Friday, 4 December 2020

Poetry, Italian women writers, workshops and new reviews

Because of the pandemic, the staycation and the lockdown, I spent most of my time at home and could commit to my writing and to my study especially during the summer but also in the autumn. I completed my PhD thesis on Margaret Atwood in the summer and had feedbacks from my supervisors in autumn. Then I submitted my thesis on 26 November and soon felt immensely relieved. I still have to pass the Viva, that is, an exam with three examiners, one internal and two external, who are now reading my work and will get back to me in a couple of months hopefully. I may pass, fail or they might suggest making changes to my work and resubmit it. In the meantime, I am keeping busy with my work at school. I have also attended poetry workshops, zoom meetings with my fellow writers, I have read extensively and worked on my creative writing.

At ISL London my Italian students took part in a poetry reading at Gunnersbury park where they read the Italian poems they had created during class. Finally, they collected the poems and their English translation in an anthology: Il sentiero della poesia (Poetry trail), which we printed at school. It was a great achievement; the final product is brilliant and I am very proud of them. Here are two examples of their fantastic work:

Pagina Bianca 

La paura della pagina bianca come 

La paura del vuoto spaziale o 

La paura di cadere dal grattacielo 

Poi c’è la maestra arrabbiata che stai dormendo 

Ma tu non vuoi svegliarti... 

White Page 

The fear of the white page like 

The fear of the void or 

The fear of falling from the skyscraper 

Then there is the angry teacher because you are sleeping 

But you don't want to wake up... 

Lorenzo Giovannini (G 8)

Vecchia Amica Mia 

Nella nebbia del mattino 

Una figura avanza 

Persa nella sua malinconica danza 

Incontra il suo destino 

L’allegra morte la saluta felice 

Abbracciandola come un vecchio amico 

Proveniente da un luogo antico 

Con la sua aria d’ingannatrice 

L’aveva imbrogliato 

Sussurrando fandonie e bugie 

Piccole parole ma solo diavolerie 

E dal sole delle sue promesse era rimasto abbagliato 

Dear Old Friend

In the morning mist 

A figure advances 

Lost in its melancholic dance 

It meets its destiny 

The cheery death greets her happily 

Hugging her like an old friend 

Coming from an ancient place 

With her air of deceit 

She had tricked him 

Whispering nonsense and lies 

Small little words but only devilries 

And from the sun of her promises he was dazzled 

Cecilia Vecchi (G 10)

Alda Merini

Grazia Deledda
We also had a discussion in class about Italian women writers. We are studying Grazia Deledda and Elsa Morante among other authors in the prose unit and I told them that when I attended high school in the late 1970s there was not one woman author in my Italian anthology and it was the same for my husband who lived in a different part of Italy at the time, in Veneto. I told them I would check if things have changed in the meantime after the ongoing feminist fights and the MeToo movement. So I asked my sister who lives in Monterotondo near Rome and teaches Italian in a high school. She told me that in the Italian anthology they use at her school only one woman writer is mentioned in a short paragraph: Grazia Deledda, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1926. My sister teaches her students other women author but this is her personal choice. She also checked with her colleagues who teach in different schools and realised it is a common trend, women writers are ignored or barely mentioned. Therefore, Italian students don’t study Italian women authors and consequently know little about them.
Elsa Morante

Apparently it doesn’t matter if most of the Italian women writers were popular and successful during their lifetime, sold millions of books, won awards or worked for important newspapers. They broadcast program on them on RAI from time to time but this is not enough, women authors should be present in school programs too. I am speaking of authors such as Grazia Deledda, Sibilla Aleramo, Alda Merini, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, Lalla Romano, Matilde Serao, Oriana Fallaci, Dacia Maraini and many others. Here is a good long list on Wikipedia: or just google ‘Italian women writers’ and you will be spoiled for choice.
Natalia Ginzburg

I attended several poetry workshops in the autumn with The Poetry School and Second Light network for women poets. The tutors, Hannah Lowe, Helen Ivory and Sarah Westcott, were brilliant. I had the opportunity to write new poems and am thinking of organising a new complete collection in about a year’s time. I also attended the launch of Pascale Petit’s new collection, Tiger Girl, in a zoom meeting organised by Bloodaxe Books, and the great Margaret Atwood’s new collection launch, Dearly, organised by Fane. It was so emotional to see Atwood in her house during the talk. Her new poems are a revelation. She said that the poems of the collection come from ‘a drawer of writing’ from her teenage years that she then rearranged, revised and typed them. The final versions are poignant as ever and close to the issues of our damaged world. After the foreword, there is the list of her incredible achievements: fifteen poetry collections plus Dearly, seventeen novels, eight books of

shorter fiction, ten non-fiction books, seven children’s books, and three Graphic novels. It is unbelievable how a single person can produce so much and at such high level in a life time. I wonder why the Swedish Academy hasn’t awarded her the Nobel Prize for Literature yet. The poems of this collection deal with issues and themes dear to Atwood: environmental concerns, encounters with animals and mythical beasts, myths and legends as well as political issues. She explores, suggests and plays; she is always sharp, humorous and everchanging in her writing. Her love of life and curiosity and passion for whatever concerns our world come through from her poetry as in her previous works. Here is her poem ‘Dearly’. She said she wrote it in 2017 while walking back to her Bed and Breakfast slowly because of a problem with her knees in Stratford, Ontario:


It’s an old word, fading now.

Dearly did I wish.

Dearly did I long for.

I loved him dearly.

I make my way along the sidewalk

mindfully, of my wrecked knees

about which I give less of a shit

than you may imagine

since there are other things, more important—

wait for it, you’ll see—

bearing half a coffee

in a paper cup with— 

dearly do I regret it—

a plastic lid—

trying to remember what words once meant.


How was it used?

Dearly beloved.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here

in this forgotten photo album

I came across recently.

Fading now,

the sepias, the black and whites, the colour prints,

everyone so much younger.

The Polaroids.

What is a Polaroid? asks the newborn.

Newborn a decade ago.

How to explain?

You took the picture and then it came out the top.

The top of what?

It’s that baffled look I see a lot.

So hard to describe

the smallest details of how—

all these dearly gathered together—

of how we used to live.

We wrapped up garbage

In newspaper tied with string.

What is newspaper?

You see what I mean.

String though, we still have string.

It links things together.

A string of pearls.

That’s what they would say.

How to keep track of the days?

Each one shining, each one alone,

each one then gone.

I’ve kept some of them in a drawer on paper,

those days, fading now.

Beads can be used for counting.

As in rosaries.

But I don’t like stones around my neck.

Along this street there are many flowers,

fading now because it is August

and dusty, and heading into fall.

Soon the chrysanthemums will bloom,

flowers of the dead, in France.

Don’t think this is morbid.

It’s just reality.

So hard to describe the smallest details of flowers.

This is a stamen, nothing to do with men.

This is a pistil, nothing to do with guns.

It’s the smallest details that foil translators

and myself too, trying to describe.

See what I mean.

You can wander away. You can get lost.

Words can do that.

Dearly beloved, gathered here together

in this closed drawer,

fading now, I miss you.

I miss the missing, those who left earlier.

I miss even those who are still here.

I miss you all dearly.

Dearly do I sorrow for you.

Sorrow: that’s another word

you don’t hear much any more.

I sorrow dearly.

I published a few poems online too, here are the links:


The Peak

Masking Faces 

Parsley; Only a cake 

And had a poem published in Dempsey and Windle’s anthology What’s Next?, ‘Masking Faces’. 

My articles and reviews are online too:

Art reviews:

Kimono: Kyoto to catwalk 

Raphael: Prince Albert’s passion 


Tantra: enlightenment to revolution 


Cycling solo: a glimpse into storytelling 

Poetry reviews:

Polly Roberts, Grieving with Animals 

Derek Adams, Exposure: Snapshots from the Life of Lee Miller 

Clare Williamson, Visiting the Minotaur 

Denise Bundred, Litany of a Cardiologist 

R. L. Wilson, Backstage to Paradise (South Poetry 62)

Belinda Cooke, Stem

Belinda Cooke, Forms of Exile: Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva 

Alex Josephy, Naked since Faversham 

Susan Stewart, Love Lessons: Selected Poems of Alda Merini 

Rebecca Bilkau, Sunday’s Child 

Patrick Osada, From the Family Album

Phoebe Stuckes, Platinum Blonde 

Belinda Singleton and Kathryn Southworth, Wavelength: a dialogue on light and sound 

Jim Johnstone, The Chemical Life 

During Halloween time, I enjoyed very much the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales revisited by Philip Pullman in his book Grimm Tales for Young and Old  and read by actors from the Unicorn Theatre:


The brave little tailor

Hansel and Gretel


The devil with the three golden hairs

The actors are brilliant; they make the stories alive and pleasantly spooky.

In my efforts to chill out during the weekends after commuting to London during the week, I am knitting and crocheting scarves for my children for Christmas as well as making cakes and puddings and listening to old Italian songs. One morning I woke up with a song in my mind my father used to sing that dates back to the 1940s. I did a bit of research on YouTube and found some other hits by the same singer: Natalino Otto, popular from the 1940s until 1960s. His songs were innovative as were inspired by American swing and jazz music and adapted to the Italian style. He achieved great success selling millions of records. Here are some links to his songs and lyrics in the English translation:

Il pinguino innamorato

The penguin in love


Un bacio a mezzanotte

A midnight kiss


Ho un sassolino nella scarpa

I've got a pebble in my shoe


Mamma voglio anch'io la fidanzata

Mama, I want a girlfriend too


Sola me ne vo per la città

Searching for You (I Walk Alone Through the City)


And now I am looking forward to the Christmas break and meeting my future granddaughter Violetta. 💜

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