Blues people: Amiri Baraka poet, scholar, & playwright dies at 79

January 10, 2014

amiri baraka

Above: Amiri Baraka in 2007 (image via the Wiki).

When the email arrived yesterday, it hit me in the chest like a brick: Amiri Baraka, poet, scholar, musicologist, dramatist, and one of the greatest artists of our generation, died yesterday in New Jersey.

I had the opportunity to hear him speak and recite his works on many occasions. He was a close friend of my dissertation advisor Luigi Ballerini.

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Il miglior fabbro: mourning the passing of the great Italian translator William Weaver

November 18, 2013

pasolini ragazzi di vita

Above: William Weaver is remembered by many for his superb translations of popular writers like Eco and Calvino. But to many Italian literature cognoscenti, his masterworks are his renderings of experimental works by Carlo Emilio Gadda and Pier Paolo Pasolini (image via Barnes & Noble).

It was with great sadness that I read the news this morning (published over the weekend in the New York Times) that the greatest Italian translator of our generation William Weaver has passed at age 90.

I never had the opportunity to meet him but his work had a huge influence on my career as a translator and my intellectual life (and two of his students were mentors of mine).

Many American college graduates and literary buffs will remember him for his superb translations of popular writers like Eco and Calvino.

But his masterworks are his renderings of experimental works from the twentieth century by authors like Pier Paolo Pasolini and Carlo Emilio Gadda.

Weaver brilliantly translated the title of Pasolini’s 1956 Ragazzi di vita — a novel written in urban Roman dialect — as A Violent Life. The title alone (ragazzi di vita — which, slavishly, means the boys of life — is a colloquial expression that denotes street hustlers) marked a new era for Italian translation and translators. As in this case, he often abandoned accuracy for the verve and ethos of the original. And this bold approach set a new tone and a new benchmark for the generation of translators who would follow in his footsteps.

When I frequented literary circles during my New York years, Weaver’s name was invoked by translators from all fields — poetry, prose, French, Spanish, etc. He was a Virgil for many of us. And he taught us — in theory and practice — that the fact that translation can never be perfect does not stop translation from being great.

If you are so inclined, please read this essay (very short but indicative of Weaver’s work) which he published as an introduction to his translation of Gadda’s Acquainted with Grief (again, another brilliant rendering of a challenging title).

He was il miglior fabbro (the best smith [of the mother tongue])


Scenes from the “Pasolini in Rome” show at the Cinémathèque Française

October 25, 2013

Comrade Howard graciously sent me these images from the current “Pasolini in Rome” exhibition at the Cinémathèque Française where he toured the show last week with the museum’s director.

It runs through January 26.

La poésie, la politique, le sexe, l’amitié, le cinéma… The stuff that life is made of.

The track “Pasolini” in the slideshow comes from my band Nous Non Plus’ release Le sexe et la politique (Terrible Kids Music 2012).

pasolini


“Universe in a glass of wine”: who really said that? The answer…

July 16, 2013

galileo wine glass

Above: Portrait of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) by Justus Sustermans (1597-1681; image via the Wiki).

Reading the excellent Italian-language food and wine blog Porthos this morning, I was reminded by the authors of the famous and brilliantly topical lecture by U.S. physicist Richard Feynman, “The Universe in a Glass of Wine.”

“A poet once said,” it begins, “‘the whole universe is in a glass of wine.’ We will probably never know in what sense he said that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look in glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe.”

Click here for the entire text (it’s very short) and the audio. If you’ve never heard it, it’s worth listening (in part because Feynman’s immense ability as orator).

(Today’s post on Porthos takes the form of a Socratic dialog on biodynamics and Natural wine and the interlocutors cite Feynman as an example of the powerful mythology of Nature as expressed through wine.)

Feynman doesn’t seem to know who the poet was. (And he notes — for comic effect but erroneously in my view — that poets “don’t write to be understood.”)

I believe that the imagery comes from a “scientific letter” by Italian philosopher Lorenzo Magalotti (1637-1712) who cites Galileo’s [attributed] maxim, wine is a compound [mixture] of moisture [humor] and light (il vino è un composto di umore e di luce).

Note that humor denoted moisture in seventeenth-century Europe (cfr. “1697 Dryden tr. Virgil Georgics i, ‘Redundant Humours thro’ the Pores expire,’” Oxford English Dictionary).

This celebrated observation of the physical world was transmitted anecdotally by Galileo’s student Raffaello Magiotti (1597-1656), who is quoted by Magalotti in the letter.

magalotti letters

In the text (the fifth letter in the collection), he uses the maxim as a thesis in his dissertation on the nature of light. The grape and its transformation, he writes, are a perfect example of light’s ability to “penetrate a body.”

In Dante’s Commedia (Purg. 25, 76-78), the Latin poet Statius compares G-d’s creation of life to Nature’s transformation of moisture into wine by means of light:

    E perché meno ammiri la parola
    guarda il calor del sol che si fa vino,
    giunto a l’omor che de la vite cola.

    [And, that you may be less bewildered by my words,
    consider the sun’s heat, which, blended with the moisture
    pressed from the vine, turns into wine.]

(Some have translated Dante’s omor [umore] with the English sap but moisture is a more accurate translation, especially given the context.)

In the light of Dante’s popularity during Galileo’s time, it’s likely (guaranteed, really) that Galileo was familiar with these lines. Magalotti cites the Dantean verses as well in his letter.

So did a poet once say that you could see the whole universe in a glass of wine?

It’s possible but unlikely.

Did the poets, as far back as Statius, consider wine to be a substance that could reveal the nature of the universe? Yes, most definitely.

Like me (however small I am compared to those giants), they were negotiating the epistemological implications of oenophilia.

Thanks for reading…


Defending a diacritic in Cogno’s “Anas-Cëtta” TY @brittanieshey

July 10, 2013

cogno anas cetta

A note of thanks to my friend and colleague Brittanie Shey (Houston-based music and lifestyle writer) who brought this New Yorker piece to my attention: “The Curse of the Diaeresis.”

It interests me for three reasons: 1) my doctoral thesis on medieval & Renaissance prosody (meter/versification) and transcription included a chapter devoted in part to diaeresis; 2) I have always been annoyed by the New Yorker’s hypergrammatical (yes, that’s a term; I didn’t coin it) use of the umlaut (aka diaeresis); and 3) Valter Fissore uses a gratuitous umlaut in the proprietary designation for his Cogno Langhe Nascetta.

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Pier Paolo Pasolini: Un Rap di Ùa, a performance in Friulian and English

April 10, 2012

Pasolini’s Lagoon @GiampaoloVenica

January 8, 2012

From my good friend @GiampaoloVenica:

    Winter view from Grado island lagoon now I understand Pasolini inspiration coming out from.

    For you Jeremy pic.twitter.com/9s5G7qgx


Natural wine and LSD

May 15, 2011

Yesterday, when Lewis Dickson poured me a glass of his recently bottled 2010 Du Petit Lait, a saignée of estate-grown Merlot and Black Spanish, I couldn’t help but be reminded what my friend downtown Michael told me the other day, as we sat in his office overlooking the San Diego Harbor and chatted about the vicissitudes of Natural wine.

“When you taste Natural wine,” he said, “it’s like you taste the fruit in technicolor.”

There was a pause. We looked at each and I think we both knew the thought that was going through the other’s mind.

“It’s like you’re high on LSD,” he said, beating me to the punch.

Here’s my tasting note for Lewis’s juicy, technicolor, and super delicious rosé:

Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,
Towering over your head.
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes,
And she’s gone.

Lewis, who grows and makes Natural wine about an hour and a half’s drive south of where Tracie P and I live in Central Texas, had come to town to partake in Pink Fest 2011 (a rosé wine tasting at our fav local wine bar and my client Vino Vino) and he brought a bottle for us to taste with him. Lewis, the inimitable Bill Head , and I also really loved the Zoë rosé by Skouras (Greece), made from mostly Agiorgitiko with a smaller amount of Moschofilero.

Tasting Lewis’s rosé reminded me of those countless times that we’ve offered a glass of a Natural wine to someone who’s never tasted one before. It’s always followed by a wow, I’ve never tasted anything like that before, that’s DELICIOUS

As I headed back to my desk and the piles of work that awaited me on an otherwise gorgeous Saturday afternoon in Austin, I couldn’t help but ponder the notion that Natural wine may not be for everyone… Maybe it’s only for those of us who are ready to open their minds and walk through the the doors of perception

Buona domenica, yall!


Night song of a wandering shepherd in Asia (Sunday poetry)

March 13, 2011

A friend (and immensely gifted food blogger) in Houston, Chris, recently asked me about the origins of the inscription above. He took the photo in the Abruzzo countryside (his photostream here). The lines (in bold below) come from one of the great “songs” of 19th-century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, “Night-Song Of A Wandering Shepherd of Asia.” We don’t read a lot of Leopardi today but in 1888 the editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica called this poem “one of the highest flights of modern lyric poetry.” Leopardi’s “style and melody,” they noted, “are unsurpassed.” In the poem, the “wandering shepherd” questions the moon about the “why” of life. (The stanza below is an excerpt and you can read the entire piece, in an excellent translation, here; read the poem in Italian here.)

The last years of my life have been the richest so far and I am blessed in the wealth of love I have found in Tracie P and my friends and family and the treasure of experiences we enjoy through enogastronomy and music these days. But the frailty of our human condition — whether the tragedy in Japan or a loved one facing a serious health crisis — often makes me rise early from our bed (as Tracie P slumbers, like today) and as I gaze over the internet through the computer screen (the moon to my shepherd?), I cannot help but ask “why?” Just like my nephew Oscar asks his grandmother Judy, why does the moon go away every night?

The opening lines of the poem echo Oscar’s quaestio:

Why are you there, Moon, in the sky? Tell me
why you are there, silent Moon.
You rise at night, and go
contemplating deserts: then you set.

Buona lettura…

Yet you, lovely, eternal wanderer,
so pensive, perhaps you understand
this earthly life,
this suffering, the sighs that exist:
what this dying is, this last
fading of our features,
the vanishing from earth, the losing
all familiar, loving company.
And you must understand
the ‘why’ of things, and view the fruits
of morning, evening,
silence, endless passing time.
You know (you must) at what sweet love
of hers the springtime smiles,
the use of heat, and whom the winter
benefits with frost.
You know a thousand things, reveal
a thousand things still hidden from a simple shepherd.
Often as I gaze at you
hanging so silently, above the empty plain
that the sky confines with its far circuit:
or see you steadily
follow me and my flock
:
or when I look at the stars blazing in the sky,
musing I say to myself:
‘What are these sparks,
this infinite air, this deep
infinite clarity? What does this
vast solitude mean? And what am I?’
So I question. About these
magnificent, immeasurable mansions,
and their innumerable family:
and the steady urge, the endless motion
of all celestial and earthly things,
circling without rest,
always returning to their starting place:
I can’t imagine
their use or fruit. But you, deathless maiden,
I’m sure, know everything.


Poetry in Friulian! Fantastic!

February 7, 2011

At last night’s COF2011 welcome dinner, Friulian journalist Adriano Del Fabro recited “Song of the Bells,” a poem in Friulian by Pier Paolo Pasolini and I read a translation by my friend, the great Italian translator Stephen Sartarelli.

Video by Nicolas Contenta.

I had written to Stephen last week asking him for permission to use one of his translations and he graciously and generously agreed.

I selected the poem especially because of the occasion — “strangers” coming to Friuli.

If poetry is the Devil’s wine, is wine the Devil’s poetry?


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