December 18, 2012
George Elliott Clarke in italiano
by Joseph Pivato
Since Marra is a creative writer in his own right, he brings a lyrical quality to his Italian translation which captures the force of Clarke's voice: Io sono un lirico Guerriero / che osserva la gelida luna / inghiottendo rum amaro di lacrime.
Marra has chosen many of Clarke's poems which have references to the history of slavery. Often a metonymy for this tragic history of forced transport to the New World is a simple reference to the Atlantic where so many African lives were lost. Guardare l'Atlantico e non piangere, / “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” conoscevamo / il terrore di una fede perduta.
In addition to the history of African-Canadians on the East Coast, Clarke often refers to American and European figures who have had an artistic or political impact in the twentieth century: Van Gogh, Malcolm X, Miles Davis, Martin Luther King, Erza Pound (“Al Cimitero, Venezia”) and others. In the final poem, “Testamento,” Clarke confesses: Prego mia figlia Aurelia di perdonarmi, / anche se sono stato un padre lontano, / prego mia miglie di perdonarmi / anche se sono stato un marito egoista.
Also included in the volume is the verse play, Whylah Falls which is set in Nova Scotia in the 1930s and Paris in the 1980s. This translation by Giulio Marra was used in an Italian production of this play as Le Cascate di Whylah staged in Venice in May and June, 2002. The Italian director, Giuseppe Emiliani used an all-Italian cast and a chorus to sing jazz, blues and spirituals. Clarke gives each of the nine characters his or her own poetic voice as a Black person and Marra tries to capture these individual qualities with Italian words. Here is an older and wiser Shelly’s reaction to her returning ex, Xavier and his protestations of love: Ho sentito papà dire a mamma quanto e quanto / L'amasse l'amasse l'amasse / E ho visto il suo pugno cadere così graziosamante / Sulla sua guancia da farla svenire.
The other verse play in this volume is Beatrice Chancy, which is based in the tragic story of the Cenci family murder and execution in Rome in 1599. Clarke has transported this story to a slave plantation in Nova Scotia in 1801. Slavery was not abolished in the British Empire until 1834. Clarke creates characters with strong voices to deal with the conflict of slaves fighting for freedom. We hear Beatrice complain about her sudden enslavement by her white father: Qual è il mio crimine? Che sono una donna? Nera? Le mie sofferenze evocano quelle di mia madre, che si consumė la pelle nera fino al bianco dell’osso.
In addition to the play, Beatrice Chancy, Clarke also wrote a libretto for the opera by the same name. The music for this opera adaptation was written by James Rolfe. Between 1999 and 2001 the opera Beatrice Chancy was staged in Halifax, Edmonton, Toronto and on the CBC.
Giulio Marra has performed a valuable service for Italian readers by introducing them to an important Canadian writer. Every time he goes to Italy, Clarke reports that he gets very large and responsive audiences to his readings and performances. It appears that Italians have a greater appreciation of poetry and literature generally than Canadians. I expect that this will be reflected in large sales for Poesie e Drammi.
Joseph Pivato is the editor of the collection Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke (Guernica, 2012).
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