Canio Pavone Commences Translation Of Lalla Romano Poetry
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
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
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
A deep sound is in
I knew it the first
your hands touched mine
Since that daywe
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"
The only truth:
the others, in blossom, a dream
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.