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Francesco Giardinazzo: translator’s note.

By HOYT ROGERS.

WHEN I ASKED Francesco Giardinazzo to discuss his poetry with me, he half-jokingly quoted Bartleby’s words: “I would prefer not to.” He then went on to explain that no writer can speak about his own work objectively, though he may be able to reflect on the literary masters who have meant the most to him.

Giardinazzo grew up in Bovalino Marina, in a part of Calabria where the local dialect is based on ancient Greek. His direct familiarity with what remains of Magna Græcia lent a special resonance to his study of Homer at the Liceo Classico in Locri, and later led him to publish lucid translations of the lyric poets. At the University of Bologna he wrote his thesis on Dante, particularly the figure of Ulysses in Canto XXVI of the Inferno. Among his other favorite authors are Shakespeare and Hölderlin, but in fact his reading has ranged through the entire canon of Western literature. As he comments: “The classics are the texts that always return, and this faithfulness is the best proof of their importance. I think that the most difficult poetry is meaning itself: words and their meaning amplify and justify our existence, make us understand that their life is our own that always returns to us in language, because we cannot do without them; everything we can know about ourselves has already been written by others.”

This is a radical stance, easily misinterpreted. If everything has already been said, what is the point of continuing to write? Here Giardinazzo defers to Kafka’s paradox: the writer is someone caught between the impossibility of writing and the impossibility of not writing. Endowed with an encyclopedic knowledge of literature, Giardinazzo has devoted most of his writing life to the works of others. With an intertextuality similar to Steiner’s, he has produced brilliant books and essays not only on the ancient Greeks, Dante, and Hölderlin, but also on Flaubert, D’Annunzio, Pound, Pascoli, W. C. Williams, Pirandello, Broch, Auden, Zanzotto, Pasolini, Heaney, and a host of other authors. As to his own poetry, it comes to him infrequently, when he is impelled by the “impossibility of not writing” a poem. He has never felt obliged to turn out poems merely so he can claim to be a “poet,” a word he discreetly avoids applying to himself.  But he will admit that apart from the Greco-Roman and foreign influences, his work has been most affected by Ungaretti and Sereni. Given his profound engagement with the Italian tradition, readers will not be surprised to catch echoes of the dolce stil novo as well. In our time, it takes courage to mark that allegiance with expressions like “graceful muse” and “fair hand,” though Giardinazzo uses them sparingly, and only to create a dissonance. Is this love poetry? “Perhaps,” he dryly replies, “but only when the love is already over. Could it be a case of ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’?”

Then Giardinazzo resorts to another dodge, moving from the particular to the general. “Poetry is a miracle, because it breaks with everything by changing the meaning of words — whether it’s a Greek lyric fragment, a stanza by Celan or an aphorism by Char, what happens is a true upheaval that can’t leave us indifferent. Ordinary time overflows with something that goes beond the finite, that stamps an event with unforgettable grace: you have to shed what you know and accept the improbability of what you have lived.” To underline his point, he appeals to another of the poets he most admires. “To speak with Wallace Stevens, the ‘persuasive music’ of great poetry is something we cannot help but pay attention to — enormous attention.” Finally, he circles back to where he began. “Maybe this is what makes Bartleby’s phrase even more necessary, if we understand it as a refusal to refuse possibility. In that sense, like him, ‘I would prefer not to.’”

Ten poems | Original text | Index


Hoyt Rogers has published a poetry collection, Witnesses, and a volume of criticism, The Poetics of Inconstancy. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in many periodicals. He translates from the French, German, Italian, and Spanish. His translations include the Selected Poems of Borges and three books by Yves Bonnefoy, The Curved Planks, Second Simplicity, and The DigammaOpenwork, an André du Bouchet reader, will be published in 2014. He lives in the Dominican Republic and Italy.

 

 

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