Please excuse my radio silence, which was mostly due to having spent the past couple of weeks bopping around with my mother, who timed her visit to coincide with two Bob Dylan concerts here (one in Rome, one in Florence) and who had never been to Paris and decided that her daughter would be a good tour guide. (Thanks Mom!) Well, Florence was evocative and lovely as usual, and the City of Light was its usual beautiful and welcoming self (I say that with no irony; I love Paris). More on close encounters with Dante, Petrarch, and Montaigne later, but for now, here is the funny story about Her Royal Highness (Ma'am), the Keats-Shelley House, and poetry prizes.
I am so sad to hear of the death of Deborah Digges. She was one of my professors at Columbia; in fact, she was the instructor of my very first graduate workshop. Over those months, she made a couple of infinitely useful comments about my work, things I still sometimes think about when writing, and certainly when teaching. Another thing she often did was to credit the "source" of a particular assignment or prompt or way of looking at a poem. "This came from Larry Levis," or "This is what Gerry Stern said about..." I think it's valuable to pass that information on to students, to let them know they're part of a continuum of poets and teachers.
I always loved her poem "My Amaryllis," which first appeared in Ploughshares and then in The Best American Poetry 1992 (edited by Charles Simic). Here it is.
Many thanks to the people who've written to ask if we're ok. We are fine here in Rome, and feeling very grateful for that.
I wrote about the days we spent in L'Aquila back in the fall, when we visited with Mark Strand, who was there to receive a prize sponsored by the town. As part of this prize, the poet is asked to speak to high school students, and to prisoners, in addition to giving a reading in a more traditional setting. We met so many lovely people who were not just amazingly kind and generous to us, but who consistently showed us the great love that they have for their beautiful city.
You've seen the pictures. There are people who've lost everything. Last death toll: 179. My heart and prayers go out to them.
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.
who, bloody hell, can't seem to get the pretty images from the YouTube into her post.
Meanwhile, I have me' annual Spring Cold that has fallen upon the very Saint's Day of my Persuasion, so Damiano and I are not out celebrating with the many Irish who live in this town, nor with the Italians who are Irish on this One Day in the Pubs, so instead we've been a-singin' and a-dancin' at home to these:
Pretty good stuff, at La Barrique on via del Boschetto
When I write that inevitable, _I Moved to Italy and Now I Have to Write a Book About It_ book, an entire chapter is going to be devoted to Raffaele and Sandro, our butchers. Their shop is on the storefront street level of our block, and it is a "veritable cornucopia" not only of really exceptional meats (vegetarians, don't fear, I won't talk about that right now), but it also has an entire wall of great wines, many of which are absolutely affordable, and even the top ones are always in the "best value" category; and they carry cheeses from Sardegna and Puglia; and Carnaroli, the best rice in the world for making risotto; and amazing sausages from Calabria and Tuscany (the latter made from Chianina beef); and I could go on and on here, but instead I will do that in the inevitable book.
Now, however, I write about Raffaele and Sandro because the other night, they hosted a "degustazione" in a gallery/performance space right downstairs, and it was one of the best social gatherings that I've attended since I've lived here. When I was in the States last month, I noticed that Americans (in spite of everything going on right now!) smile frequently. You look at them, they smile. Romans, not so much. You look at them and they ignore you, or they scowl, or they check you out to see that you don't match up to their Prada expectations. But at this festive "degustazione," everyone was smiling. And, according to our host Raffaele, the evening wasn't over until we had some poetry!
["I summon to the winding ancient stair"? no, we went round the long way. Perugia at night]
These days, for me, jet lag in this direction is much worse than jet lag going to the States. Going that way, my clock is just a little off, so I get to pretend that I'm a morning person (ha!) But coming back this way, I zap right up at 3 in the morning and I'm wide awake until 5 or 6. I'm only happy about this now because it gives me more time to read Words in Air, the letters between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, as I'm sure you know, and if you haven't gone out and plonked down the 45 dollars (or however many Euro it was; I think we got it through Amazon.France--quelle bonne idee pour nous expatries! and I'm not putting in the diacritics because they mess up everything!), please do.
It's a wonderful book, full of humor and love, intelligence, pathos and literary gossip. Last night, for example, I went from EB saying "I feel awful about Hemingway's suicide" to talking about organizing the gift of a Brazilian dress for little Harriet Lowell: "Or how about a monkey instead of a new dress? He would adore your various typewriters and might learn to pick out Beat poetry." Yes that was EB, not me!
[another photo of Mark Strand & Damiano Abeni by Mario Ventura]
Just for fun, and/or if you happen to be studying Italian, you now have the opportunity to listen to two interviews with Mark and Damiano on RAI, the Italian national radio and TV network. Links below.
Damiano Abeni and Mark Strand (photo by Mario Ventura)
Well, that was fun! The Cultural Center Foundation of the St. Stephen's School was the setting for a very nice reading by Mark Strand. Reprising my role as reading-hostess-lady, I had the pleasure of introducing; then Mark and Damiano read, in English first, followed by Damiano's Italian translations.
During the reading, I was standing over by the book table, looking out at the audience. It was wonderful to see, in addition to students, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and butchers, something like a Who's Who of contemporary Italian poets, writers, critics, and publishers. I had an irrational doom& gloom flash (I don't know, is it being Irish that puts these weird thoughts into my head?), similar to the one I had many years ago at the 92nd Street Y, when almost all of the poets who had each translated a Canto of the Inferno were in the same place at the same time: Please God don't let the ceiling fall in, what would we do for poetry?