Sunday, May 13, 2012

The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry: An Anthology Edited by Geoffrey Brock

The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry
An Anthology Edited by Geoffrey Brock
Introduction and Selection Copyright 2012 by Geoffrey Brock
Farrar Strauss Giroux
New York, NY
Hardbound,  672 pages,  $50.00
ISBN 978-0-374-10538-9

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Editing an anthology of poetry is a daunting task, particularly if you have decided on a single subject, say twentieth century Italian poets. Having selected the theme or subject matter you next need to choose which poets to use. Finally, there is the question of which poems. When it comes to Italian poetry there are centuries to pick from. Or, if you are Geoffrey Brock you limit yourself to the twentieth century when some of the most exciting and poignant poetry was written.

Brock’s “Introduction”  is like a course in the history of Italian poetry, citing St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun as the beginning of Italian poetry. He then notes other early Italian poets and discusses many of the poets in this volume.  In his “A Note on Translation” Brock explains his selection process which included poets who are Swiss, not Italian, but write in Italian. He also admits, “I have had to omit important and marvelous poets and poems, either because I lacked space or because I was unable to find or make sufficiently marvelous translations…”  This explanation is refreshingly honest and does not diminish what Brock accomplished, a selection of marvelous translations of seventy-three poets, some represented by one poem, others by multiple selections.

Among the poets are a number of familiar names such as Giovanni Pascoli, F.T. Marinetti, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Eugenio Montale, Salvatore Quasimodo, Cesare Pavese, Giorgio Bassani (perhaps better known for his novel The Garden of the Finzi-Contini), Holocaust survivor Primo Levi and Pier Paolo Pasolini, also a movie director who was murdered.

Brock, who did a number of the translations, also selected translations by a veritable who’s who of poets, including: AllenGinsberg, Seamus Heaney, James Merrill, Robert Lowell, Geoffrey Hill, Thomas Lux, Charles Wright, J.D. McClatchy, Samuel Beckett, W.D. Snodgrass, Ezra Pound, A.E. Stalllings, Kevin Prufer, Jonathan Galassi, W.S. Di Piero, Cid Corman, Dana Gioia, Kenneth Koch, Marianne Moore, Charles Tomlinson, Cyrus Cassels, John Frederick Nims, Peter Covino, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and many other poets, each of them bringing their own brilliance to the book.

The Anthology has many long poems, but here are examples of three translations that are shorter. First is Cid Corman’s reading of Giuseppe Ungaretti’s  Joy Of Shipwreck followed by Jonathan Galassi’s translation of Eugenio Montale’s 10 and finally Brock’s rendering of Mario Luzi’s Night Cleanses The Mind.


Versa, February 14, 1917

And suddenly the voyage
after being shipwrecked
a surviving
old sea dog will


Why wait? The squirrel beats his torch-tail
on the pine tree’s bark
The half-moon with its peak sinks down
into the sun that snuffs it out. It’s day.

The sluggish mist is startled by a breeze,
but hold firm at the point it covers you.
Nothing ends, or everything,
if, thunderbolt, you leave your cloud.


Night cleanses the mind.

A little later, as you well know,
we’re here, a line of souls along the ledge,
some ready for the leap, others

as if in chains. On the sea’s page,
someone traces a a sign of life, fixes a point:
Seldom do any gulls appear.

These are just three short examples. The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry is filled with wonderful poems. It is a book of poetry that should be in everyone’s collection. Very highly recommended.

Zvi A. Sesling is author of King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street, 2010), Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011) and the soon to be published Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva). He is Editor of Muddy River Poetry Review and Bagel Bards Anthology #7.

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