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Lynne Lawner

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(2013 - Translation)

Poems by Giorgio Orelli

"In the Familiar Circle"

An extinguished funereal light
frosts once more the fir trees
whose bark thrives on past death;
and everything is still in this shell
dug sweetly from time,
in the familiar circle
from which it is senseless to escape.

Within a silence known so well,
the dead are livelier than the living:
they descend from neat rooms smelling
of camphor, through trapdoors into heated
wood-lined cubicles,
adjust their own portraits,
then return to the stables to view again the heads
of a pure, dark breed.
without a mole's tools or umbrellas
to ensnare swallows, after what carillon
have you boys run through numbed meadows,
neither cautious nor forgetful in your pursuits?

The whetstone is in its horn.
The hen-roost leans against its elder-tree.
The spiders have been entangled
a long time on the church walls.
The fountain keeps itself company with water.
And I am restored
to a more discreet love of life.
"Where Children Are Murdering January"

With a less cautious step you precede me
on the frozen road, taciturn
companion. It's not the hearths of houses
that beckon and overwhelm me this evening,
but the sudden uproar that ascends
with sluggish wintry breaths
from the remote, unreachable bank
where children are murdering January.
"Strolling With Lucia In Autumn"

Figs from the rich man's trees overrun the estate garden
but not even a hog bends to eat;
as lovely and full as they look,
no one touches them
and soon they'll smear up the roadside.

Come with me, Lucia,
let's move on to a wider way
where boles of chestnuts fall:
there, out of range of barking dogs,
we'll play at stepping on each other's shadows.

About Giorgio Orelli

Giorgio Orelli, one of the greatest living poets of the Italian language, was influenced to some extent by the Hermetic poets (Giuseppe Ungaretti, Eugenio Montale, Quasimodo). His work was included along with that of Luciano Erba, Vittorio Sereni, and others in the important anthology Linea Lombarda (Lombard Line) in 1952. Orelli's work is especially interesting to us today due to his "frontier" situation at the physical and cultural borders of Switzerland and Italy. His mentor, the great critic Gianfranco Contini, called him "the Tuscan from Ticino", the latter being the name of the southern Swiss region from which he hails. His distinctive poetry is both learned and intimate, having a flavor all of its own.

Lynne Lawner, a poet and translator, a visiting professor of comparative literature at several universities, a lecturer at colleges and other institutions, as well as a manager of major translation projects and an editorial consultant. She was born in Ohio, received her BA from Wellesley College with Special Honors, attended Cambridge University as a Henry Fellow, and was a Fulbright grantee in Italy, eventually earning a PhD from Columbia University. She published seven books, including three volumes on art, two collections of poetry, and two books of translation (Antonio Gramsci's Letters from Prison; Maria Luisa Spaziani's selected poetry). She won Poetry magazine's Blumenthal Prize and was invited to Yaddo. She has also, in recent years, become a fine art photographer. An artist's edition of her poems together with her images was designed in Milan.

Photo courtesy of Lynne Lawner

Translator's Statement

The practice of translation weaves constantly in and out of my creative life, both as a poet and a scholar of literature and art.

I was very much part of the historical period I lived through in Italy. At the request of the Ford Foundation (10 American writers chosen to translate 10 neglected world masterpieces) I translated, annotated, and introduced Letters from Prison by Italian political thinker Antonio Gramsci. The book has been reprinted many times, used in university courses in the U.S., and translated into Korean.

As far as poetry is concerned, I was the first person to translate poet/filmmaker Piero Paolo Pasolini into English (a group of poems in Partisan Review). My translations of Umberto Saba, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Nelo Risi, Luciano Erba, Andrea Zanzotto, Alfredo Giuliani, and Antonia Pozzi appeared over the years in anthologies and journals. All of the poets named, with the exception of Saba, deceased, and Pozzi who died young, were close friends of mine.

The NEA grant has come at a crucial time in my life when creative endeavors are almost impossible to accomplish because of economic difficulties and restrictions -- both in society and in our personal lives. It gives me a some time to explore the often complex poetry of this Swiss poet writing in Italian who loves to indulge in linguistic play and sometimes moves from a polished Italian to a mélange of dialects. It is my hope to visit this older poet while he is still with us, to photograph him and his ambience, and naturally to discuss specific points of his work before I publish his selected poems.