translations of the lesser known 20th century writer Romano.

For a solid hour this past August, at the bookstore in Sag Harbor which bears his name, Pavone read Romano in the original -- in delectable mellifluous Italian -- as Canio's Books co-owner Mary Ann Callandrille carefully followed each offering with his translations into English.

In choosing Romano, Pavone's discernment and tender focus on the stewardship of under-realized voices remains undiminished.

Italian poetry in the 20th century, considered by some to be the most fruitful and successful genre of Italian literature, features a host of luminaries, and a variety of manners, but Romano's star - while relatively high in the novelistic sky of her native country, is far from in an ascendency in America.

To be sure, the firmament of Italian 20th century literary culture is bright -- from the complex 20th century modernist concern with the crisis of identity and existential reflection to response to the experiences of the years of fascist rule; and to the post-war dualities of social realism and a deeply introspective poetry and prose. One might count as the giants of the century such figures as tfounder of futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, philosopher, statesman, literary critic, and historian Benedetto Croce, whose influence became worldwide; playwright Luigi Pirandello, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1934; anti-fascist writers Giuseppe Antonio Borgese and Ignazio Silone. Or, after World War II, a number of Italian writers who came into international prominence -- including Giuseppe Ungaretti, Eugenio Montale, Paolo Pasolini and Salvatore Quasimodo.

Among all these, Lalla Romano's work most neatly fits with those of Montale, among the foremost European poets of the 20th century, and a writer whose poetry is characterized by a sparing use of words and by his power to create illuminating images of unusual lyric intensity.

Romano, born in Cuneo of ancient piemontesi origins, was raised in a rich and priveleged cultural climate. She enrolled in the writing faculty of the University of Turin, where professors Ferdinand Neri and Lionello Venturi deeply influenced her development. On the suggestion of Venturi she attended the painting school of Felice Casorati, which led to a career as an art critic. In 1928 she received her bachelors in romantic literature with a thesis on the poets of the "dolce stilnovo."

After working as a librarian at Cuneo, Romano moved to Turin with her husband, Innocenzo Monti, and their son. Here she continued to cultivate her passion for poetry and painting, attracting the attention of Montale -- who encouraged her in 1941 to publish her first collection of poems, Flowers (Fiore). During the war she returned to live near her mother in Cuneo, where she became involved with a band of partisans, the "Justice and Liberty" group. In the post-war period she was reunited with her husband and returned to Milan where she began to work on a collection of short works under the guidance of Pavese, N. Ginzburg and Elio Vittorini. In 1953 she published her first novel, Maria, and as the next year she won the Veillon Prize for "Courier of Evening." In 1955 another book of poetry, "Autumn," was released, and in 1957 a new novel "Walled Roof" won the Pavian Prize. After the publication in 1960 of a book of travels with the title Diary of Greece, she published the novel "The Man Who Spoke Alone."

In that same year, as a result of the death of her mother, Roman Lalla returned to Demonte; and she began drawing up her fourth novel, "The Penumbra That We Have Crossed," which was released to the public in 1964. Translated into English, the work is considered an engaging and likeable kaleidoscopic fictional memoir whose unseen narrator, upon returning to her native village, finds herself vicariously reliving a number of her family's biggest moments - including her parents' wedding - as well as her own formative experiences.

In 1969 she was even more successful with "La Parole Tra Noi Leggere", winner of the Strega Prize. An autobiographical novel followed in 1973, and then "Giovanne," a third collection of poems, which won the Sebeto Prize. The Presidency of the Council assigned the "Pen of Gold" to her in 1979.

More publications and honors followed, including among them, in 1989 "Procida-Island of Arturo/Elsa Morante." Lallo Romano continued to publish regularly through her death in Milan, June 26 2001.

In choosing poems for translation and presentation, Pavone aptly traces the progression of Romano's work into a reductionist, jewel-like density and faceted brilliance. Here are a few samples of his translations, arranged sequentially from her earlier to later works;


On that day you will listen to me, because
unknown birds will fly through the sky
obscuring the clouds;
and the air will be torrid, and the fruit,
suddenly ripe, will fall
and the trees will shake without wind.
The earth will yield serpents, and on hills
fires will burn.

Then in the world turned desert,
my savage cry you will hear.

Exorcism dates to the 1941 publication of FLOWERS, and is one of her earliest poems. Samples from the later "THE DEAR SMELL OF THE BODY," untitled pieces, show how her careful orientation to a terseness and density has evolved;

A deep sound is in the blood

I knew it the first time
your hands touched mine

Since that daywe listened
to the sound of a wind rise up
like the bellow of an organ
until it finally left us bent,
helpless, like old stems, that wind


I am in you
like the dear smell of the body
like the moisture in the eye
and the sweet saliva.

I am in you
in the mysterious way
that life is dissolved in blood
and mixed in breath.


Do not ask
for flowery perfume
when I can give you
fruits of autumn

Do not reject nourishment
because winter is at the door
and already the old saints
have raised their brows
to contemplate eternity
We children of the moment
drink up the last of the wine

This tendency towards sharply chiseled and immaculately delineated imagery reaches its minimalist pinnacle in her last works, as in this startlingly beautiful shard from "TIME IS YOUNG"

Winter, slow

The only truth:
the others, in blossom, a dream

Canio Pavone, a man of no little charm and grace, in these translations demonstrates the extent to which there is an enormous charm in the works of Lallo Romano. It is to be hoped that his efforts will find further venues for dissemination.


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