Penne_in_Irlanda.png

20190411_122839.jpg

 

Following my exchange visit to Rome last September 2018, I have written a number of poems inspired by the experience. FUIS (Federazione Unitaria Italiana Scrittori), the Italian Federation of Writers, has kindly published some of this work on its website  http://www.Fuis.it/residenza-letteraria-penne-in-irlanda/articoli4561 You may view these poems and their translations below.

More poems are forthcoming. My thanks FUIS and the Irish Writers’ Union in Dublin for enabling this exchange to take place and to Sig. Simone di Conza for his work as facilitator.

The first poem here published concerns a visit to the Church of San Stefano Rotondo, where its ‘martyr murals’ had much the same effect on me as they had on Charles Dickens when he saw them and wrote about them in his travel essays in  ‘Pictures from Italy’ in 1846. I have allowed the torturers to speak for themselves.

The second poem was inspired by a visit to the famous ‘English Cemetery’ on the outskirts of Rome, properly known as the ‘Non-Catholic Cemetery’, which is the charming final destination of many a famous literary name who happened to be not of the Roman Catholic persuasion. The voice in the poem is that of one of the foremost English ‘Romantic’ poets.

This series of poems will be titled ‘Voices from Rome’ (‘Voci da Roma’) and, with the help of my exchange colleague Anna Maria Robustelli, I provide Italian translations.

 

The murals in the Church of Saint Stefano Rotondo, Rome

IMG_1204.jpg

This poor wretch we break with stones,
this woman we dismember live,
this one we stretch until his bones
crack open. Crowds have gathered, gape
at trees we’ve hung with chopped-up torsos,
lopped-off limbs.  No pleas, no groans

deter us, no imploring cries –
we’re limited as to instruments,
employ the means we have, devise
whatever tools we can. We’re skilled
in fire and water but the future
lies in methods more refined.

Despite our arrows, here’s a one
still prays and gazes skyward. But
it’s Jupiter and only Him
we’re told to worship now. For now.
We have our orders: ours a trade
must heed today’s doctrinal whim,

but future days may dawn the hour
these followers of the holy fish
are fated to come into power.
It’s then the rack will creak afresh
and bodies bleed. It’s then the cries
that rise to heaven will be ours.

 

I dipinti murali nella Chiesa 
di Santo Stefano Rotondo, a  Roma

Questo poveretto lo frantumiamo
con le pietre, questa donna la smembriamo
viva, questo lo allunghiamo
finché le ossa non si spezzano.
Folle con occhi spalancati guardono
i torsi e gli arti appesi agli alberi.

Nessun grido o lamento ci scoraggia –
i nostri strumenti sono limitati,
usiamo tutto ciò che abbiamo,
proviamo a concepire nuovi mezzi.
Siamo abili con il fuoco e con l’acqua –
più raffinati i metodi del futuro.

Nonostante le nostre frecce, ecco
uno che prega ancora e guarda al cielo.
Ma è Giove, solo Lui, si adora –
per ora. Abbiamo i nostri ordini:
il nostro mestiere si deve prestare
al capriccio dottrinale del momento,

ma un giorno nel futuro potrebbe vedere
i seguaci del pesce santo destinati
a venire al potere. È allora che
scricchiolerà di nuovo il cavalletto
e i corpi sanguineranno. È allora che
le grida verso il cielo saranno nostre.

Tradotto dell’autore assistito dalla dott.ssa Anna Maria Robustelli

 

In the Company of Poets at the Non-Catholic Cemetery, 
Rome

20180912_121821.jpg

On a beach near Viareggio,
wife and friends surround the pyre,
my boyish face defies the flames –
so tells the legend. Not my body
sea-wracked, friends departed long
before I crackled into ash.

This grave a narrow place, the spirits
spurred me into verse dispersed.
A plaque nearby commemorates
the cinders of a New World scribe,
and everywhere eroded stones
show broken lyres. Stone angels weep.

No angel weeps for me, no urns
stand draped in funeréal folds,
no elegant encomium
ignores my faults. Along the path
that skirts these vaults and monuments –
my modest tablet. Unadorned.

Beyond our strict confinements rears
a giant pyramid born of pride –
but turn, remark the simple headstone
of the one – our frail colossus –
who demanded it be chiselled
that his name was writ in water.

Water ferried me ashore,
and fire reduced my frame to dust.
I share this crowded charnel yard
with jugglers of words, with those
who found their poetry in music,
those discovered it in prose.

So far from all the hurried clamour
of our lives, this field affords
a brooding quietude is bred
of whispering trees and falling leaves.
And silence – like the silence follows
when a final line is read.

Nella compagnia dei poeti
nel cimitero acattolico di Roma

Su una spiaggia vicina a Viareggio,
moglie e amici circondano la pira,
la mia faccia da ragazzo sfida le fiamme –
ecco la leggenda. Non il corpo
sconvolto dal mare, gli amici andati via
prima che diventassi cenere.

Questa tomba è un posto stretto,
gli spiriti che mi hanno spronato a scrivere
dispersi. Una lapide vicina commemora
un poeta del Nuovo Mondo, e ovunque
steli mostrano le lire rotte.
Gli angeli di pietra piangono.

Nessun angelo piange per me
non ci sono urne in pieghe funeree,
nessun encomio elegante
ignora i miei difetti. Lungo il sentiero
che corre accanto a questi monumenti—
la mia modesta targa. Disadorna.

Oltre i nostri confini rigorosi
una piramide nata dall’orgoglio –
voltati e osserva la lapide modesta
dell’uno – il nostro fragile colosso –
che voleva fosse inciso nella pietra
ch’l suo nome era scritto nell’acqua.

L’acqua mi ha traghettato qui,
il fuoco ha ridotto il mio corpo
in polvere. Condivido quest’ossario
con giocolieri di parole, e altri
che hanno trovato la loro poesia
nella musica, o in prosa.

Lontano dal clamore frettoloso
delle nostre vite, troviamo qui
una calma pensierosa, nutrita
di alberi sussurranti e foglie cadenti.
E un silenzio – il silenzio che segue
la lettura di un verso finale

Tradotto dell’autore, assistito dalla dott.ssa Anna Maria Robustelli

 

During May last (2011) I stayed in the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island, thanks to the Heinrich Boll Committee which awarded me a two-week visit. It’s a wonderful place, with all needs catered for and is situated in a fairly remote part near Dugort (Dumha Goirt) village on the northern part of the island.

Wild, untamed landscapes, stiff winds and vertical rains… Well, for the second week. The first week was fairly good to very good. But, no complaints. The whole experience was wonderful. Really got down to some work on items I have been trying to get a handle on for  some time. I was delighted to give a reading in a local hall (The Cyril Grey Memorial Hall, which is a very tastefully converted schoolhouse)  just down the road from the cottage. Terrific acoustics. Not that it was all work and no play (you know me better than that): took the opportunity to explore into the past with the forlorn and haunting deserted village and megalithic tombs on the side of Sliabh Mor. One evening got to hear the ‘Gongmaster’ give a performance  on Tibetan bells (yes, Achill is full of wonders).

Heinrich’s desk, gifted by the Boll family

There’s a bookcase in the cottage with signed copies from people who stayed there over the years. So much great stuff to read. Kerry Hardie, Paul Durcan, Ciaran O’Driscoll, to mention a few of my favourites, but best of all (sorry, guys) someone I hadn’t read before: Michael Coady. His ‘All Souls‘ book (Gallery Press) is really good. It’s poetry and story and memoir in the one book and  is one of the most accomplished books I’ve ever read. His account of trying to trace back the roots of his family is fascinating. And although I’m always suspicious of book blurbs (especially blurbs written by poets about poets) I agree with what Ciaran Carson said about ‘All Souls’ in Poetry Ireland Review:

I have read it from cover to cover three times and dipped into it on many other occasions. I will read it again for its passion, its wit, its pathos, its reverence, its irreverence, and the integrity of its many connections.’


My thanks to John Smith, John McHugh, Sheila McHugh and all the other people who stayed in the background (out of their great respect for the Great Writer Wrestling With His Devils) but were always on hand if help were needed. All in all it was a splendid and unforgettable experience and much recommeded to anyone fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity. And thanks too to all the ‘islandmen’ (and women) who were so friendly. And of course a special thanks to Heinrich Boll’s family and Mayo Co. Council) who made possible this scheme for artists and which is a significant addition to our country’s cultural life. Further informationabout the Heinrich Boll Foundation and the cottage is available at http://www.heinrichbellcottage.com

Megalithic Tomb, Sliabh Mor