At recent book reading

At recent book reading

Monday, September 24, 2007

New review of my book

Book review by Prof. Roberto Buranello (College of Staten Island, Cuny) in Quaderni d'Italianistica, vol. XXVIII, No. 1, 2007; pp.189-91.

Diego L. Bastianutti. Per un pugno di terra / For a Fistful of Soil. Magenta (Milano): Associazione Culturale Zeisciù Centro Studi, 2006. Pp. 239. ISBN 88-87405-18-2. $30.

An established scholar of Italian and Spanish literature, formerly of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Diego Bastianutti's passion for literature has taken on a more actively engaged dimension over the last ten or fifteen years with his emergence as a talented poet who writes with equal confidence in English and in Italian. His previously published volumes of poetry, Il punto caduto (1993) and La barca in secco (1995) were critical successes and boded well for this new direction. Equally impressive was his translation, A Major Selection of the Poetry of Giuseppe Ungaretti (1997), which garnered him the John Glassco Translation Prize of 1998, awarded by the Literary Translators' Association of Canada. A member of the League of Canadian Poets, he remains a regular contributor to the local poetry scene in Vancouver where, for example, he reads his work at The World Poetry Reading Series at the Vancouver Public Library, and, more recently, was invited to the Istituto Italiano di Cultura's twentieth anniversary celebration of the Association of Italian and Canadian Writers. Per un pugno di terra / For a Fistful of Soil is a happy marriage of both his talents as a poet and translator since this edition boasts poems in Italian with facing-pages English renderings by the author himself. For example:

Qui /là

dove si gloria la monotonia
di cose nuove
già vecchie nate
non voglio stare

Lasciatemi andar là
dove ogni gesto e parola
profumo e sapore
è dolce reminescenza

Here / There

where the monotony
of new things born
already old is glorified
I don't want to stay

Let me go there
where every manner word
scent and taste
is sweet reminescence.

For the reader with competence in Italian and English, the poems collected here merit reading in both languages.
The experiences and observations of Diego Bastianutti, who emigrated from Fiume to Toronto (via the USA), then to Cefalù, and finally returned to Vancouver, are rich, varied, and conveyed intensely in his poetry. The feelings of disorientation, bitterness, despair, longing , and frustration, as well as those of joy, love, serenity, success, may certainly be considered from the point of view of the immigration experience, as the poet himself has readily admitted, since they allow for a distinct perception and, perhaps, a heightened sensitivity to one's surroundings. The importance placed on the settings may first be noticed in such titles as Un solo verso (Sicilia, 1997-2003), Segesta, Saline di Trapani, Mozia, Cefalù, as well as Dialoghi di cuoio (a Paolo Brugnone, Cefalù, 2003), Promemoria (rientro dall'esilio, 1997), and Meticcio (Fiume, Toronto, Cefalù, Vancouver). These and others are places for meditation, reflection and, finally, expression of the intimate and personal journey that has become vaster, more essentially meaningful.
Already from the book's presentation, the reader is aware of expanding horizons since the single author has composed poems in two languages, divided into four sections: I. Terramara (22-77); II. Non più solo (80-131); III. Il complesso di Anteo (134-203); IV. Senza più confini (206-239). Although some readers of Bastianutti's poetry may recognize one or two poems from his previous work, here they are re-presented and contextualized within a broader perspective.
The poems in Terramara often express bitterness, even "[d]isperazione panico paura" (Passero, 36) and straining to be heard and comprehended. In the opening poem, Il dono, the image of the serpent ("Il serpente si avvinghia / attorno al mio melo / e mi offre / la parola" [22] urgently conveys this. Its reappearance in Allo specchio ("E il serpente in calore /mi allingua insistente / mi lima l'anima" [44] brings with it various expressions of despair, longing, and frustration only to conclude with vorrei cantarlo's final, "[...] e ascolto contro i vetri / il mio canto muto" (76) As the title Non più solo implies, this section contains reflections on love and hope for the future. In Al di là dal vetro, he declares, "Trattengo il fiato / per non appanare / la mia gioia" (82) and further, in In te mi affaccio, he states "In te mi affaccio a me / e t'amo" (128). In Il complesso di Anteo, Bastianutti has returned to Italy, to Sicily, where the very soil strengthens and enriches him. The land, the sea, the sky, the fishermen, and the cobblers that are depicted in his poems -- all exude vitality and nourish him in his return to Italy. His search for "un verso di gratitudine / per aver atteso paziente / che arrivassi io / a capirmi / e a sciogliere / le catene" (138) ultimately concludes with the vision of "[..] sfuggenti ali / rosso gialle / di ginestre e fichidindia / sporti a picco / sulla rupe" (Pace, (202) before leaving Sicily. In Senza più confini Bastianutti has returned to Canada, to Vancouver, more reflective of his journeys and their implications. In Il tempo non scandito he wishes "ad assoporare il futuro / mediato da un passato / non ancora sciupato / dal presente" (212) and concludes with the peace of mind that his choice to leave behind that "pugno di terra" was the correct one since he does not need to obsess over any one particular place: "Con la pace in tasca / la luna e il sole mi sorridono per ogni dove / e ormai faccio parte del futuro / per quel che sono: / un meticcio" (225).
Diego Bastianutti's proud declaration of his status as a "meticcio" who partakes more completely in the present through a thoughtful reappraisal of the past and who now looks to the future is truly hopeful and inspiring. While the poems contained in this handsome volume, complete with an insightful introduction by Sergio Maria Gilardino (8-12), do treat issues relating to identity and belonging -staples of Italian Canadian (or more broadly, "ethnic") literature, their appeal is not limited to the confines of that literary category. In varied and beautiful verse in Italian and English, Diego Bastianutti distinguishes himself as an honest, sensitive, and perceptive poet who speaks to essntial human needs and desires.

Roberto Buranello
College of Staten Island / CUNY

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