I’m an occasional reader of poetry and an even more occasional writer on my blog about such. Generally it is because, for myself, a volume of poems are not consumed from beginning to end, making a “review” simple, other reasons include the very limited number of “views” my poetry posts attract, the limited formal study of poetry I have undertaken and the sheer volume of translated fiction that I have sitting awaiting my attention.
However, as I was recently feeling a little bogged down with my fiction pursuits, a timely volume of poetry from the Open Letter International Poetry Series landed on my doorstep. It was time for a refresh and a change of pace. Lucio Mariani’s “Traces Of Time” translated by Anthony Molina, was the perfect antidote to literary boredom.
This new publication contains sixty poems, all presented in the original Italian alongside the English translation. The book also has a Preface, by Rosanna Warren, which explains that these poems span nearly forty years of Marian’s work and are taken from the larger Farfalla e segno: Poesie 1972-2009, a “translator’s Note” and a wonderful essay by Mariani himself, titled “Concerning the diffusion and recreation of Poetry: In praise of the lesser players”. The purchase price of this collection is worth it simply for the closing essay, a joyous celebration on translators and readers of poetry:
My interest, instead, is to emphasize the role of two minor contributors to the widespread diffusion of the poiein: the translator and the public reader. To these figures goes the credit for enabling the poetic work to travel through space and time. Indeed, they deserve to be acknowledged in the way that the history of economics honors the first wayfarer merchants, whose caravans moved artefacts, goods, and food from one land to another, fostering trade and contributing to the spread of knowledge and civilization among different peoples and cultures. Translator and reader, however, deserve more that the merchant of old because, in the practice of a trade no less taxing, they overcome even barriers of time, in anticipation of little or no reward for so obstinately scattering proof of the only art whose existence is questioned in our time.
After stunning praise for the work of translators (Mariani is one himself) for a dying art form, he them moves to public readers:
I would now like to spend some words in praise of public readers. The least of caravaneers, even lowlier than translators, they too have great duties and merits. Born in the thinly populated land of poetry lovers (beware, mind you, of actors and professional readers), they pop up here and there, outsiders at the edge of the literary world. Often recruited by the armies of lesser poets, they are disliked by those who – as often happens – don’t even know how to read their own poetry. They are unpopular because what they do, they do well, especially in making their talents available only to the poetry they love and choose.
Over the course of twelve pages, Mariani has convinced me to read more poetry, to attend poetry readings, to feature poetry works on this blog, simply because, as an art form I believe it shouldn’tbe pushed further into the margins.
But onto the collection itself, which opens with “Contest”, ‘You’d ask if I were ever late.’ and moves to “You’ll say”, ‘I live your love only in your absence’. as the title of this collection suggests, the theme is generally time, or taking time to reflect.
Lines throughout are sharp observations, conjuring up images well beyond the few scattered words ‘ definitive, like the rings of a tree trunk’, or ‘ for no murdered ever/claimed only one victim.’ The poem “It’s Necessary” explores the requirement for a true artist to cut themselves off from the world, take away the distractions from the evil place around us all; ‘The instant this verse ends/in the veritable blink of an eye/so much evil will enter and dazzle the world/to leave life gutted.’
Using classic Roman references throughout, but being thoroughly modern in his approach, Mariani addresses contemporary issues such as immigration in the poem “What barbarians”, the only barbarian is inside each of us, or the September 11 attacks in “Checkmate (September 11, 2001)” which is an homage to a victim, who becomes only a memory, the moving story of fatherly pride being devastated by the attack. The themes throughout include, day and night, death, regeneration, history, the passing of time, and of course the classic poetic reflections on beauty:
THE ENVY OF THE GODS
Speak softly, feign and lie about these our days
for the gods inhabit even the leaves of olive trees
the unadorned petals of the pink camellia, the weave
of feathers that robin redbreast flaunts at the world.
For the hearken in the lemon grove, hide
in the thick of the bush, in trickles of water
that spring, rare and sudden, like a news flash
from a face of stone, there, in the edge
of the pillow that frames your features. Remember,
their envy takes no step back
but schools us never to reveal our joy.
The idea of what would happen if we rejected the concept of time is explored in the following poem:
THE SHORT-LIVED BUTTERFLY
“can you not see that we are worms, each one
born to become the Angelic butterfly?”
– Dante Alighieri, Purgatory X, 124-125
If all adventure is now foreclosed
and there are no more memories to fashion by hand
perhaps the only, truly human quest
will consist in paying time no mind
and, back turned, resisting in the dream.
Thus severed every conflict
between the beginning and necessary end,
the link of this empty transit of ours
will remain unknown.
As does the short-lived butterfly.
It is not only the essay that concludes this publication where Mariani muses on the written word, there are poems that explore poetry, “But when their thirst/is quenched/and the journey comes full circle/my poets all/reach the region/where soul and home are one.” Other that explore the art of writing, “At times I’ve thought I write for myself/a curative practice inflicted on others”.
This was a very welcome addition to my reading, as mentioned, breaking up the tedium of a couple of less than lively fiction works, and celebrating the magic of poetry, the art of translation and and the wonders of the written word. Mariani has also convinced me to attend more poetry readings, I already make time to see performance pieces as part of Fringe and similar Festivals, I’m now going to seek out more poetry events and books.
Source – personal copy.