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Special feature on Franca Mancinelli / The Bitter Oleander

The Bitter Oleander (Autumn 2019)has devoted a generous special feature to the poetry of Franca Mancinelli, as translated by John Taylor, with an extensive dialogue between the poet and her translator. An excerpt from the dialogue:

. . . JT: Passing through. . . Your collection of prose poems, Libretto di transito,

became The Little Book of Passage in my translation. While I was working

on your prose poems, the word “faglia” resisted translation. It is related to what

you have been saying about the presence of death in life. There were a few solutions

for translating it, each of which had its advantages and disadvantages: “flaw,” “rift,”

“fault,” “fault line.” You and I often discuss the semantic resonance of such Italian

words, but “faglia” stands out as a key term. The word, the image, and the theme

have left their marks on both of us. For the line in your prose poem, we opted for

“fault line,” with its geological meaning, all the more so in that other images in your

poems and prose poems likewise suggest “cracks,” “breaks,” “fissures,” and “fractures.”

How do the various metaphorical “fault lines”, “fissures” and “fractures” in your

work reveal something especially profound about your poetics—its sources, its

goals, its intentions?

FM: Thanks to your translation, I could see the importance that this image

has for me. When we write, we are often immersed in darkness, like a photographer

in his darkroom. It is only with time that what has been imprinted on

our film resurfaces. Most words thus pass through us without our really being

aware of the range of their meaning. Sometimes it is another person’s insight

that brings it nearer. This is what happened with this word that reached me

through our close working relationship, and through the magical force that

results from paying attention, as Pavel Florensky put it. The word we initially

stopped to talk about was “falda,” the “water table.” It’s the last word of an

important text for me: it comprises, like a diptych, my father’s portrait next to

my involuntary self-portrait. While he is off in a corner of his garden, watering,

I find myself with poisonous weeds that I cannot “hoe away.” They are fed by

a water table that “I can’t repair.” Although I devote my entire self to the task,

I obtain nothing but a sense of failure. I wrote the word “falda” with my eyes

kept tenaciously closed, and so they remained even after I had published the

poem in an anthology and had read it several times in public, even after I

had worked on Libretto di transito with the editors of Amos Edizioni and

had published the book in Italy. Yet the gap that separates our two languages

and that we had to fill in some way has repaired that water table, in the only

possible way: allowing me to see it in its reality. The water table is the origin

of pain, of relationships that resemble poisonous weeds. But it is irreparable

(it is in the earth); it is where the water comes from, life, in whatever form

it appears. Perhaps pain comes precisely from the desire to repair what can,

instead, only be accepted. . . Now I read that sentence with a different tone

of voice. Something has been redeemed: “I haven’t succeeded in repairing

the water table.”




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