Alberto Toni, STONE GREEN

New York, Gradiva, 2014

Anamaría Crowe Serrano’s and Riccardo Duranti’s translation of the poems included in Alberto Toni’s Stone Green is characterized both by precision in transferring lexis and by English rhythmic rendering.

This volume of selected poems, covering thirty years of writing from 1980 to 2010, reveals some constant motifs as well as variations. The main variation would appear to be a shift towards more complex syntax, longer verse form, and more explicitly identifiable themes, especially those concerning history and family, starting with the collection entitled Teatralità dell’atto, dated 2004. Constants, however, can be traced throughout the book. I would like to mention some.

First, a general observation could be that this type of poetry combines lyricism, thought and, partly, self-reflectivity.

The lyrical nature of several of the poems included in Stone Green is only marginally given by statements made by a first person author. In fact we most often find subjectivity expressed through description, telling of emotional states, reference to nature, and general scenes given as objective and yet accounting for personal views and feelings. Imagery and reflections are drawn together, and they are expressed in a simple vocabulary that constructs a complex meaning, at times through realistic, and at other times through dreamy registers.

The time dimension is frequent and pressing. The seasons are evoked to enhance psychological perceptions, refer to memory, and reach metaphysical depth - Spring (“There’s May sunshine inside / the strength felt in your favourite / blue”, p. 17); Summer (“And on the June grass / we have dwelled – in the fairest / of all meadows where we met”, p. 29); Autumn (“Waking up in Autumn, / meeting somewhere in the abyss”, p. 13); (“[…] the first song of Winter / […] / […] no memory is more cherished than this”, p. 49).

Like in Eliade’s “eternal return”, time undertakes a “continuous / rebirth” (p. 35) by alternating memory that goes (“you who can’t remember any more / and I can’t remember with you”, p. 69) and novelty that comes forward. The passing of time is partly equated to the phases of life (“half of life / is already shaken by the storm”, p. 45); and the choice is made to avoid dying by “living from one day / to the next” (p. 47).

Passing through one’s existence is therefore a “journey” that “continues” even though “we keep going / none the wiser” (p. 35). Still, there is a call to “go on” (as Beckett has it at the end of the Trilogy), following “destiny” (p. 41).

The space of the journey through adversity, everyday events and states of mind is influenced by the space of landscape and the meeting points of memory. In one of the poems, the simile used for this journey and its anxiety is “breath” which “tiptoes / across the streets” cohabiting with “the void to be filled” (p. 27). And, in another poem, an attempt is made to win over emptiness: “In the emptiness, a light / cast on the ancient branch” (p. 15).

Toni juxtaposes the learning to exist with Montale’s “male di vivere” (the “pain of living” [1]), to which he alludes by using the phrase “male disanimato” (translated by Crowe Serrano as “lifeless evil”, p. 91), and this is a moderate type of optimism. A wish for a positive progression of the individual and the collective is indicated, in a different poem, by the line “We would need a light for the future” (p. 43).

In Toni’s work, progress beyond static situations is granted also by literature itself. The metaphor for writing as a rescuing tool offers itself, for example, in the poem in which the first person voice explains how he “doggedly insist[s]” on one of his own “notes” with a feeling of “drowning” while thinking over a “point of strength” where he previously found himself, and from this thought he moves on to a solution to the dead-end in the last line (“I’m still opening all the doors”, p. 21).

In brief, on the level of theme, Toni explores life as a journey through existence, difficult to cross, constellated with moments of memory both lost and recaptured, in a present where writing helps to witness movement and impasse, and towards a future that might be to an extent positive.
On the level of intertextuality and other literary allusions, under the simplicity of the language, we have rather sophisticated imagery. I would like to point out just one example here: synesthesia, visible in images such as “violet-tinged” hours, a “stone-green” smile (whence the title of this collection), and “the green of symphonies” (p. 8).

A network of literary references is noticeable. They are partly explicit references to classic and modern authors such as D’Annunzio (p. 66) and Ginsberg (ibid.), and there are partly implicit references to writers such as Petrarch (a quotation of “chiome sparse”, p. 58, or “flowing hair”, p. 59) and Quasimodo (“trafitto da un raggio di sole”, from “Ed è subito sera” becomes Toni’s “il sole trafigge”, p. 68, or “the sun pierces”, p. 69). Characters from literature (for instance Ulysses, p. 73, and Aeneas, p. 75) are mentioned, thus constituting a further intertextual layer.

In Stone Green, poetry is defined as a reflection of reality, yet it is rather a symbolic than a photographic imitation, or, as Toni himself puts it, a “mirror […] / traveling through time” (p. 53). In a poem called “Poems”, the point is made that “nothing is lost / if you know how to listen to” poems (p. 37), thus literature is a concentrated and dense way to represent life and its flow. In one of Toni’s texts we read a definition of what a poem is: a “suspended image” that “holds on / by itself” (p. 35), in other words a whole which does not need side discourse.

[Roberto Bertoni]

[1] This translation is suggested in the Word Reference Forum.