Tag Archives: Ungaretti

Tens of books


There is a current trend on social media, mostly Facebook, that challenges people to come up with a list of ten books that have somehow influenced, stuck and hold a special place with them. A friend of mine, Hazel, included me in it, but as I am not usually willing to adhere to ‘chains’, I decided to update the lonely, dusty blog instead.

To actually force myself to provide something meatier, however, I’ve tried to track down the origin of the books too, and therefore to whom I am grateful for the suggestion or gift. So thank you, various people who enabled my reading. It paid off, a bit.

In no particular order:

The Giver (1993), by Lois Lowry. Given to me by my mum, part of a postal reading subscription. Fairly simple, heavily criticised, still to the point (and I am dreading the film adaptation). What if we all were the same, and the price was that we forget our past, for better or worse? And what if you and you alone were forced to remember for everyone?

Blankets (2003), by Craig Thompson. Part of an Italian series that came with a newspaper, introducing to graphic novels from around the world; this version was by Elena Fattoretto (2004). Growing up in a not-officially-Catholic-but-who-are-we-kidding country, the book screamed at me with Craig’s struggle with his belief, relationship to his family, and absolutely stunning artwork. The first book that I remember making me cry.

Comme un Roman (1992), by Daniel Pennac. First read in Yasmina Melaouah’s (1993) Italian translation. A gift from my dad, after I stole most of his Pennac books. A non-fictional essay by a reader for readers about reading, and the source of the excellent Rights of the Reader (also the title of Sarah Adams’ translation), made into a poster by Quentin Blake.

A Monster Calls (2011), by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay, based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd. Suggested by BJ Epstein, my academic supervisor, for a reading group. I fell in love with it, I cried, I was terrified of going to sleep, I found my displaced anger in the boy and the monster, and felt ashamed of it all, and loved it even more.

The Incredible Hulk #377 (1991), by Peter David, Dale Keown, Bob McLeod, Glynis Oliver. No idea where I first read this one, but I’ve been searching a copy as far as I can remember, and finally obtained one this year. How to control and convert multiple angry, out-of-control personalities into one complete (green) being.

Baol. Una tranquilla notte di regime (1990), by Stefano Benni. Probably also a gift from my dad, as I also stole all his Benni books. One of the most surreal, caustic, irreverent, profane, political works by Benni, and a really short read that has yet to make it into English. But it travels with me whenever I move house, and I have been compared to the main character by some of my friends in the past. For yet unexplained reasons.

Hyperion (1989), by Dan Simmons. Recommended by an Italian writer friend, who specifically asked me not to read the translation. I devoured this one and its three sequels over a summer, and I was brought back into sci-fi literature, reminded of what it can really do with notions of genre, canon and technology. And the horror of the Shrike.

L’Allegria (1931), by Giuseppe Ungaretti. Cultural baggage, Ungaretti permeates Italian literary education. One of my favourite collections of Italian poetry, and the first venture into literary translation as part of my undergraduate dissertation. War poetry, but not quite. Hermetic poetry, but not quite. Resonant poetry – quite.

Written on the Body (1993), by Jeanette Winterson. My first purchase in English that was not via my mum or aunt. I cried on the plane back to Italy during a school trip reading it. Poetry based on medical language, my introduction to queer literature and a tagline that still makes me shiver: why is the measure of love loss?

W;t (1995), by Margaret Edson. Part of a module about teachers and teaching I took at the University of Leeds, by Denis Flannery. A one-act play dealing with words, language, poetry, literature, life, death and punctuation, as Professor Vivian Bearing deals with ovarian cancer and the joys of healthcare and John Donne. Emma Thompson’s TV movie rendition is devastating, too.

Honourable mentions: Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Mike Carey, Peter Gross et al’s Lucifer and The Unwritten, Deborah Levy’s Things I don’t want to know, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bà’s Daytripper, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses.

Now, what does this tell me? I wasn’t exposed to or sought out enough diversity (gender, ethnicity, you name it) growing up, and much of what I did read then did not make as big an impact as what I was immersed in during my university years. I have been addressing the issue, especially of recent with the ReadWomen2014 and WomenInTranslation initiatives, and several translations I read of some of the books above were indeed by women. I am part of the Readers Circle in Norwich, which seeks out the best new books available over the course of a year, and pushes us beyond our comfort reading zones. I am translating a series of poems by Italian women poets for The Norwich Radical, to bring more of their writing into English, and research the field more myself. I am following Malorie Blackman’s work on diversity in YA, and wholeheartedly support it.

But those are the ten books so far. Any further recommendations, as always, are more than welcome.



San Martino del Carso

Of these houses
nothing left
but some
shred of wall

Of many
who wrote back
nothing left
nothing at all

But no cross is missing
in my heart

The country most in mourning
is my heart
Dulce et Decorum Est

Piegati in due, mendicanti sotto stracci
Ginocchia nodose, tosse di strega, nella melma bestemmiando
Fino al volgere delle schiene agli spettrali razzi
E verso il lontano riposo ci incamminammo.
Uomini marciano nel sonno. Molti a stivali rotti
Ma sanguinolenti tentennano avanti, mutilati, cecati
Ebbri di stanchezza, sordi anche ai botti
Di stanchi, sfiniti bossoli dietro a loro lanciati.

Gas! Gas! Presto, ragazzi! — Frenesia d’armeggiare,
Sistemando appena in tempo gli elmetti;
Ma ancora fuori si sentono urla e l’inciampare
di chi annaspa, come di fiamme infetti.

Fioco, tra vetri offuscati e densa verde luce
Come sotto un verde mare, lo vidi affogare.

In ogni mio sogno, la mia vista debole lo conduce
a lanciarmisi contro, sempre a soffrire, sempre ad affogare.

Se in sogni soffocanti anche voi poteste marciare
Dietro al carro su cui lo avevamo caricato ,
E vederne degli occhi bianchi nel viso l’agitare,
Quel viso spento, come un diavolo stanco del peccato;
Se poteste dai polmoni schiumanti gorgogliare
Sentire, ad ogni scossa, il sangue
osceno come un cancro, acre come lo scoppiare
Di orrende, incurabili piaghe su innocenti lingue,—
Amici miei, non saltereste dall’ovest all’est
A raccontare a giovani in preda a disperati ardori
L’antica bugia: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Part I is here.



Because it’s 2014, because I loathe the rhetoric building up again in the UK (and beyond), because I cannot believe some people can be so devious and twisted, because Kitchener was chosen for coins.

San Martino del Carso

Di queste case
non è rimasto
che qualche
brandello di muro

Di tanti
che mi corrispondevano
non è rimasto
neppure tanto

Ma nel cuore
nessuna croce manca

E’ il mio cuore
il paese più straziato

(G. Ungaretti – 1916)

Perché è il 2014, e in parti d’Europa si iniziano a ‘celebrare’ i 100 anni dell’inizio della prima guerra mondiale. Perché c’è una retorica in Europa che mette i brividi. Perché non si dimentichi.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

(W. Owen – 1917)



Da che Macondo torni, girovago
qual ragione ti ha stretto a sé
tenendoti un giorno ancora.

Da che Wandernburg parti, girovago
quali incontri ti hanno preso
danzando sulla pista notturna.

Da che città invisibile ti separi, girovago
quanti ricordi lasci dietro te
riportando solo memorie in bassa risoluzione.

Da che Altroquando scappi, girovago
quali paure e problemi abbandoni
sperando di nascondere le tue tracce.

Da che Londra di Sotto arrivi, girovago
e per quanto ancora cercherai nuove mete
tracciando sentieri nelle pagine d’atlante
scomparendo dietro la curva, al giro d’un altro giorno.

Dove te ne andrai, girovago, al prossimo capitolo?

NaPoWriMo Day 19 – Wanderer (Ungaretti)


I felt like another translation, this week.


No piece
of land
can I
my home

For each
I meet
I pine
once before
already I had been

And I always leave
a stranger

Being born
changed by ages too

To enjoy just one
instant of life

I seek an innocent

NaPoWriMo Day 12 – Fiumi II


Erano tue le acque straniere
contate nel flusso continuo
di lacrime e sangue dei tuoi compagni?

Era tuo il compito di tessere
le fibre universali
in un’unica, tragica storia?

Erano tuoi i ricordi
di schiene curve sui campi
e braccia stanche?

Era tuo il ramo spezzato
tuo il sasso frastagliato
tua la giovinezza riarsa?

Era tuo il dolore
di non appartenere
di non sentire
di non credere?

Quante altre storie
sopravvissute, mai scritte
affluiscono allo stesso fiume?


This is a response to Giuseppe Ungaretti’s I Fiumi, from a prompt by Jo Bell.

Risposta a I Fiumi di Giuseppe Ungaretti, su un’idea di Jo Bell per il giorno 12 di NaPoWriMo.

After Ungaretti


Maybe Rises

There is the haze that erases us

A river maybe rises up here

I listen to the song of the sirens
of the lake where the city was

G. Ungaretti

There is a lake, there is a city
and the city was her universe.
The lake wasn’t always a lake;
at times, it was a
green patch of grass.
She wouldn’t have known.
But the city is a city
as only a city can be.
The streets spiral out
galaxies and systems without stars.
She stares unto the river
of people, running through, flowing freely
onto the patch of grass
which at times is a lake.
She can’t see the crowd
for the people.
But she thinks she can hear
a song from the lake,
and the song flows back
from the lake to the city
sounding its sirens
as it runs on its path.
There was a lake
there was a city
and the universe
was hers.