People often ask, "So how's the poetry scene in Rome?" and of course there are two very different answers. I'd say the Italian poetry scene is pretty lively, with a lot of young and/or energetic poets who also edit, publish, write criticism, and give lots of readings in various venues around town. In fact, one of our friends, Marco Giovenale, and several other Italian poets, will be giving readings sponsored by Poets House in New York in May. So go if you can!
The answer to the other question, as to how the English-language poetry scene is doing, well, let's say it's a work in progress. But progress is being made. Just the other week, for example, I was able to welcome my house-guest Claudette by saying, "We're going to a poetry reading tonight!" We took the #3 to Trastevere and walked over the wobbly-cobbles to John Cabot University. There, Carlos Dews artfully introduced Robert Polito, who was reading from his new book, Hollywood & God, which, if you don't already have, you should go out and buy.
The poems and prose that Robert read took us all over the allusion map, from Elvis to Jesus, though come to think of it, that might not be such a long journey (Frank Bidart says that "[i]n the America of these poems, the obsession with celebrity and the yearning toward God constantly threaten to turn into each other"). Of the many lines I loved, these in particular (from the poem "Hollywood & God") yanked my heart-strings hard:
"In the movie of my life,
my father died
after I forgave him..."
And Robert ended the reading with "Shame," the wonderfully complicated, evocative prose piece that also concludes the book. You know those good readingexperiences you sometimes have, when you're sitting there with your brain in some alpha-wave state, and the reader's rhythms and images swirl around and bounce productively off of your own thoughts -- and you just want to go home and write! but usually you can't! -- it was one of those evenings. Thank you, Robert.
[and now to the pizza portion of our program]
I couldn't go home and write that night because house-guest Claudette was not only hungry but had decided that, while she was here, she would try as many versions of tiramisu as she could. But it was also my job--especially in the wake of the most recent New York Times article on the ever-raging debate about the best trattoria in Rome-- to make sure that she sampled as many Roman specialties as she could. So we ended up at Grappolo d'oro Zampano', right across the cobbles from Ditirambo (my favorite, which was quite packed) on Piazza della Cancelleria. Claudette had a wicked good "tonnarelli cacio e pepe" and she was not at all disappointed with her first local venture into tiramisu. (Obviously, if you are coming to Rome, please write to me and ask for specifics, should you wish them!)
And the following night, I was happy to introduce Robert to some of our friends from Rome. We all met up at Bir e Fud in Trastevere. How to describe this place? Slow food pizza and beer, I guess, which hardly does it: amazing "artisanal" beers (mine was "My Antonia") and pizza that's all "bio" including the yeast that causes the crispy-bready crust to rise. They don't have a huge menu: the standard pizza choices (Margherita, Margherita doppio if you want more cheese), capricciosa (which is the really decadent one with everything: a little prosciutto, mozzarella, some artichokes, olives, mushrooms, an egg (!) -- which I had, and it was really good), etc. Our "dining companions"/my gal pals Elizabeth and Margaret ordered a crostino with ciauscolo (soft, spreadable, tasty sausage) and stracchino (soft, spreadable, tasty cheese) (soft, spreadable, and tasty being the crostino theme of the evening); they are extraordinarily nice gal pals and they shared with us. Damiano suggested that he and I go back some time and forget the pizza, just have the antipasti. Fine by me!!
Meanwhile, yr trusty European correspondent, whose brain has been bent absolutely sideways by fixing up a translation about the restoration of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and who managed to get up at 6:30 this morning for a visit to the Immigration Police to be fingerprinted and such, and who is sniffly from the second cold in as many weeks, needs to get off to sleep. Buona notte a tutti, and more on pizza, pasta, and poetry soon!