Winter 2005



Johnny Dracut
EXPLORE THIS: Aurora Borealis, by Massimo Maggiari

It should come as little surprise that, in Aurora Borealis (La Finestra Editrice, Trento, It, 2004), Massimo Maggiari's new book of poems, he adopts a mythic quality to his diction. The subject is Norwegian explorer Roald Engelbert Amundsen, after all, a figure well suited to be draped in myth, possessing in the story of his polar adventures an essential heroic character.

What does surprise, and pleasantly so, is how frequently Maggiari is on the mark with his poems, wreathing even the most day-to-day and commonplace moments in the Norwegian explorer's exotic trek to earth's desolate poles in an arresting mist of mythos.

Roald Engelbert Amundsen (1872-1928) was a Norwegian explorer who commanded what is said to be the first ship to navigate the North-West Passage (1903-1906) and the first man to reach the South Pole in 1911. He later flew over the North Pole in a dirigible with Italian explorer Umberto Nobile -- in 1926 -- and in fact died in 1928 attempting to rescue Nobile by airplane after the Italian had crashed on the ice pack of the North Pole.

Hence, perhaps, the connection for Massimo Maggiari -- an Italian by birth (b 1960, Genoa, It) who currently lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

Maggiari, who teaches Italian language and literature at the local university, and where he organizes highly regarded festivals of Italian poetry, is a man who is not averse to a process of exploratory courage himself. His study of such hermetic poets as Alfonso Gatto and Leonardo Sinisgalli, as well as his critical study of the poetry of Arturo Onofri, is known in both the US and Italy, as well as in South Africa. And Maggiari, who's been publishing books of his own poetry since 1999, writing principally in Italian, has worked on translations from such languages as Egyptian and Finnish.

In this volume -- faithfully translated by Laura Stortoni, to my rough reckoning of Italian to English anyhow -- Maggiari attempts to answer a question posed in his own introduction: "What are the borders of our Terra Incognita?"

The author answers his own question in the introduction -- and in his poetry -- variously. Despite the possibilities of 21st century communication technology every land, asserts Maggiari, is unknown to a human until he or she -- in the psychological realm -- 'crosses it and explores it with his gaze."

Appropriately, Aurora Borealis, a collection finished just one year after winning the prestigious Alighiero Chiusano poetry award from the City of Frascati, Italy, is informed with the language of Inuit incantatory song, yet retains a European soulfulness and spiritual potency that captures the reader.

"Wind, you who rise/dreams from the mountains,/breathe love and song/on the celestial bulwarks" intones Maggiari in his poem "Amundsen's Paean." Adopting the voice of Amundsen himself, he reverently inscribes line after line of prayer to Nature and the Human Spirit: "Protect my sky/my constellations/and their unborn stars./ Defend my fjord/and the scattered tribes/of the She-Bear's Hunters."

The flavor is decidedly Inuit, with Scandinavian undertones. Here's another example: "Listen, brother Nuntak./Listen to the voices of day/as they glide on blue liquid/breaking prow and kayak./They harp on silver and wave/and pass by near us, on our hearts."

When he transcends the historiographic, Maggiari's language can be quite compelling, as in "The Iceberg."

Distant, distant at the horizon
the enchanted mountain arises
on the silhouettes of winged lands.
Like a sailing white moth
at the edges of the North-West passage
it surfaces on the oblique winds of the waters.

And this:

You polar ice
fountain garden immortal face mountain pine
etcher of a thousand souls
you dwelling on the five-colored dragon.
Wild daimon


Massimo Maggiari is nothing if not a scholarly figure, if this book is any indication -- the poems are footnoted to the point that the reader may orient to the topic without having to be an Edmunsen expert, eschewing the deliberate obfuscatory elitism of some other writers in the historic-biographical, psychological genre. Instead we are permitted to gain a snapshot insight into the situations and personalities of Edmunsen's story, and then roll right into the mystic.

"The mythic theme in this book is enthralling," writes Jorge Marban in his postscript. "It introduces the reader to a world of magic and beauty, and to a quest that sympbolizes man's inspiration to conquer his limits and ascend in unison with the spiritual forces of the Universe."

Marban's right. Patient reading of the poems in Aurora Borealis may, like Maggiari states it, "undertake other types of voyages, perhaps not less dangerous, but of an intellectual and inner nature, all recorded in the labyrinth of the soul."

With no risk of frost bite or tingling toes. Only a palpable tingling of the heart.




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