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Contemporary Italian American Writing

Luigi Fontanella: Poems from The Transparent Life
Translated into English by Michael Palma.

THE TRANSPARENT LIFE | TO A GIRL IN A SPEEDWASH | NEDELIA | SONG FOR PAOLO CONTE

Luigi FontanellaLuigi Fontanella, born in Salerno, Italy, in 1943, studied at the University of Rome and at Harvard, where he earned a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures. He has served as a Fulbright Fellow (Princeton University, 1976-1978), and has taught at Columbia, Princeton, and Wellesley. He is currently professor of Italian at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. Founder and President of the Italian Poetry Society of America, Fontanella is the editor of Gradiva, [P.O. Box 831, Stony Brook, NY 11790] an international journal of Italian poetry. He has published ten books of poetry, two books of fiction, and six books of criticism. His forthcoming book of poetry is Angels of Youth, translated from the Italian by Carol Lettieri and Irene Marchegiani Jones (Riverside: Xenos Books, 2000).

Please scroll down to read sample poems from The Transparent Life. translated by Michael Palma, Gradiva Publications: P.O. Box 831, Stony Brook, NY 11790

Review excerpts of Luigi Fontanella's work:

The Transparent Life"Fontanella's poetic language has a quality of disenchanted transparency, always containing a sort of suspended bitterness toward the elusive signs of our existence, signs that question themselves, that show themselves lovingly and visibly, but that, at the same time, slip away. I find this to be a particularly seductive element of his poetry."--GIULIO FERRONI

"Luigi Fontanella is the single poet who has made in the last two decades the most sustained contribution to the organization and diffusion of Italian poetry in the United States. His poetic battle speaks directly to the concern of all of us who write Italian poetry in the New World."--PAOLO VALESIO

Luigi and Luisa
Luigi Fontanella appeared at Poets House in New York City on November 2nd as distinguished commissioned translator of the winner of the 2000 Bordighera Poetry Prize, Luisa Rossina Villani. Here the translator is pictured with the winning poet at a bilingual reading of her work from Running Away from Russia (Bordighera).

"In these times of fashionable pessimism and of a cynical refusal to sing the basic themes of lived life - the love of origins, of parents, of companions and children; the pain of lost youth, of distance, of unreachable dreams - Fontanella dares to remain true to the sources and goals of his poetic making. He is a deracinated Italian, and he writes of the betweenness of his existence, often with recourse to the theme of travel, of leavetaking and returning. He is a son who now recognizes himself in his father, being himself a father. He is a child again because of his little daughter whose innocence reminds him "qual era" that boy now gone forever."--REBECCA J. WEST

 

 

THE TRANSPARENT LIFE

 

The city opens its streets,

bicycles pass without riders,

a woman's face appears

in the window and vanishes,

shopwindows offer lusts

for every season,

turning of lives:

a slim graceful couple dances

in the deserted square,

the running of man's race,

in the forest foliage stirs

against the light,

footprints on leaves

and tracks of hardened mud,

autumn avenue

royal carriage

rain of dew

and paper:

the transparent life.

TO A GIRL IN A SPEEDWASH

 

Still before me with eyes and hands through so many days circles

closed cycles air heat voices movements crunch crunch in the mouth

of a little black boy one after another

there's nothing sadder that these laundries on the edge of town

coin-operated ones with no counterwoman to chat with about the weather

there you find a kind of girl who's already a woman

I don't mean a babydoll covergirl

hollywoodized plasticized merchandised up-for-sale

massproduced release valve for halfnumbed Americans

I mean another kind of course like this one who takes the trouble

to fold the four dresses she's washed and dried

the faded napkins the socks with the holes

to be mended later the frayed T-shirts

the grease stain that hasn't come out

the sheet patched a hundred times she'll fold with the help

of the little one she's brought along with her (her sister?

her daughter already? or another girl-woman like her?).

NEDELIA

(Et que j'irai la'-bas,

Fair' dodo z'avec elle.

J'entends mon coeur qui bat,

C'est maman qui

m'appelle! - Jules Laforgue

Microelegy for my mother (17 may 1925 - 28 November 1982 )

I

Sweetbriar I gather one for you

without a thorn. You will smile for me

maybe, tomorrow morning.

 

II

You smile Nedelia ginestra

from this infant's window:

you appear

and disappear in an instant

infinite scaledglass

shadow sudden light

life passes by

yours

mine.

 

III

Bright fleur-de-lis summery

hawthorn trees, estranged,

fulltable

festival of bees.

 

IV

On flowering branches

on twisting branches

lost in ethereal green brilliance

your living dead disappearing season,

spring,

has taken wing.

 

V

In a dream I saw

all of your sunlight. A small

easy gift. But from this turmoil

the whole

of my love.

 

VI

From this halfclosed window,

I see you once again,

a little sad, mother,

as when you called to me:

I turn I answer you I call I run

amid thousands of corollas and coronas.

How peacefully I sleep

in this illusion.

 

VII

I have colored all the flowers

in my enchanted greenhouse:

nothing else is left of my song. Tomorrow

they will be gathered

by all

my dead.

SONG FOR PAOLO CONTE

 

Time tonight is a tired dancer

a masker whistling on a deserted pier

 

whistling a tune obsessively repeated

while love's last look is fading in the mist

 

my thoughts evicted, and my memories...

absurd and murky shapes, reefs in the distance.

 

My spirit, there won't be another dawn,

the outline of this window

open to the night tells of exhausted joys

extinguished visions stilled lakes

old sealed-up illnesses.

 

Crossed seasons pass

before the windows, seasons

scattered by the wind...

the long-ago smiles of the women behind the doors

their sidelong glances

as a little boy

came running rolling his hoop around the bend...

 

Time tonight is a tired dancer.

Translations Copyright © 2000 by Michael Palma. Poems © 2000 by Luigi Fontanella. All rights reserved.

Order from: Gradiva Publications: P.O. Box 831, Stony Brook, NY 11790]

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