Interview with Anny Ballardini
Anny Ballardini: This question has something biblical in it.
At first there were words, lights, colors, music.
An unfolding of worlds, my incapacity of flying, my effort in having to coordinate. There was theory. As Pound says in Mary de Rachewiltz’s Discretions, the passage from the _animal to the human state_ from instinct to the mastering of the tools available to express, elaborate, through memorization. As I said, it was Leopardi from the strict education of my mother, and the Mother Goose Rhymes a good soul gave me with one of those big boxes of 100 Crayola crayons. This and my dreams _inside, and the space outside with the wind and sharp lights, and the people, the shop windows, the hippies, the sea, the people with different languages and voices, this never-ending always different human landscape, my father, my grandmother, that is as far as I can go. The rest is distorted, not because I cannot remember, but because others put their will into it.
At the age of 11 and for three years there was the piano.
Now poetry begins at my table, here where I am now.
When I travel and I have a book on which I can scribble notes, poetry begins in a different way, with all the difficulty it endeavors. It comes, in the slowest motion, one word at the time,
(I can look out of the window, look around)
and each word is right, I just have to wait for them to appear, keep my mind free.
But here, when I come here to write, I am trying to remember that distant poetry, that is why I need to write and rewrite and cancel, because I am projecting a surrogate of what it was, and I am rarely satisfied. Otherwise we talk of exercises of style, not as good as the ones by Queneau.
TB: Where were you born?
AB: I answered your question, saved, and it disappeared. I will rewrite it again…
I was born in the middle of the night with a full round moon (if I am not wrong this is also the opening of a biography on Toulouse Lautrec) in the tiniest village in the world: Cort, a small fraction of Montagne (because it is set in the mountains and Cort, especially my grandmother’s house right on a cliff, overlooks the valley cut by the Sarca river) in the province of Trento in the north of Italy close to Austria. Cort in the local dialect means short, but the troubadours used cort to talk of a court. I discovered that Ballard (Jean-Baptiste Christophe) was the imprimeur de music at the court of Louis XIV, an imposing and respectable figure who decided to publish Luly, born in Florence as Lulli, thus bringing him to the stardom of the period. Cort, these few houses have a little church that hosts maybe eight benches and is dedicated to the Mère de la Salette, you can find the sanctuary close to Grenoble in the South-East of France. Talking of religion I have to mention my mother and her ancestors, i Leonardi, originally from the German Lionhard. I recopied the coat of arms for a relative, I don’t know if you know, but you have to reproduce every single line, it seems in fact that each etched segment has a particular meaning. This all what was left of probably territories and lands. Even the coat of arms went lost _I am sure I gave it back.
And I was born out of and in the blood of my mother, literally. A Caesarian birth through the incompetent hands of a nurse, they were not able to find the doctor.
It was a sabbatical year for my father in which he also got married, 1955/’56. When I was three months old I was already in the Village in New York, where I grew up to the age of ten.
TB: So, Anny, then you went back to Italy?
AB: The beginning of the dark age.
But that is all right, better walk through the Middle Ages at a young age when vigor and natural strength -imbued by ignorance but brightened by intuition- are with you, than reaching them when you are 40. Personal life as an historical corpus. From here obedience, the hiding, shyness, and my interest in books, a metaphysical search, an endless branching into what I did not know. As Vico so brilliantly stated, to the primitive stage follows classicism that deteriorates into decadentism to start again and at a more complex evolutionary level from primitivism. Stroboscopic openings the passages of which have to be visited/lived through. Joy of life will come back with moments of perfection followed by detachment, refusal or a decadent liberal living _to be able to get rid of the snake’s skin; escapes and come backs, perfection and disaster, glory and ignobility, this the going of a man, and I have received much already, now that I am: “Nel bel mezzo del cammin” di mia vita.
Ezra Pound through Terrell: ’e lo soleils plovil’ (thus the light rains, Canto IV, Pound’s rendering of Arnaut Daniel’s on lo soleills plovil), the light-water-stone progression ending in crystal; i.e. the transmutation of fluid transparency of subjective experience into the objective solidity of stone through poetry; the alchemist’s fabrication of the philosopher’s stone by palingenesis”.
No elements are missing: light, in this complete cycle, can be interpreted, and this is probably the original meaning, as the burning of the sun through the air _the fusion of hydrogen into helium. Fire provoking combustion, the energy that moves the spheres. An adept of fire was Rudolf Steiner with his explanation of fires as the points in which people, drawn by at/traction, interest or curiosity, meet.
And through the philosopher’s stone we have redeemed the Middle Ages with their complex and marvelous symbols that defy those who enter the period with a scientific mind.
Going back to the beginning of my answer, the return to Italy brought to surface what was at the very beginning, this time coated with Romanticism since the village when compared with the Village was small but plunged in nature, the happiness of the green house in the green. From the surrounding environment I could breathe how thick centuries of direct papal power weighed on the poor inhabitants of those heavy houses.
Mine were sparks of enlightenment through a direct and spontaneous criticism of a social system that was cracking in the moment in which television was slowly appearing. I was different with my ten years of age, alone because my parents arrived one year later, and this difference forged me into an adult.
TB: I'm guessing that English was your first language and that Italian subsequently became your dominant tongue. Is that about right?
AB: Yes and no. My mother practically couldn’t speak English, while my father spoke in English with me. I faced Italian at school with its complicated grammar. But I was lucky enough to go through the two languages with a certain easiness. At school I added Latin, German, French; during my year in Argentina I got in contact with Spanish, and I fell in love with Brazilian Portuguese thus recording one of my highest conquests when I thought I could understand it /completely forgotten by now.
The problem with languages, as the problem with knowledge is that it does not stick with you, it betrays you if you do not keep it practiced/nourished_alive. I remember in New Orleans a young guy asked me to teach him Italian, and believe it or not, the language seemed to me all so funny, distanced as it was from its original context.
I remember as a teenager how seriously I approached my studies. Through a language I had the access to a civilization – the language seen in its historical and sociolinguistic context. Having attended a lyceum, our studies covered the related literatures that shed an aesthetic value to which I gave great importance. I often compared languages to mathematics because of their syntactical structures, poetry and prose instead were the lymph, their lives.
Lyotard says that the “language is immanent in us”, probably more languages you can master, more immanency you have, or to more immanency you are subdued.
TB: This may strike you as an absurd question, but do you feel yourself to be--in some sense--a different person when you move from using one language to using another?
AB: I even change my voice. I noticed that my English uses or needs a deeper tone of my voice, my Italian, even if quite deep, has a different channel of expression. French, which I almost forgot, was the most difficult to attain because of those particular “r”’s and of the “u” sound, and I thought I could master it when I finally dreamt a good old long dream in French. I would definitely set the learning and the mastering of languages at the level of small inner and gratifying conquests.
Something very similar to some good lines you are finally able to write, a couple of good intuitions in an article or a review, you put on that sort of instinctive unseen smile, just for yourself that lasts the length of a glance, but you are anyhow able to savor it.
TB: I've lost my Italian, but studied it seriously in college because I wanted to take a crack at reading Dante. So, I have a glimmer of an idea of what it is like to begin to think in another language.
Who do you think of as your poetic forebears?
AB: As I said before we were studying the different literatures. In French we followed the Lagarde/ Micharde with its four volumes; in English it was the literature of the Britons; some very censured Latin literature (my teacher was a nun whom I thought was over 90), and finally in Italian we started out with The Betrothed by Manzoni to go to the origins with Virgil, a translated version of Homer, Dante _I was able to read his Comedy as I can read now the newspaper; then up to the middle of the XXth century. At the Interpreters school we faced literary and technical translation, two different courses of studies with their related exams. I had a substantial educational background on which to start working, that on the other hand took away from me that blest ignorance needed to start out a new art, and gave me the awareness that I still had so much to read. I noticed that at a certain point I was bolder with my colors and drawings _I never had any specific education in visual art_ than with my writings which I kept on throwing away till about three, four years ago. The same accepted act of creative writing supported and enhanced by my direct confrontation with journalism and the world of the media.
Thus Europe was the cradle that started out my serious education, and the States are my opening to the world. A “new” literature I could approach freely, skipping centuries, the minors, the recognized peaks, the currents, I was finally free to pick up a book I liked and linger on it. A freedom I cherished in getting the Poets’ Corner organized, or in keeping my blog.
Who are my forebears, who knows. It is all so thick with words, ideas, philosophies, interpretations that it is difficult to draw one-way streets.
TB: I've never been interested in one-way streets, conduits or "through-put." Intersections and collisions are entirely other matters. The worldwide web--site of thorough-going intersection-- seems to be where--through your blog and website-- you have established yourself as a writerly presence. What has that online work meant to you?
AB: It’s half past six in the morning and I am looking at the tree that marks the corner of the opposite building, white against white, white the building behind it, the one with red leaves that moves in the wind each branch with the thickness and subtleness of its foliage waving in a different way, the fresh sound of every leaf in its different half-spiraling movement, the greenness of the distinct greens _from silvery -also their sounds- to that compact dark fragmented depth separating infinite volumes and spaces_ of the tree that breathes here in front
I would like to convey this image to you, in its most detailed form for you to perceive how imposing it seems to me. From this need stems my blog and the Corner, the two of them since I find them narrowly bound. And this was my initial idea. Their development brought to an exponential set of reasons by which I should continue. I wouldn’t have met you, for example.
For our readers, a challenge like the Corner has been one of the greatest openings possible in our time, unless you are the owner of a theater like the Metropolitan in New York and can invite whomever suits you. Besides being an excellent school for me in our contemporary poetry. Every author featured on the Corner was invited by me to join, which means that I had to get in contact with her/his poetry, usually by googling the author. There is no way I can praise my work, it would hinder my potential, far from me the thought. I want instead to assess the quality of the writings of those Authors who sent me their work and state again how grateful I am for their contribution. I have felt each acceptance as a personal present, see how spoilt I have been!
Thanks to a collaboration with the national broadcasting radio RAI, and its regional space in the person of Nives Simonetti, collaboration extended to the Alto Adige, the main local newspaper on which the same author is featured on the day of the broadcast, I am introducing a new author every fortnight. This, together with my translating skills, have brought me to extend the Corner with translations into Italian. I also thought that I will soon take your example and start with interviews to the Authors.
Ideas and ideas, time is their enemy, but I might be able to carry things out properly within this stay that at the moment seems eternity.
TB: I like what Alain Badiou wrote about eternity: "Eternity does not consist in 'remaining as one is,' or in duration. Eternity is precisely what watches over disappearance."
Who are the contemporary writers in Europe whom you find to be most engaging?
AB: Thank you for your quotation.
Pierre Lévy, whom I met some years ago, a gentleman with his enthusiasm for the future.
“We appear to have lost the radiant world where one thought cuts through another with clean edge, a world of moving energies” says Pound in the chapter dedicated to Cavalcanti in his Literary Essays.
I avoided doing lists until now, and I said that I prefer American Authors for the brilliancy my America still has. Besides that I do not find it fair towards those I have on the Poets’ Corner to prefer some to others, but let me see who comes out this time. Paolo Ruffilli, Mary de Rachewiltz in poetry, Ugo Carrera in visual poetry, prose and poetry, are my closest references here, su suolo italiano. Digging down a little in time I would like to remember Carlo Emilio Gadda, one of my favorite authors who “sculpted” the Italian language as I used to say while reading him, together with Italo Calvino, Cesare Pavese, Carlo Levi, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Eugenio Montale, Mario Luzi, Daniele Del Giudice, Sebastiano Vassalli the scholar of Dino Campana, and the great Antonio Tabucchi who has retired and does not wish to have any official contacts, the patient translator of Pessoa’s heteronymous. I feature two collections of poems and several unpublished poems by Dickinson in the Italian translation by Michele Pierri (1899-1988) on the Poets’ Corner thanks to his son Giuseppe Pierri who keeps the memory of his beloved father alive. Giuseppe’s extremely accurate biography of his father can be read in Italian, a life that had to face two world wars in the south of Italy, first as a doctor, then as a poet. Friend of Giuseppe Ungaretti, Giacinto Spagnoletti, Girolamo Comi, Oreste Macrì, Donato Valli, Giorgio Caproni and Luigi Fallacara, his tortured nature looks at poetry as a personal and deep meditation, the light for which he has kept on looking.
I would like to remember Vincenzo Cerami. My interest in films brought me to meet him – if I remember right we were in Rimini, the birth town of Federico Fellini; as I was honored to meet Marco Bellocchio (the director of one of the most stunning movies I have watched: Pugni in tasca, 1965), Giuseppe Bertolucci, Antonio Albanese, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Benigni, for whom Vincenzo Cerami wrote La vita è bella. It was Pasolini, his Italian teacher in his first teens to lead him to literature, teachings that have developed in majestic performances. I remember Cerami as a sweet and understanding man.
Opening up to Europe: Ruth Fainlight, Cees Nooteboom, Kjell Espmark, Nessa O’Mahony, Michael Peverett who translated the beautiful poems of the Swedish poet Karin Boye –later on translated by me into Italian, Douglas Clark, Ian Davidson, Carol Rumens, Peter Philipott, the man behind www.greatworks.org.uk, Lawrence Upton,
the brilliant Linh Dinh who, if I am not wrong is in England now, we can thus value his presence here; Lidia Vianu and her inestimable work; and…
How many am I forgetting?
TB: It's not that I want you to rate your loves. It's that I hope to learn what constellations of influence you move within.
Backing up to the passage where you're looking at the tree and wrestling with description, I'm wondering…Is poetry for you, in itself, a kind of process of translation?
AB: Of interpretation, discovery, and refinement.
I would like to praise your choice of Constellations, as you know they move.
TB: What moves you? Could you bring forward one of your texts and discuss how it came to be?
Intelligence & work.
The following is a poem that was written the way I think all poems should be written, as I said at the beginning of this very long conversation with you, while I was traveling by train back to Bolzano.
in the land of wolves ice shivers to pieces of moon
a child’s dreamy estate stopped by the crater
detached is the unfastened single blow
like blood, the fierce smell of it
pierces like wind
those heights of the Kings
stepped down for parades
pinnacles unspoken, lances trophies armors
under glass, the room of the couple shut off
by a chain in the right wing, room N°. 7
surrounded by the ruins of the castle
In Slovakia -where I was for a project I have been carrying out for school: yomag.net, together with the person in charge at the Verbraucherinstitut in Berlin, Elke Salzmann- we were invited everywhere and treated in a superb way. One evening they brought us by bus to a restaurant in the middle of the woods, kilometers and kilometers in the dark cutting through fir trees, the moon bright up there. This long trip was a privilege because I could finally be alone with my thoughts after a couple of uninterrupted days of meetings and people. At the restaurant we met the owner, a very jovial character who had organized the waitresses and three musicians in their traditional costumes. I remember I went outside and there was this piercing smell of blood. Later on I got to know that the owner was a hunter and that in the area there were still wolves. It was very cold and the streets were icy. They also brought us up to the castle, on the turret after endless steps there was a circular room with windows all around, a spectacular view in the freezing wind. And we then finally visited the rooms inside. I am thus merely describing my trip with the remembrance of another trip, the one that took me to Italy.
TB: You make me want to experience those people and places. I get the sense that place is of particular importance to your work. Is that so?
AB: I forgot to say that Slovakia in 2003, and probably still now, seemed to me very poor. It was interesting to cross it by train and reach the border with Austria to compare the two countries. There was something that made me think of Dostoyevsky but I think that to meet him one should go further into the big Russia.
Salvador Dalì, and before him René Thom would support your question with a positive answer. I have become a private person, the opposite of what I was as a child, and on a day like today, Sunday, even if I live in the center of town, I am able to isolate myself from what surrounds me. This should be my place since I was born close to here.
But New York is New York, forgive me the logical association, or New Orleans for a different reason. As I said, two disaster –ed cities, part of my past.
The internet has marked an incredible twist. More than here it seems to me that I am on the net. One of the greatest inventions in the history of man, and I am most grateful for the previously unthinkable possibilities it has given us.
With reference to your comment, and if I remember right, Borges spent several years traveling while working on his poems, from Gasthouse to Bread & Breakfast to Pensione, I would definitively love it!
TB: My wife's of Slovak descent. She grew up hearing that language spoken in her Cleveland, Ohio household. And many of our holiday celebrations have a decidedly Slovak flavor.
What, I want to ask, cara Anny, is what propels you forward, what keeps you interested?
AB: Congratulations for your excellent choice.
I think the Arts in their multiform expressions and vastness are able to keep me here and going, the Arts and their majestic Interpreters.
Thank you Tom for your intelligent interest and care.
TB: Thank you, Anny.