Oh, in case you were wondering what I'm doing here in Rome, it's kind of a funny story. I married my translator. We met in Baltimore at a party that was very much populated by many good poets. At some point, I was introduced to Damiano Abeni (research doctor by day, poetry translator by night, I was told). Damiano started telling us about the edition of Elizabeth Bishop that he and two other translators, Riccardo Duranti and Ottavio Fatica, had just published with Biblioteca Adelphi (a very fine house by the way). But the really amazing thing was that the first printing of 5000 sold out within a couple of weeks, and it immediately went into a second printing. It's still unbelievable to look at the publication page of the second edition: First printing, January 2006. Second printing, February 2006. How often does that happen with a book of poetry?
Meantime, yes, we started dating, or I wouldn't be telling this story. After about a week, we were to meet up at the Cat's Eye in Fells Point, Baltimore, a pub into which I'd been crawling for many more years than it was legal for me to do so. Damiano was already there, and pulled out of his backpack a translation of one of my poems, carefully lettered onto heavy ivory stock. Yes, this is one direct path to a poet girl's heart.
I'm still trying to describe the very weird sensation of reading one of your own poems in a language you don't know so well. At that point, I had a little bit of Italian still resident in my brain from when I lived here as a child, and I'd studied other languages along the way. But to be able to read fluently, because you've written the thing, in a language that you CAN'T actually read: it's very visceral, like you're reading through your bones and gut instead of through your eyes and brain or something. No, that's still not quite right. I'll get it someday.
Since then, I've learned a lot more Italian, and he's still translating. In fact, poor guy, I've given him a translation interview questionnaire, which he's been working on these past few days, and in a later post or two, I/we will talk about poets he's translated, not to mention work we've done together (like the John Ashbery book, link to which Stacey was kind to put up a few weeks ago). But for now, I'll give you an example close to home. AND it's a sonnet, a form near and dear to my heart that can, as you know, be less than a picnic to translate.
This is a naughty little thing by the way; I excuse myself in advance. Thanks to Innisfree.com for putting it up the first time, and to Lo Straniero for publishing the Italian version.
At 3 a.m.
And when my cell phone vibrates in the dark,
its alien green eye blinking me awake,
I hardly start. My past, both near and far,
at these hours never lets me get away.
He’s drunk and lonely, wants to hear my voice,
although I’m guessing he could wake his wife
and do to her in person what he enjoys
explaining he would like to do to me. Night
can come on heavy, I’m first to admit,
the sheets twisted around you like a noose.
But I’m getting too old for this late-night shit
and being his 1-900 number muse.
I tell him I can’t talk; I’m not alone.
Truth is, these nights I’m sleeping with my poems.
* * *
ALLE 3 DI NOTTE
E quando il mio cellulare vibra al buio,
l’occhio verde, alieno, che sbatte e mi sveglia
mi sommuove appena. Il mio passato, prossimo, remoto,
a quest’ora non mi lascia sfuggire.
E’ sbronzo, solo, vuole sentire la mia voce,
anche se penso potrebbe svegliare la moglie
e con lei in persona soddisfare quelle voglie
che gli piace dire gli piacerebbe soddisfare con me.
La notte può scendere pesante, credo lo si sappia,
lenzuola attorte addosso come un cappio.
Non ho più l’età per queste stronzate, di notte o di giorno,
né per essere la sua musa da telefono porno.
Gli dico che non posso parlare, sono in compagnia.
Davvero, queste notti vado a letto con la mia poesia.
* * *
Though there's no shortage of porn opportunities in Italy, the phrase "1-900 number" doesn't mean anything here. I like what he did with those lines, bending it a little to get the "di notte o di giorno," which of course sets up the rhyme for "musa da telefono porno."
He'll tell you more about such things later this week, but I wanted to point out the nice way he keeps the rhyme and the integrity of the final couplet. Instead of saying exactly "I'm not alone," it's flipped to say something more like "I have company," "sono in compagnia," which clicks home nicely with "con la mia poesia."
And yes, the rhyme scheme shimmies around in the quatrains in the Italian, but I don't mind; I think the "sonnetness" of the poem is held very much intact. (But Amy! Denise! if he translates any of your ABBA poems, we'll be sure that that doesn't happen;)