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Moira Egan, European Correspondent

"That grand old Irish / Italian tradition" [by Moira Egan]


One of the great things about being an American poet who happens to live in Rome is the proximity to the American Academy in Rome. In recent years, things have become even better for us poetry-loving Romans, thanks to AAR trustee William B. Hart, who endowed an eponymous Residency for a senior poet to join the community at the Academy. 

Karl Kirchwey, poet, professor, and, for these past three years, Heiskell Arts Director at the AAR, has provided some wonderful programming in conjunction with the poets' visits (a remembrance of Brodsky, readings and seminars on and in translation [Italian/English and Polish/English], and the fascinating facets and various reworkings of the Ovidian oeuvre, for example). 

Poets who have been lured to Rome by this fellowship include Jorie Graham, Derek Walcott, Robert Hass, and, most recently, Seamus Heaney. And you can well imagine the thrill that passed through the DNA of this Irish lass when it was announced that Mr. Heaney would be the Hart Poet in Residence for 2013! 
I was able to attend two of Heaney's readings, one down at the Casa delle Letturature in the centro, and one up at the Academy. I still get a wee thrill hearing poems I love and have taught when they are read in the poet's own voice, in person. (And yes, I'm thinking here in an Irish accent.) "Digging" was particularly lovely to hear, because it reminds me of the epiphanic gleam that occurs in some students' eyes when they first "get" the idea of metaphor through this poem. Other Greatest Heaney Hits included "Oysters," "The Haw Lantern," and his own take on Dante's Ugolino. To the delight of quite a few audience members, he read "The Skunk," billed on the interwebs as "a very sexy poem." 

He also read his sestina, "Two Lorries," which, not surprisingly, got my translating husband to thinking about translating it. So we did. (Mostly he did, this time; I was still grading.) 

Think about this when you think about translating a sestina. We are so spoiled by the flexibility that we have in English. One aspect of this is how many words remain the same, even when they're being used as different parts of speech: play, work, love. In Italian (and other languages too, of course) a noun is a noun and a verb is a verb -- which must also be conjugated. Yikes. 

Here you can listen to "Two Lorries" in English, read by Seamus Heaney. 
And here it is in Italian, version by Damiano Abeni. You will notice an interesting sestina cheat, which I think works well. Enjoy!

Seamus Heaney


Piove sul carbone nero e sulla calda, umida cenere.
Nel cortile tracce di gomme: il vecchio camion
ha le sponde abbassate e Agnew il carbonaio
col suo accento di Belfast fa la corte a mia madre.
Le andrebbe di vedere un film a Magherafelt?
Ma piove e lui ha ancora metà del carbone
da consegnare. Stavolta era nero-seta il filone
da cui hanno estratto il nostro carbone, così la cenere
sarà del bianco più sericeo. L’autobus per Magherafelt
(via Toomebridge) passa. Così mezzo vuoto, il camion
coi sacchi flosci, ripiegati, commuove mia madre:
amabili i modi, con quel suo grembiale di cuoio, del carbonaio!
Ma un film nientemeno! Presuntuoso d’un carbonaio …
Rientra e prende la carta smeriglio e lo spazzolone
con la grafite per lucidare la stufa questa madre
degli anni quaranta, e tenta di togliersi la cenere
col dorso della mano da una guancia, mentre il camion
richiuso fa manovra, riparte verso Magherafelt
per l’ultima consegna. Oh, Magherafelt!
Oh, sogno di velluti rossi e di un carbonaio
di città mentre il tempo scatta in avanti e un altro camion
romba feroce, lungo Broad Street, verso un’esplosione
che ridurrà la stazione degli autobus in polvere e cenere …
Dopo il disastro, mi comparve in visione mia madre,
morta-vivente sulla panchina dove la solevo incontrare
nella sala d’aspetto dal pavimento gelato a Magherafelt,
con le borse della spesa colme di palate di cenere.
La morte le passò accanto col volto di polvere come un carbonaio
che ripiega i sacchi dei cadaveri, impila con passione
vuoto su vuoto, in un tourbillon
di pulviscolo e rombi di motore, ma che camion
era adesso? Quello di Andrew o quello che, morta mia madre,
più pesante, più letale, doveva causare l’esplosione
in un tempo oltre il suo tempo a Magherafelt …
E allora conta i sacchi e fa’ la corte al buio, carbonaio,
ascolta la pioggia che schizza su nuova cenere
mentre sollevi il carico di polvere di carbone che fu Magherafelt,
poi ricompari da dietro il camion nei panni del carbonaio
da sogno di mia madre, sotto una pellicola bianco-sericea di cenere.

PS My first-ever birthday gift to Damiano was a copy of Heaney's New Selected Poems 1966-87. I was on a fellowship in Malta and English-language poetry books were few and far between. I felt lucky to have found it. Now it's an even nicer memory, signed by the author as well!
from the archive; first posted May 22,2013

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September 15, 2015

December 03, 2014

August 30, 2014

November 28, 2013

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August 08, 2012

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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