Review of A New Way: The Poetry Of Migrant Writers in Italy

A New Map: The Poetry Of  Migrant Writers in Italy Edit by Mia Lecomte and Luigi Bonaffini (Legas-2001)


This anthology is a bilingual edition of poetry by migrant writers living and working in Italy. These migrant writers hail from places like Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Romania, Holland, Brazil and Albania.


This excellent anthology is important in its potential to redefine Italian poetry. These poets are changing what constitutes an Italian voice.


In this anthology, there is a blending of different literary traditions such as the oral and the political. Here is Ndjock Ngana Yogo Ndjock’s “Lullaby”

 The falconet                nibbles


the baby sparrow nibbles


the owlet suffers hunger


momma will return and then I’ll eat

macbo and manioca

even without spices tia o tia o tia o


Tja o, tja o tja o tja



And here’s  Pap Khouma’s “Absurd Ballad”:

But quickly

because you could miss the best

part of the nigger hunt

knife in the back

and with not pity

this dirty Italian nigger who stinks

too much of macaroni

and never stays in his own place


Here is a blending of different languages such as this piece by Barbara Serdakowski’s, which mixes French and Spanish w/ Italian

Mi tempo se habia va perdido

My time was already lost

Yesterday when I knew today I would do that nothing

Et je creuse en termite dans les trous de l’inconscience

And I bore like a termite in the holes of unconsciousness


Here are poems of longing for the country of origin, of wonder about a different life such as this poem by Ubax Cristina Ali Farah:

“And I recall when you said that perhaps, the role of the Somalian

                 intellectual was not really suited for you, that you would have

                 fared better leading herds of camels in the North, in your

                  small town.


Here are poems about being in a new land such as “Sawson” by Thea Laitef:

She goes round the streets of Rome

hoping to discover the valley

reading how strange it is, this city

At the beginning

it has been down there,

under a tent of shining grief

then, the conflagration raged.

Let Sawson

Ask the divinity for mercy,

Following the changes of the seasons

And let her steal onefrom thesummer

To bring it over to us later.


Here are poems about differences in sexual customs as this poem “Split” by Ubax Cristina Ali Farah whose father as Somali and mother Italian:

A nimble adolescent,

On the sand, among friends,

I fall down split.

Watch out you’ll tear yourself!

You’ll drip blood.Ceeh


I won’t find a husband

I’m not pure, closed , beautiful

Those little hanging lips

Are ugly.Caado


As this is a bilingual edition, one needs to talk a little about translating.

When one attends discussions on the art of translation, one hears the Italian saying traduttore – traditore: translator – traitor. For translation is not a simple swapping of one language to another. If it were just a simple swapping, then online translators would be putting professional translators out of business.


In the translation of poetry, there is always the question of what word conveys the very feeling, image or rhythm that the poet wants to convey. Here is an example of changing a word from the literal to a more idiomatic word conveys an image better by Gezim Hajdari translated by Michael Palma

“scende una neva lenta

dai nostril corpi”


An online translator may translate this as “a slow snow coming down from our bodies.”


Palma translates this as:

A gentle snow falls

From our bodies.


Palma’s translation better follows the feeling and rhythm of the original without the stiffness of a literal translation.


To my ear, the excellent translators like Bonaffini and poets / translators like Fagiani, Vitiello and Pallitto in this anthology do not betray the work of these migrant writers.


Posted on October 29, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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