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William Schutt

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(2016 - Translation)

“if we die of love, we’re dead” by Edoardo Sanguineti

[Translated from the Italian]

if we die of love, we’re dead, you and I:
                                                                we’re stages of a serial story (better yet,
a popular bestseller deliberately disguised as a harlequin romance): (or rather,
a risqué novel): (a rosé): (or rather, a vigorous couple, two vegetating old folks
pressed in the torpid press of our silver anniversary): (a step or a hair’s breadth
away from a noir): (we’re a roman rouge, almost): and we produce, put frankly,
a ton of pain and pity):
                                     I’ll relay the necessary coordinates: I’m returning from Como,
it’s the 26th of September, 9:37 p.m., I’ve asked the waiter for the check, I’ll catch the express
at 9:50, and I understand you: that’s all:
                                                                since for you, for me, it’s no longer
possible to tolerate this insoluble ambivalence in the wine of life we live:
this life, or rather: (life): (watered down, hosed off): and if I tell you and write you 
I’m nothing but a contemporary so that you get me, or get us, if I may,
then we possess, all in all, 25% of our offspring, as things stand: 
so, as I bid you a fond farewell, I’ll add:
                                                                 if we live on love, we’re alive:

Original in Italian

About Edoardo Sanguineti

If the Genoese poet Edoardo Sanguineti (1930-2010) is known at all to American readers, it is as an influential member of the Italian avant-garde of the 1960s, known as the neoavanguardia, a literary and artistic movement characterized by radical politics and formal experimentation. Yet Sanguineti was a restless and prolific writer, a chronic experimentalist, and his vision of literature expanded considerably. During his sixty-year career he authored more than twenty volumes of poetry as well as librettos, novels, plays, books of literary and social criticism, and translations. He is a critical twentieth-century poet: cutting, risky, crucial.  

Will Schutt is the author of Westerly, winner of the 2012 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. His poems and translations from Italian have previously appeared in Agni, A Public Space, The New Republic, and elsewhere. For his translations of the selected poems of Edoardo Sanguineti, he also received a 2015 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant. He currently lives with his wife in Baltimore, Maryland.

Photo by Tania Biancalan

Translator's Statement

I was twenty-two, twenty-three something when I first encountered Edoardo Sanguineti’s poems. I had moved to Italy, been promised work. My Italian was shaky. Things confused me: Why does the table of contents appear at the back of books? How can subjects not appear till the end of a sentence?

I pressed on. Vaguely aspiring to be a poet, I picked up more books of Italian poetry than I’d ever finish. I read slowly, painfully, poems in hand, dictionary in lap. The Italian library system felt arcane, so I scanned the shelves of the local Einaudi, the local Feltrinelli—why were all the bookstores in Italy run by publishing companies? I dodged Mondadori because Berlusconi owned it, oblivious to the fact that Mondadori now owned Einaudi. How elude Silvio?  

I picked Sanguineti’s book off a shelf. Mikrokosmos: Poesie 1951-2004. Remember I was twenty-something, so you’ll forgive me for first being attracted to the cover: a leery old guy in three-quarters profile, guarding his face with a cigarette, backed by a shadowy street (a fille-de-joie alley in his native Genoa, maybe?). People still smoked thank god.

Could this be poetry? Could this be (Italian) poetry? Sanguineti’s poems spoke several languages at once, channeled various registers, made references to people I’d read, heard mention of, never heard of. Did it matter? The figures flit by. The lines themselves plow past the margins, fire off colons, break up into parentheticals, end with damning/desperate address:

“(oh, get on with it, pop your pills):”

or impromptu:

“…Octavio isn’t the man he once was / (nor am I, naturally, nor is anyone): like Marie-Jo, for example, who lost / her famous black hat, in London, in a museum…:”

or waggishness:

“…2 or 3 inches of fate will do me (and then some):”

Bewildered but energized, or bewildered and energized, I dropped a dozen euros on the book. Ten years on, I still work from the same copy, trying to ignite in my own language the galvanizing, anarchic force of Sanguineti’s language. With the generous support of an NEA, my prospects of finishing My Life, I Lapped It Up: Selected Poems of Edoardo Sanguineti have brightened significantly, and I am sincerely grateful.