Franca Mancinelli‘s prose text « Living in the Ideal City », in John Taylor’s translation, has been published in Asymptote. John Taylor’s brief introduction to Mancinelli, followed by the opening passage:
Franca Mancinelli (b. 1981) is one of the leading poets of her generation and has received several important prizes in Italy. I have had the pleasure of translating all of her published poetry to date: her prose poems in The Little Book of Passage (The Bitter Oleander Press, 2018) and her verse poetry in At an Hour’s Sleep from Here (The Bitter Oleander Press, 2019). Her writing is cherished by readers because of the way she grapples with wounds, losses, and what she has called “fault lines”—sometimes personal in origin, sometimes not. By writing, she often seeks to transform these negative events or situations into something potentially affirmative. The title of her new book of poems, Tutti gli occhi che ho aperto, which is forthcoming in September at Marcos y Marcos, comes from a line in one of her poems that expresses this new possibility of vision: “All the eyes that I have opened are branches I have lost.”
Over the years, Mancinelli has also written compelling personal essays. Published in anthologies and journals, these texts often evoke her hometown of Fano or meditate on works of art. Such is the case with “Living in the Ideal City: Fragments in the Form of Vision.” Mancinelli bases her text on a fifteenth-century Italian painting that is found in Urbino at the National Gallery. The painting represents an “ideal city” from which all, or nearly all, the inhabitants seem to have fled, arguably because of some invasion or plague-like disaster. Her text is a kind of reverie on this painting: its architecture, its empty city square and buildings. It raises the question of stepping into the painting, of having “the courage to cross the threshold, [to] enter the darkness, hollow and round like a belly that has taken you back into itself.”
It emerges when I close my eyes. As clearly as an island suddenly appearing beyond the haze and the mist on the horizon. You see it and can only believe your eyes even if you know you are daydreaming. It happens every time in a different light, as if that square and those streets were the setting of a story. Perhaps only the ghost of a voice that has taken a breath, a gust skimming over the cobblestones, whirlwinding dust across the space, beating lightly on the windows like a bird that has lost its flock.
With sure footsteps, I was heading towards the half-open door. . .