Damiano Abeni is an epidemiologist who has been translating American poetry into Italian for 35 years. With Mark Strand, he co-edited West of Your Cities, an anthology featuring many of the poets who have edited volumes of Best American Poetry. Here are his twenty questions responses:
1. What poet should be in Obama’s cabinet, and in what role?
Bob Dylan, Minister of Culture
Mark Strand, Minister of Monuments
John Ashbery, Minister of Charts
Charles Wright, Minister of the Four Seasons
Jorie Graham, Minister of the Environment
Moira Egan, Minister of Love
2. If you could send Obama one poem or book of poems (not your own), what would it be and why?
“For the Union Dead.” The fundamental poetic act of Robert Lowell is in the epigraph of the poem: “Relinquit Omnia Servare Rem Publicam” on the St. Gaudens’ monument becomes “Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam” in his poem or, better, before his poem. The switch from singular to plural is one of the greatest possible teachings, and certainly something that a leader should always bear in mind before taking any decision.
3. What other poetry-related blog or website should I check out?
The Flux I Share
4. Who is the most exciting young/new poet I’ve never heard of, but whose work I ought to find and read?
Massimo Gezzi and Antoine Cassar and Marco Giovenale.
5. What’s the funniest poem you’ve read lately? What was the last poem that made you cry?
Funniest: Greg Williamson, A Most Marvelous Piece of Luck – Time, Space, you name it.
Cry: Anthony Hecht, Behold the Lilies of the Field.
6. William or Dorothy? Robert or Elizabeth Barrett? Moore or Bishop? Dunbar or Cullen? “Poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully” or “No ideas but in things”? Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas or Tender Buttons?
William, Elizabeth, Elizabeth, tied, resist (always!), Tender.
7. Robert Lowell wrote a poem called “Falling Asleep Over the Aeneid.” What supposedly immortal poem puts you to sleep?
Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, The Metamorphoses, Divina Commedia, Gerusalemme Liberata, Paradise Lost... I was never able to read any of those in a single night without falling asleep.
8. Even for poetry books, the contract has a provision for movie rights. What poetry book should they make into a movie? Who should direct it, and why? Who should star in it?
The Changing Light at Sandover. Director: Matteo Garrone, for his ability to merge matter-of-factness and magic. Starring: Johnny Depp and Jim Belushi, plus a cast of thousands playing a cast of thousands of dead poets and others.
9. What lines from a poem you first read years ago still haunt you now?
Et qu’un jour le monsieur candide / De toi dise – Infect! Ah splendide! (Tristan Corbière)
E bianca e lieve e attonita sali’ (Dino Campana)
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked (Allen Ginsberg)
This was our ambition: to be small and clear and free (John Ashbery)
10. What poem do you love, love, love, but don’t understand?
“The Pleasures of Merely Circulating” (Wallace Stevens)
13. This is the Best American Poetry blog. What’s the best non-American poetry you’ve read lately?
Paul Celan, Vladimir Holan, Georg Trakl, Dino Campana.
Contemporary?: Antonella Anedda, Fabio Pusterla, Geoffrey Hill.
17. Tell the truth: is it a poetry book you keep in the john, or some other genre (john-re)?
18. Can you name every teacher you had in elementary school? Did any of them make you memorize a poem? What poem(s)?
Yes I can. Yes they did. I don’t remember (actually..., among many: Pianto Antico, by Giosue’ Carducci; Il Gelsomino Notturno, by Giovanni Pascoli).
19. If you got to choose the next U.S. Poet Laureate, who (excluding of course the obvious candidates, you and me) would it be? Of former U.S. Poet Laureates, who did such a great job that he/she should get a second term? Next election cycle, what poet should run for President? Why her or him?
Bob Dylan – just think of the impact
20. Insert your own question here.
“But how can I be in this bar and also be a recluse?”