Saturday, February 25, 2012

Loco Motrix-- Light in the Blackness

Italy is an enigma for many of us especially those of us who come from it as part of the great Italian Diaspora. We are fortunate to have in the United States poets who represent this diaspora well starting with John Ciardi, Paul Vangelisti, Leslie Scalapino and Peter Gizzi. But perhaps our best scholar of poetry from the Italian idiom is University of Chicago professor Jennifer Scappettone and her translations of Italian poet Amelia Rosselli is something to behold.

I write this blogpost as a translator and poet myself and I know that the work of translator can be a challenge that is sometimes like wearing shoes on the wrong foot or too tight clothes. But, I have never translated Italian poets because of the fact that the language and the poetry is too personal and I could never do it justice. Scappettone has overcome this to bring us an important poet in English and the translations are in fact- Italic- which is a tribute to fine craft.

By way of biography Amelia Rosselli was the child of exiles from Italian Fascism and grew up in the France and the US. Her family then returned to Italy after the war. She is part of a heroic Italian resistance to Fascism that in fact is uncomfortable to many Italians. I say can with certainty that many families were divided because mine was torn thus.

As the descendant of Italian Fascists and also Italian Partisans myself I have lived this tension in my own life and Scappettone using Rosselli's poetry brings this tension to light in these translations.

On Page 81 in her translation;

For the singing that unwound in the air I rhymed
still utterly. For the vulture that was your sinister
figure I was determined to fight. For the poor and the ill
the ill streets I sand still tarantella for your shirt
is the loveliest of the street.

To bring a translation of this type of poetry to light today is a grand critique. The Italy of today filled with vapid Berlusconisms is not open to much of this work. Italy where many view the Fascist period with nostalgia and where Mussolini souvenirs are available this translation is a great response. The translation itself comes as close to the Italian as possible and makes for a strong cool wind amid so much sadness. As an Italian speaker it is so close to the music of the poetry that I can assure you hear its voice.

Scappettone gives us more than just poetry however. She also gives us prose which is so often neglected. The Diary of Three Tongues deserves to be placed with Witold Gobrowitz Diary as one of the greatest reflective pieces of the 20th century and her correspondence included makes me want to find more of this as I love letters by poets. Rosselli is an acquired taste but I would urge readers to take that chance and find that like other acquired tastes it is worth the education.

In the end what Scappettone has done is to bring us a great Italian poet who was more than just that because of her international formation. In a time when Italy seems to be numb to the heroic tradition of Poets in her midst perhaps this book will expose the "good Italy" to and her "ideal fatherland" in a world that seems to be drawn ever more towards blackness.

This book is worth the read and sit down. Make sure that you have strong drink beforehand perhaps something Italian like Sambuca Molinari and let it seep into your bones.

Friday, February 10, 2012

John Hughes and Contraception

Much has been written of late about the Obama Administration and women's access to contraceptives if they work for Roman Catholic institutions like Colleges or Hospitals. Progressives rightly say that people should not lose their rights because they work for a certain sectarian group and Conservatives rightly say that religious groups' rights to freedom of conscience is protected by the US Constitution. So what gives?

As a practicing Catholic who is also an Obama supporter my level of uncomfortableness has been profound on this issue until I did a little reading. In the 1850's Roman Catholics in New York lead by their Archbishop John Hughes fought Public Schools. They demanded that the public schools not teach Protestantism and that Catholic religion also be taught. If fact John Hughes was the first to oppose one religion being taught in schools because the schools were paid for with tax dollars of Catholics and Catholics did not want their money going to pay for Anti Catholic schools.

The result of this campaign was a compromise. Protestantism was eventually not taught in public schools by law. But Catholics eventually left the public schools and opened their own parochial schools because they could not conscience secular education. In 1965 72% of all Catholics went to Catholic schools. They also opened Catholic hospitals and Universities some of which are the best and largest in the United States.

So why do I bring up John Hughes? I do so because people have to pay for things that violate sacred beliefs. Catholics are an important part of America but they are not all of America and many people desire to use birth control in fact 95% of Catholics want to use birth control so unlike in the vatican majority rules in America.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Finding Celan in Hamburg

I am one of those people who when I am in a city for a business trip I steal an hour or two for sheer pleasure and adventure. As a business person who moonlights as a poet it is a way for me to try to remember what matters most in my life and to reconnect with a part of me that is often dormant because of the demands of the world as it is. Last week I was in Hamburg on a business trip and Waltraud my wife came along staying with a cousin who lives in that humid but quite nice town.

Waltraud is sensible in a Teutonic way while I with my Italian sense of serendipity would just wander she researches and she found for me a transcendial moment. Waltraud found via the net an antiquarian bookstore Antiquariat Pabel right across from the great St Michael's church in Hamburg. The visit was transcendental for a few reasons. Pabel was founded by a man who was also the founder of the great Chicago Book Mart in the 1940's. This man was a Prisoner of war in the US from Germany and he turned that into one of the great bookstores in fact Chicago Book Mart was the progenitor of Guild Books (sadly dead) and Seminary Co-op (Thankfully still alive).

Our visit to this great store was in short wonderful. The store is everything that a bibliophile desires. Shelves of the finest editions. a 1589 Erasmus, a Soncino Missal, Shakespeare First edition in Germany from 1709.

But what I found made my year. A 1952 first edition of Paul Celan. Celan is a poet that challenges and frustrates. He was what the Christians call a witness. Like Perpetua standing in the middle of the circus his life was a witness to a truth and his poetry was the formation of that witness. Celan was a bridge to so much from the Austro Hungarian world of Freud and Vienna to the post war world of Nuremburg he spans it all. The edition that I bought is Mohn und Gedachtnis (Poppy and Memory). It was the book that made Celan a poet and it was published by a German publisher from Stuttgart in 1952. Surely on paper and with ink that had once been used to print Nazi books and was now publishing the greatest poet, in German, in the 20th Century.

To have found this book in Hamburg. Sold to me by a wonderful bookseller who understands as he said to me that books are transitory that they are created things and that they have memory is a good answer to the iPadization of our literature. This small volume is printed as Celan wanted to be printed. It is a created thing and it sits on my shelf right next to Ezra Pound just to make sure that it inoculates the shelves.

We are entering a world of the transitory. It is only in moments like the one I had a week ago at Antiquariat Pabel that I again can feel my toes and my fingers are not numb.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I love this Video--Go Hawks

You know what there is nothing better than a Big Ten Football Saturday

Go Hawks

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Weimar Germany in Iowa

I was recently in Europe and from that vantage point the current situation in the USA becomes much clearer. It seems that the goal of the Right in America is to in fact destroy the country by not allowing our elected president to do anything. In fact America has become much like Weimar Germany with protest groups dominating the debate. In my analysis the Tea Party are playing the Nazis and the Occupy Wall Street Folks the KPD Communists.

In the end there is only one winner and that is China, Brazil and India. I firmly believe that Eric Cantor and the rest of the Right want to destroy President Obama because they are in the pay of these new powers. Just as the Nazis were in the Pay of major Bankers and the KPD Communists were in the pay of the Stalinists. The end for America is an extremism that no one wants but that benefits only these small interests.

Watching the Republican Debates is so depressing. Mitt Romney who believes in nothing except magic underwear, Herman Cain who should be selling Snuggies on late night TV and Rick Perry who escaped from a NASCAR video. But, I believe that America has broken itself and while our friends on the Right like to quote that paragon of Fascism Ayn Rand the world we have created is not her dystopia but in fact Weimar Germany- in Iowa.

Monday, September 5, 2011

After 9/11 America is a Different Place

On September 11th 2001 I was making a presentation to the Economic Club of Milan, Italy when a member of our office's admin staff entered and said in Italian "they blew up New York". My wife was at that time working in Mid-town Manhattan and so I was of course worried amid all the other pain. I can remember driving from Milan to Verona listening to Italian news radio with the world "Crollato" or crushed repeated over and over again. The night of September 11th I was in Verona for a business dinner and the owner of the Trattoria picked up the tab for his "Bresciano-American" friend (that would be me).

The next six months were dreadful. We lived in Princeton, NJ so our train station was covered with those printed signs "lost my husband, lost my wife". It was a time of great sadness and great loss. Americans reacted sometimes well and sometimes not but the nation was changed mostly for the worst.

America pre 9/11 was astride the world as a super power America after 9/11 was something else. In 2011 America remains engulfed in an economic and mental depression. I think that once a nation has been in economic collapse for three years it is safe to call it a Depression. We are in this collapse because like empires before us we spent our riches on global adventures and bread an circuses for our people to keep them mollified in the face of pain and despair.

In the end America is a different place.

Conservatives like to hearken back to Ronald Reagan, Liberals to JFK and FDR but both of those Americas no longer exist. The America of FDR and JFK was young vibrant place where anything was possible and where a generation- the greatest one- made sacrifices to do great things like Medicare, Civil Rights and putting a man on the moon. Reagan's America too no longer exists. The factory towns of the Midwest are now empty. The sunbelt was built on false money and false prosperity and the reserve of good will and frugality that existed in Reagan's time has been spent.

So what are we to do?

I recently was in Sao Paulo Brazil and I saw something. In that vibrant city there are many cafe's as their are in Italy but now smoking is not permitted. So a man stood outside the cafe with a Formica board around his neck with two ashtrays. He flipped up the board and invited the men drinking coffee to come and have a cigarette with their coffee on his board- he then asked for a Real tip. I thought- what a great idea- the fact is that America needs to do the same.

We as a nation need to realize that our ideas matter. We need to also understand that unless we change the conversation and subvert the rules (the way the man in Sao Paulo did with his board) we are doomed to stasis and weakness. The future seems to have moved to Beijing and Sao Paulo but are their ideas better?

It is time to forget 9/11 and to remember why July 4th 1776 is a holiday and September 11th 2001 is not.

Sunday, August 21, 2011