05 June 2012

Alda Merini: There But For Fortune

"Hours wasted in vain
in the asylum gardens,
Back and forth along the walls
made fierce with flowers,
All of us lost in a fleeting
dream of reality,
Which some cleric
tossed behind our backs.
And after meeting
some patients smile
at the fake friendliness.
Time wasted in whirling thoughts,
hedged in behind the bars,
liked naked swallows.
Then we listened to the sermons,
we multiplied the fishes,
Down near the Jordan,
but Christ was not there:
He had uprooted us from the world,
Like dreadful weeds."
 - Near the Jordan by Alda Merini, tranlsated from the Italian by Stephanie H. Jed & Pasquale Verdicchio.

If you don't read Italian your chances of stumbling on the poems of Alda Merini are slight.  Merini (1931-2009) lived most of her life in her native Milan.  She showed a talent for poetry at an early age and, in spite of enormous internal turmoil, she eventually published more than one hundred volumes.  In photographs we see her wavy brown hair and a cigarette always in hand .  She had the additional misfortune - if you want to call it that - to be nominated for the Nobel Literature Prize in 1996, the same year as the Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska, who went on to win the prize. 

Merini's thoughts never skated over the surface of life like a water beetle.    Near the Jordan is an exemplary poem of Merini's,  holding opposing ideas in balance - or at bay -  in a state of disequilibrium. Between incarceration and freedom she lived with a double consciousness,  experienced at times as a gift, at other times as a burden.  If this seems dark, Merini's poetry also conveys a light touch.  I like to think of Merini's aphorisms when I think of the ponderousness of church fathers who condemned her.

"I am completely
Not counting
Errors and omissions."
 - from Six Aphorisms, 1999,  Alda Merini, translated from the Italian by Douglas Basford.

 Giacomo Balla - La Folle 1905, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome.
For further reading:
The Holy Land by Alda Merini, translated from the Italian by Stepahnie H. Jed & Pasquale Verdicchio, Buffalo, Guernica Books: 2002.
I Am A Furious Little Bee by Alda Merini, translated from the Italian by Carla Billitteri, Oaklamd, Hooke Press: 2008.
Love Lessons by Alda Merini, translated from the Italian by Susan Stewart, Princeton, Princeton University Press: 2009.
 You may also be interested in:
 The War of Nerves: Peter Altenberg & Emily Holmes Coleman, posted here November 3, 2011
All the Planets in Heaven, All the Stars: Gaspara Stampa, posted here August 28, 2010.
Visit the Alda Merini website (in Italian)


Laura Ottina said...

Thanks for posting about this great poet and wonderful woman!

Rouchswalwe said...

"Back and forth along the walls
made fierce with flowers"
Now that is a powerful line yet the words are graced with beauty!

Jane said...

Laura, you are welcome. If enough people know about Merini, her work may become more available. We hope.