“Air and Memory”, Franco Loi (born 1930) trans. by Andrew Frisardi

What a precious discovery this little anthology of Franco Loi’s poems translated into English!

Air and Memory

Franco Loi, “Air and Memory”, trans. by Andrew Frisardi (Denver: Counterpath Press, 2008)

The book opens with Frisardi’s short – yet informative – introduction, exploring the particular cultural value of writing in dialetto, and the translator’s difficulties in finding an adequate vernacular to render Loi’s original non-standard language variety spoken in Italy, in this case the Milanese dialect (forming part of the Lombard dialect continuum, as my friend Damien Mooney reminds me). Or better, Loi’s Milanese dialect, which, as Frisardi recalls, ‘is full of impurities, of mixed influences, cultured and popular’ (p. xi).

Quoting Luigi Bonaffini, Frisardi draws our attention to a rather controversial point: ‘dialect [is] the norm for dialect speakers, so that translating into slang, that is, deviating from the norm, would be inappropriate’ (p. xiii). The best choice, according to Frisardi, is to choose one’s own vernacular, which, in his case, happens to be standard American English. As an expert friend of mine observed, however, by choosing to translate from a dialect into the standard variety of another language, one risks losing the idea that dialect writing inevitably develops in opposition to a standard. This is a tension that all contemporary dialect writers are well aware of, since most of them are native speakers of standard Italian, which they use in their everyday life.

The volume closes with an illuminating interview with Franco Loi, where readers are able to discover some fascinating aspects of Loi’s poetics. ‘There isn’t any merit in taking on one language rather than another,’ says Loi, ‘especially since in my case there wasn’t any choice in the matter’ (p. 57). And there was no other choice for the translator than to choose his own language either.

Here below is a poem taken from this anthology, which I can’t recommend enough. This book is the perfect introduction to Franco Loi’s poetic craft for English speakers, and, more generally, for a larger international audience.

Û vardâ l’òm e dénter gh’era amô
by Franco Loi

Û vardâ l’òm e dénter gh’era amô
quajcoss che d’umbra me vardava mí,
e l’era un spègg, cum’un ciel de nott
ch’j stèll în tanti e t’je séntet adòss,
e lur te vàrden a te vàrden no
e stan nel scür ‘me sass sensa recòrd,
ma lur în là, memoria de la vita,
e tí te sét un fiâ del vèss luntan…
E û cercâ nel spègg, e squasi in fun
gh’era un quajòlter che me cercava mí
el’era vün che ‘l se pasmava lü,
e mí seri pü nient, seri la storia
che dré del spègg la se vedeva pü.

(Franco Loi, Aria de la Memoria, Einaudi, 2005)

Translation by Andrew Frisardi
in Air and Memory (p. 21)

I stood there looking at the man, and inside
was something, a shadow looking back at me,
and it was a mirror like a sky at night
packed with stars that seem to graze your body,
and they look at you and then they don’t,
and they’re there in darkness like rocks, void
of memory, but there they are, memory of life,
and you’re a breath of being, far away…
And I searched the mirror, and way, way
back inside, another man was seeking me,
and he was one who was seething with want,
and there was nothing of me left but history
that behind the mirror was gone from sight.

Franco Loi’s Italian version
(reading support)

Ho guardato l’uomo e dentro c’era ancora / qualcosa che d’ombra guardava forse me, / ed era uno specchio, come un cielo di notte / che le stelle sono tante e te le senti addosso, / e loro ti guardano e certo non ti guardano / e stanno nel buio come sassi senza ricordi, / ma loro sono là, memoria della vita, / e tu sei un fiato del tuo essere lontano… / E ho cercato nello specchio, e quasi in fondo / c’era qualcun altro che cercava me / ed era uno che spasimava, / e io non ero più niente, ero la storia / che dietro lo specchio non si vedeva più.

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