In questo stesso blog è stata pubblicata la sintesi in lingua italiana, tratta da quella più articolata, in lingua inglese, della silloge poetica IT'S STARLIGHT, THOUGH di Roberto Vittorio Di Pietro, solo che era visibile in fotografia, e non molto leggibile. Qui presento la versione originale in lingua inglese e la sintesi, in lingua italiana, realizzata in forma volantino dalla casa editrice L'ARMATTAN.
Vi rimando ai precedenti articoli:
As modern things grow old,
old things will come into fashion again.
F O R E W O R D
While most of the poems included in this selection were previously conceived, written, and published in the Italian language, they in no way reflect a simple translation exercise. If anything, they may perhaps be described as “imitations” of themselves, in the sense that Robert Lowell attached to this word. In each single case, as I attempted to recapture the spiritual mood and creative stimuli which had prompted the original version, I increasingly realised -- or rather found corroboration to one of my firm beliefs -- that the very use of a different language opens up unpredictable vistas in terms of “re-experiencing” one’s thoughts and conveying related emotions. This, I think, proves especially true with multilingual speakers/writers who have also developed sufficient familiarity with the specific cultural heritage underlying the bare structural patterns (grammar, syntax, vocabulary, idioms...) in any of the various languages they may otherwise have mastered; and the additional awareness of such extra-linguistic discrepancies is of course all the more relevant when the alternative communication vehicle is poetry – which, to a considerable degree, does qualify as “rhythmic creation of beauty”, in the charming definition offered by Edgar A. Poe.
Metrical rhythm is indeed a factor which I had basically favoured in the Italian original; and this again (appropriately readjusted, not seldom as a function of new correlative ideas and imagery) will be found to constitute a pivot in the English poems collected in this book. A deliberate choice, in either case; and, if I may say, a provocative one as well, current art trends being what they are, and generally alike on an international scale. Even though my personal approach to poetry is anything but idly aesthetic – i.e., the appreciation or pursuit of “fine tinkling rhyme...with now and then some sense”, to quote Ben Jonson’s debatable if possibly tongue-in-cheek remark, in the same way that it was not for poets and critics such as T. S. Eliot, for instance, who, to my mind, most rightly re-affirmed the value of pithy contents as opposed to pleasing but often weightless words -- I am still inclined to believe that our advanced postmodern artistic efforts should not too flippantly neglect some of the peculiarities of sound and rhythm that made poetry identifiable as such from time immemorial, and perceptibly distinguishable from otherwise well-turned “imaginative” prose. “Words without thoughts never to heaven go”: quite true, I must say on the one hand; but still, on the other hand, much as proverbs are aimed at propounding pieces of practical wisdom in a type of phrasing which can be the more easily memorised by virtue of its sheer ring, I feel that poetry – even in its higher aspirations and accomplishments – should have a fairly similar appeal if it is to prove comparably effective with readers at large. And, oddly enough, I am thinking of today’s poetry readers in the lower age bracket -- “the younger generation of slogan-and-jingle enthusiasts”, as present-day sociologists occasionally choose to describe them, hopefully with matter-of-fact professional insight and none of those undesirable judgmental implications which I entirely disclaim. Who could, in fact, deny that traditional nursery rhymes, or Edward Lear’s captivating “Book of nonsense”, or the catchy tunefulness characterising the so-called “Songs” from Shakespeare’s plays, normally would cast a quite similar spell over the more sensitive English-speaking children and musically inclined teenagers until perhaps only a few decades ago? Human nature no doubt carries inborn aesthetic needs, instinctive and unchangeable even though taste may continually vary in the way such needs are best fulfilled.
First-priority status for contents, then; but with an eye to other equally decisive values, in my opinion. For purposes of this argument, let me cite as a case in point the results achieved by William Butler Yeats, who unquestionably remains for twentieth-century English poetry the great alternative to the influence of Eliot. Yeats admittedly revealed a dual nature in his poetic personality. Whereas he championed and pursued visionary art, and of the greatest magnitude, at the same time he certainly did display a strong streak of realism and a sense for the mundane “here and now” as a likewise rich source of philosophic investigation. But, whether he grappled with rarefied esoteric symbolism or more down-to-earth speculation, or, intriguingly, a subtle juxtaposition of both, his most memorable lines invariably show him to be quite conscious of the fact that verse hardly proves worthy of such a name unless Poe’s “romantic” idea of poetry, as quoted above, to some extent is also brought into play.
And, with a backward leap in time and space, I daresay that the masterpieces of Dante or Shakespeare, notably and justly viewed by T. S. Eliot as unsurpassed -- or of the English so-called “metaphysical poets”, whom he likewise commended and held up as models, for that matter – are only pearls of the first water in an otherwise genuine and valuable international golden treasury through which we could still randomly verify in what measure the most profound “music of ideas” can be sought without the qualifying traits of poetic diction having to be necessarily sacrificed, let alone jettisoned as a superseded, cumbersome appendage, as far and wide they now unfortunately tend to be regarded. Moreover, with this specific purpose in mind, should one wish to consult even an anthology of Eliot’s own production, would his innovative “non-romantic” type of verse after all not reveal a perfect chemistry combining inner music with some of the otherwise distinctive surface rhythms of traditional poetry? As one example out of many, the very structure of “Preludes” (which displays carefully arranged sequences of iambic tetrameters, one would observe) surely provides pertinent evidence and interesting food for thought.
This leads me to some considerations on the fortune of the iambic pentameter in particular. Correctly enough, as several literary authorities have tended to remark, this ever-favourite in English and Anglo-American literature may have somewhat overreached itself since becoming the cloying stock-in-trade of some of the less inspired Victorian versifiers in particular. However, despite such possible mishaps, it should still be remembered that this measure, alternatively with its cognate blank verse (or unrhymed heroic, first introduced in England in the early sixteenth century through the translation of Virgil’s Aeneid by Henry Howard, earl of Surrey), has long stood as the regular one in English lyrical, dramatic, and epic poetry -- just as its approximate Italian equivalent, more usually ending with an amphibrachic foot (endecasillabo rimato/sciolto), gloriously held its own for centuries. For this reason, too, in line with my taste for constructively unconventional undertakings, I have rather single-mindedly, though not exclusively, revived this “old-timer” in my more recent Italian – and now English – experiments with “antiquated” prosody, on the whole as intentionally outdated as my bold use of punctuation throughout.
The rejection of traditional discipline in poetry writing may or may not be entirely traceable to Arthur Rimbaud’s subversive appeal for a “raisonné dérèglement de tous les sens” (1871). In France at least, the poèmes en prose of both Louis Bertrand (Aloysius) and Charles Baudelaire are sometimes indicated as earlier transgressive steps, although comparatively mild ones, in the same direction. One less controversial fact remains and is worth reviewing. Rimbaud’s personal option can hardly be stigmatised as arbitrary, or his official move as inconsiderate in his days. Why so? Even in his rebellious attitude as a born maverick, the French poet quite lucidly set out to confront a specific aesthetic issue which then revolved around the following fundamental questions: “Can poetic diction not be vested with an ulterior sense lying beyond the plain traditional meaning of words? Can a poetic text not be conceived wherein the ‘logical’ priority of word meaning as the mainstay of significant verbal communication is bypassed or disrupted?” Whether or not these theoretical queries actually met with an adequate solution in his poetic achievements in the last analysis is of no concern for our purposes here; what needs to be emphasised, instead, is that they did represent a genuine problem to the author’s conscience. Also, much like the painter Pablo Picasso in his own field, Rimbaud had indeed previously supplied unmistakable proof of his skills as a consummate artist well-versed in classical versification (particularly after the fashion of Victor Hugo and the Parnassian School) -- which in itself vouches for his fundamental good faith in choosing to depart from contemporary standards. On the other hand, his well-reasoned manifesto (“raisonné” had been an appropriate adjective to define it), besides being the formalised public avowal of inner dictates which, as suggested, we have no cause to believe insincere, was after all no undesirable endeavour towards stirring up sluggish waters in the particular phase of European literary history when it was launched. That revolutionary manifold innovative project was soon to attract extensive supranational attention; but another noteworthy fact is that a tidal wave of enthusiasm for unrestrained ‘deregulation’ has been spreading infectiously, with a vengeance, ever since. To what extent is this ongoing phenomenon still as legitimate now as it once may have been?
As a rule, mass imitation in any sector entails a gradual corruption of the ideal prototype; and, what is worse, a progressive misunderstanding and final betrayal of the non-superficial reasons why, sometimes, the original model was no casual luck-of-the-draw business in its author’s mind, but simply had to be designed that way in the first place. More than a century later, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that a deterioration of that nature has meanwhile set in. A few gnawing doubts are inevitable – as they will be, whenever normally cyclical fashions somehow take too long to wear off, and whenever art works no longer appear to reflect their authors’ compelling and cogent individual motivations, but rather look like the product of some newly formed orthodoxy – or a new type of “fashionable” conformity the other way round, if you will. As this seems to be largely the case now (with signal exceptions confirming the rule, of course), a set of logical chain questions may result. How far – one wonders – does the current desire for ever greater emancipation stand as the truly creative postmodern artist’s rightful claim to freedom? And can this ongoing ‘deregulation’, based on a wild “anything-goes theory” at this juncture, be considered evidence of out-and-out freedom if it in fact hinges – paradoxically – on a rather authoritarian one-way tenet substantially upholding anti-traditional forms of expression as the only ones entitled to serious consideration or recognition by current aesthetic criteria? And what if, in itself, this peculiar unilateral tenet ultimately supporting a “trigger-happy, shell-shocked” type of style (to put it graphically) had by now possibly become a slick excuse, as it were, a fairly convenient blind for inherent technical/professional shortcomings otherwise too conspicuous? And can this disturbing assumption be dismissed as totally groundless? From my personal experience I can say perhaps not, even allowing for today’s incommensurate external pressures brought to bear on an artist’s behaviour -- e.g., a by now dutiful allegiance to hyper-naturalism in the arts, for one (chaos to be the most perfect picture of chaos?), along with other concomitant factors no doubt of equal relevance in twenty-first-century globalised culture, here being necessarily left in parentheses at the risk of shallowness. I insist perhaps not, should one stop to evaluate, if only in terms of common psychology, the possible significance of so many peevish, uncompromising, irrationally excessive and therefore typically suspicious reactions one too often comes up against when serenely inquiring of the “self-confident knowledgeable practitioners” (so to qualify them) a good enough reason why they must feel so obdurately opposed to even the bare fundamentals of traditional poetry – i.e., the minimum ingredients which, like it or not, have always made poetry an altogether different thing from fancy prose style in the end. The most blatant paradox we seem to be faced with nowadays is that, by common standards of criticism world-wide, the once endearing rules of that serious and noble “game” called poetry can in fact be scornfully pooh-poohed as “not only a ludicrous white elephant, but -- well, can’t you see it, my dear fellow? – intrinsically unpoetical.” Into the bargain! Adding insult to injury, as I feel it.
In any walk of life, updating the past does not amount to turning back the clock indiscriminately; it involves the delicate and difficult task of ascertaining which of the elements previously discarded may still be viable, and in what measure so, as against those which are instead fit to he shelved for good. When addressing postmodern poetry in particular, would this prove a hopeless enterprise? Or one still worth a try? Maybe not foredoomed to failure, if undertaken with an iota of good will and with all due humility, needless to say. I believe a boost to one’s undermined morale can constantly be derived from the following significant “statement of intents” by the famous Italian poet Umberto Saba (1883-1957), which I am here attempting to render into English verse as faithfully as possible (the italics are mine):
I cared for trite words no one dared to use;
I was enamoured with the rhyme true/blue --
the oldest in the world, the hardest yet.
Truth I did love, which lies at the deep bottom
much like some long-forgotten dream or other,
through sorrow re-discovered as a friend.
Presenting himself as a “shockingly anachronistic rhymester” in his days, Saba was in fact labelled as such and, to his dismay, unremittingly snubbed for many a long year in à la page literary circles. Nonetheless, whole-heartedly committed as he was to a quest for that elusive “truth” lying beneath the surface, he stood his ground – until he eventually came to be acknowledged as one of the foremost Italian poets of the past century. His fundamental devotion to that timeless “long-forgotten dream” to be re-explored in the face of more or less “fashionable” style, may well be considered a major theoretical lesson for postmodern artists in general. In practice, however, it could also be a perilous invitation if blindly taken up by dabblers with “trite words” who should fail to realise how much more is required to make a respectable, full-blooded poet in any case; and a challenge no doubt awesome for those who, like myself, are not quixotically unaware of their precarious condition as both truth-seekers and “non-conventional” postmodern versifiers.
It is a pity that writers should feel compelled to justify their views. It would be so much easier and less risky not to do so; but there it is. I am sure I have lamentably oversimplified a very complex issue on the whole – and, paradoxes being in question, undue simplification in a verbose manner (an oxymoron, good grief!) looks like a booby-trap I have most unforgivably fallen into. May at least the sincere emotional drive behind it all prove convincing enough to stimulate further in-depth investigation by literary theorists, as well as concrete counter-efforts at the hands of any present-day artists – tomorrow’s prospective white hopes? – whose natural poetic inclinations more or less disagree with aesthetic biases now so rife in this all-too-complacent age.
Roberto Di Pietro
SINTESI (SOTTO FORMA DI INSERTO/VOLANTINO)
USATA DALLA CASA EDITRICE “L’HARMATTAN”
PER ACCOMPAGNARE LA SILLOGE “IT’S STARLIGHT, THOUGH”
Se come utile riferimento cronologico volessimo assumere la datazione (1871) della “lettera del veggente” in cui il poeta francese Arthur Rimbaud notoriamente inneggiava alla necessità di un sovversivo “dérèglement de tous les sens” da parte dell’artista “moderno” -- e lo facessimo non solo per la vasta risonanza immediata di quello che doveva configurarsi come un manifesto letterario a tutti gli effetti, ma soprattutto in considerazione dei perduranti influssi a ben vedere sostanzialmente rintracciabili nella prevalente concezione dell’ars poetica contemporanea -- dovremmo concludere che l’affrancamento da qualsiasi vincolo formale nel “fare poesia moderna”, pur nella molteplicità delle successive correnti letterarie e degli esiti specifici che le contraddistinsero, alla fin fine sussiste come percorso estetico pressoché obbligato da ormai più di un secolo a questa parte. In rapporto alle leggi naturali della ciclicità, un fenomeno di straordinaria durata; per giunta, allo stato attuale sempre più esasperato e straripante ben oltre gli argini del professionismo vero e proprio: una lezione, si direbbe, ormai ritenuta di scontato valore e comunemente sottoscritta anche dall’uomo della strada in qualche misura interessato alla poesia, o magari anche alla pratica della scrittura poetica in prima persona. Un fenomeno “di massa”, oggi si tenderebbe a definirlo; anche come tale, quindi, forse non immeritevole di alcune verifiche critiche a più livelli.
Nella nota introduttiva a questa raccolta di liriche in lingua inglese, -- pur non potendo dare spazio alle complesse problematiche di ordine sociologico-filosofico-culturale di cui, specie in questa nostra era di globalizzazione e di multimedialità, occorrerebbe tener conto a scanso di deplorevoli giudizi sommari --, l’autore non esita ad arrischiare, con studiata disinvoltura provocatoria, quanto meno alcuni maliziosi interrogativi di natura genericamente estetica/etica, riservando all’altrui migliore scrupolosità ogni eventuale approfondimento autonomo nelle sedi di indagine più appropriate. Per quel che possano valere fuori contesto, eccone un paio: quella svolta anticonformistica, a suo tempo legittimamente innovativa, non sarebbe forse ormai approdata ad una sorta di paradossale conformismo alla rovescia? E quanta parte di furbesco escamotage potrebbe di fatto nascondersi dietro una simile sregolatezza sistematica paradossalmente assunta come nuova norma inderogabile?
L’aspetto più concreto della provocazione consiste tuttavia nell’aver voluto rinverdire, nei vari testi poetici qui selezionati, se non altro alcune valenze metriche e fonosimboliche riconducibili alla tradizione letteraria classica, in questo caso specificatamente anglosassone. Del resto in modo analogo, con intenti altrettanto palesi in direzione “post-moderna”, l’autore aveva già scelto di agire in buona parte delle sue opere poetiche composte e pubblicate in italiano (cfr. in particolare la silloge “A testa in giù”, comprensiva del poema Phantaasia non Imaginaatio vera – Ed. Il Leone Verde, Torino, 2001-2), talora con palese ironia, tal’altra per assecondare una sua intima necessità estetica oggigiorno controcorrente. In una “lettera aperta”, inserita ad uso del lettore in appendice alla succitata pubblicazione, si possono forse trovare esposte attraverso riferimenti più circostanziati le ragioni di questo suo atteggiamento: il cui obiettivo essenziale sta, in definitiva, nel voler suggerire, senza alcuna presunzione, l’eventualità di qualche spazio residuo per un discorso poetico davvero innovativo – così nei contenuti, così nelle potenzialità della forma in loro funzione, sostanzialmente di carattere “post-moderno” – di per sé contrario alle intemperanze di un’effimera originalità fine a se stessa, criticamente conscio delle secche in cui, paradossalmente, tale genere di finto trasformismo creativo sembra da ultimo destinato a fossilizzarsi.
Roberto Di Pietro: laureatosi magna cum laude presso la Facoltà di Lingue e Letterature Straniere dell’Università Bocconi (Milano), ha brillantemente conseguito svariati altri titoli di studio anche all’estero. Saggista, già critico letterario presso la R.A.I, attualmente risiede a Torino dove svolge, fra l’altro, attività di ricerca e di insegnamento nel volontariato culturale. La sua silloge poetica di più recente pubblicazione (“A testa in giù”, comprendente l’ampio poema teatrale “Phantaasia non Imaginaatio Vera”, edito a parte) è anche frutto di appassionato studio nel campo dell’analisi metrico-strutturale del testo poetico in termini di ritmica e fonosimbolismo. Le poesie in lingua inglese contenute in questo volumetto, congiuntamente alle liriche già edite in italiano cui in buona parte si ispirano, hanno appena ottenuto, fuori concorso, il riconoscimento speciale della giuria nell’ambito del “Premio Letterario Internazionale, Marengo d’Oro, 2003” (Liguria).
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