Contemporary Italian Poetry Translations: Azzurra D’Agostino

  • 1
  • September 22, 2015

Selections from C​anti di un luogo abbandonato
Songs of a World Abandoned
Translations by Kayla Rodney and Janel Spencer

by Azzurra D’Agostino

Un casolare e intorno campi
che cambiano colore e non lo sanno.
Non arrivano fin qui tutti i rumori
di quello che era un posto da abitare:
l’aia, il cane, lo zampettare
dei topi, forse una canzone
e il rimescolare della fame
di uomini e bestie.
Dicono sia stata anche felice
questa campagna.
I sassi e l’ardesia posati
nel duro del presente
restano in piedi adesso
in un tempo che non è per loro.
Restano in piedi come i ciliegi
che arrossano la terra
in silenzio. Noi siamo
un po’ più giù, di poco,
in una solitudine bianca,
disinfettata, che non s’immaginava.

trans. by Kayla Rodney

Here, a field flanked farmhouse
with chameleon colors is still
thought lifeless by those who never heard
the sounds that proved otherwise:
the dog in the yard, scampering mice,
a song,
a motley ravenous crowd of men and beasts
things that are all phantom now.
At one time
this place was happy.
The rubble of now
used to be carefully laid stone and slate
They stand there, silently,
cherries staining the earth blush
while we keep on. Further down, solitude
white, and clean, and unexpected.

trans. by Janel Spencer

A cottage and surrounding fields
change color but do not know it.
All the sounds of this once lived-in place
do not sound here any longer:
the barnyard, the dog,
the frolicking mice, maybe a song,
and the shuffle, hunger
of men and beasts.
They say ​t​his land
was also happy once.
The stones and slate
remain in a time
no longer for them.
How they stand
like cherry trees,
reddening the earth
in silence. We are
just a little lower,
in a white, sterilized solitude:
one we couldn’t have imagined.

trans. by Kayla Rodney and Janel Spencer

A field flanked cottage—
a landscape of chameleon colors
that do not know they change.
All the sounds of that once lively place,
in the end, do not arrive here:
the barnyard, the dog, the frolicking
mice, the motley ravenous
men and beasts, maybe una canzone,
things that are all phantom now.
They say this land also
was happy once.
The carefully laid stone and slate
endure the harsh present,
a time not for them.
They stand, silent and firm,
reddening the earth
like cherry trees. We standfurther down, just a little lower,
in a white solitude—
steril, unexpected.

by Azzurra D’Agostino

Dal lato del suo migliore apparire
dal lato del suo apparire miglioresi schianta nel sole, di luce si spacca
il bianco bianco casolare di biacca.
É rimasto e noi ora lo vediamo.
Alla mano invisibile viene da pensarci.
Posare pietra dopo pietra dopo pietra
e poi intonaco, malta, calcina,
alzarsi all’alba, di prima mattina
fare le cose come uno che si salva.

trans. by Janel Spencer

From its best side
to the side it appears best
the sun crashes in: the light slices out
the white white cottage grout.We see now what has remained.
Out of our thoughts comes an invisible hand.
It lays stone after stone after stone,
and then plaster, cement, lime mortar;
it arises at dawn’s early morning
to do these things like one
who is saved by them.

by Azzurra D’Agostino

Loro non lo sapevano e non lo sanno
che effetto fa il rosso come colore
in mezzo al verde delle foglie che si vede
sono sacrificate senza potatura.
A pensarci che strana andatura ha la terra
come si fa tenace il rampicante, l’erba matta,
l’infestante, l’edera, il trifoglio, la liana appena
appena si possa. Non si mantiene la natura.
Si ripete. Si spossa. Si slarga e si disfa e ci confonde
ci lascia fuori, ci minaccia con le fronde.

Interview

What kind of poet do you consider yourself?

I’ve heard that some critics call me a ‘neo-lyric poet’. Even if it’s not so clear to me what this exactly means, I think they want to underline the relationship between my poems and the world. An attention to nature, to all the little things that make a life, to all the meaningful silences and moments. All that expressed in a quite smooth language. I could agree. I’m not interested in pure avant-garde or in too mental poetry, even if I give a lot of importance to reflection in my works . Above all I need to hear something true and touching about being human – and to put it down in words with a good rhythm and sound.

“Above all I need to hear something true and touching about being human — and to put it down in words with a good rhythm and sound.”

Who or what are your influences, and are there any artistic or poetic movements that resonate with you?

I love so much to read poetry. Since I have been a child, that’s what I do best. When you read, some things remain in you and you become also these things: words, images, rhythms, styles and so on. Sometimes you recognize what directly has influenced you: in my case not strictly poetic movements, but many poets of many different movements. Dante, Leopardi, Pascoli, a lot of Italian poets of XX Century. Living Italian poets who help me to understand better how to write and even to read. Polish poets (they’re great!), some English, some Americans, and certainly German poets like Rilke, Hölderlin, Trakl, Celan. But not only poets are important in my education: I feed my soul with novels and philosophy.

How do you think your work or style will be received in English or among English literary traditions?

To me, poetry has the power to overcome boundaries of different cultures. That’s my experience: also the foreigner poets translated can deeply move me. Maybe some details and meanings are lost in translation, but some others are added. My last work about abandoned places is certainly based on a very local experience (life in a little village on the mountains of Northern Italy), but it talks of something that is all over the world. That’s the power of poetry: its universality.

What are your thoughts on translation as a multilingual individual? What is the importance of translation? Have you or would you like to translate poetry or other literature?

I’ve translated some poems from English to Italian, and a radio drama from German to Italian. Even if I don’t speak these two languages as a mothertongue, I love very much to translate: it’s good training that helps you to better understand even your own language and to enter into texts more deeply. Sometimes I help some translator who isn’t Italian to correct their translation: it’s very interesting to discover when and how a text ‘sounds’ Italian. I’d like to thank all the good translators in the world: they let us enter into wonderful worlds that would be lost without their hard, worthy, difficult, special and essential work. Someone said that only a poet can translate a poet, only a writer can translate a writer. It’s true, because to translate is also to re-think and re-write. In Italian ‘translate’ (tradurre) has the same root of ‘betray’ (tradire) – and that’s interesting to me, you write something different because you want to say the same thing in a different language.

“It’s very interesting to discover when and how a text ‘sounds’ Italian.” “I’d like to thank all the good translators in the world: they let us enter into wonderful worlds that would be lost without their hard, worthy, difficult, special and essential work.”

“To translate is also to re-think and re-write.”

“You write something different because you want to say the same thing in a different language.”

How do you ensure that your intended meanings/emotion/imagery/music are maintained with the translation? Are there certain things you value over others when determining if a translation is a good representation of your work?

A good thing is always to talk during the translation: if there are doubts about the meaning of a word or a speech, or if something is not clear about the context, or the use of a particular figure of speech. I’ve had some of my poets translated in English and German and I could verify if the music was similar. Not the same, because it’s impossible, but something that sounds good in the foreigner language and alludes to the music and rhythm of the original. Form and content in poetry are the same thing, so it’s important to try to make them work together to reach the meaning from one language to another. Once I had a poem translated in Japanese: in that case it was impossible for me to understand that all that strange symbols were a poem. But it was funny and touching!

What is your process of conferring with a translator to make sure that your artistic integrity (maintaining the original meanings and effects) remains intact? How much artistic integrity, if any, do you feel you give up when handing your work over to a translator?

I usually just say that I’m here if the translator needs help to clarify all that is obscure to him or her. Generally, a call always comes and from that moment it starts, what is to me more interesting: trying to explain what it’s not possible to really ‘explain’ – a line, a word. Then, I read the translation and I say my doubts (obviously if it’s a language I can understand). So the translator works again, then ask again, and we re-start. To me it’s important that the translator finds a good music in his or her language, maintaining the meaning. I’m usually happy and grateful when someone translates my work so I try to help when it’s possible – not to defend ‘my’ artistic integrity, but to take care of a poem.

“I’m usually happy and grateful when someone translates my work so I try to help when it’s possible — not to defend ‘my’ artistic integrity, but to take care of a poem.”