Contemporary Italian
Women Poets
A Bilingual Anthology

Edited by Cinzia Sartini Blum
and Lara Trubowitz

Annali d’Italianistica 2002

Publishers Weekly, May 21, 2001

Annali d’Italianistica 20 (2002): 617-20.
Reviewed by Stefania Benini. Translation by Cinzia Sartini Blum.

THE CRITICAL INTEREST in Italian women writers is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is linked to the emergence of feminist thought and the influence of overseas Gender Studies. An even more recent phenomenon is the critical attention being paid to Italian women poets.

The poetry of women is still a territory that has only been partially explored by academic scholarship.…Women’s writings deserve serious critical attention: not the kind of reading that classifies them as anthropological materials, or on the basis of narrow thematic/stylistic parameters; rather, studies that can identify differences and affinities within their multiform landscape.…

Conscious of these premises, the volume Contemporary Italian Women Poets. A Bilingual Anthology…pursues such an endeavor. It is an important contribution and a resource that will certainly be of interest, not only to the English-speaking public, but also to Italianists, who have lacked such an up-to-date collection of women’s verse.

This volume presents a critical approach that differentiates it from the usual scholarly essays of the Anglo-American school. In many respects, the anthology is put together in a typically Italian fashion, adopting a diachronic perspective based on “generational” periods. The selected authors are introduced in three ways: first, by the introduction, which takes a critical, historical perspective; second, by the anthological selection; and third, by the repertoire of biographical notes. Three different criteria structure the three sections: one is generational, a second is chronological, and the third is alphabetical.…

An inquiry on a vast scale, transgenerational and transregional, including the singling out of individual characteristics and differences: this is the endeavor that Blum and Trubowitz pursue in their own third-generation anthology. There is, however, an important difference. This volume intends, through an approach that is more synthetic than analytical, to bring back women’s poetry from the margins into the mainstream of the second half of the 20th century. It refers to a thought of belonging, not just of difference. The text transcribes the signs — occult, unexplored, or never registered — of the essential contribution of women to the official geography of contemporary poetry, its poetic tendencies, currents and schools.…

The breadth of the introduction, therefore, has a two-fold purpose. First of all, it wants to direct the reading public through the complex, stratified jungle of post-World War II Italian poetry, from its hermetic matrices to the ramifications of its realist and neo-avant-garde movements, and finally to its neo-orphic and ludo-ironic filiations at the end of the millennium. At the same time, however, the historical synthesis leaves open the possibility of analytical detours dedicated to the women poets, whose paths intersect schools, different currents, and literary diatribes, reacting harmoniously or disharmoniously to the cultural climate of their own era.

The second section directly introduces the texts and their translation without any critical comment. The poets are listed in chronological order, as are the works of each author.… Noteworthy is the choice of the selected texts that offer, as has been stated, ample confirmation of the thematic analyses, revealing the fascinating variety and originality of these compositions in their stylistic/formal choices, their intonation, and their metaphorical associations. The breadth of influences extends from contemporary to classical-hermetic, and from neo-avant-garde to the prosaic forms of those who write diaries or extended narratives. At times, the choice of texts, especially for writers who are already well-known and translated, does not include the most recent texts.… If, on the one hand, this permits a more original exploration of the body of these poetic works, on the other hand, the popularizing purpose of the anthology would seem to require a more “obvious” sampling.

As for the translation, the high quality of the translated texts is, without a doubt, one of the strong points of the anthology. At the tail end of the introductory section (LI-LIII), Blum and Trubowitz devote a small, theoretical critique to the work of translation that follows, almost as a way to mediate the impact of the bilingual section of the anthology. They describe the problems encountered in translation and indicate the criteria adopted in the delicate passage from Italian to English. The question of gender, in regard to nouns and adjectives, is of particular interest in an anthology of this type. The absence of feminine gender in English translations produces a short-circuit, a delayed explosion, a micro-shock that introduces an aspect of surprise in the text, increasing the subversive charge with respect to gender. Blum and Trubowitz are as flexible as necessary in their translations. They are successfully “intimate but not mimetic” (LII), to quote the translation theory of Susan A. Handelman, even though there are some misinterpretations. To translate a Rossellian “arcadia” into “Arcadia” (Attorno a questo mio corpo 86) is more than a little forced, but it is no more than a point for discussion in a verbal tapestry that is otherwise successfully transposed into another language. Rosselli, Insana, and Niccolai, furthermore, with their linguistic games and neologisms, are, without a doubt, among the most difficult authors to translate.

The third and final section of the volume includes a series of biographical notes. The biographies are concise, exhaustive, up-to-date, and detailed. The biographical notes dedicated to individual women poets contain not only the titles of their collected, published poetry, but also a list of their texts in prose, translations, and essays. Following this, finally, is a valuable, selected bibliography that includes anthologies containing poetic texts of women published in Italy and in English-speaking countries, a series of critical essays inspired by the Anglo-American tradition of Gender Studies, or by Italian feminism, and texts on literary history.…

Contemporary Italian Women Poets is, therefore, an extremely useful instrument of analysis, a rich, up-to-date, repertory of texts, and offers an innovative, cutting-edge critique for the investigation of women’s poetry in Italy, linked as much to the school of “differenza” as it is to the discussion of belonging to the dynamic cultural structures of the second half of the 20th century. In its own way, it is a text that is unique in its field, be it in the English-speaking realm or the Italian-speaking realm.

This anthology will certainly constitute an important source of international visibility for women’s poetry in Italy, and will stimulate a renewed debate about literature and gender in regard to this very valid and still partially unexplored body of poetic work.

Publishers Weekly, May 21, 2001

INCLUDING 25 poets published since 1950, Contemporary Italian Women Poets: A Bilingual Anthology introduces American readers to poetry that, in the words of Luciana Frezza, “won’t stop returning.”

University of Iowa associate professor Cinzia Sartini Blum and Lara Trubowitz, a lecturer in rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley, present their own selections and translations of a plethora of poems, with the original a fronte.

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