Poetry News

No Err Here: Jennifer Scappettone Interviewed at Asymptote

By Harriet Staff

Poet, scholar, and translator (from the Italian) Jennifer Scappettone is interviewed at Asymptote. Scappettone's "translation of Italian poet Milli Graffi was featured on the Asymptote blog last week and her translation of F. T. Marinetti’s futurist poetry appeared in our Spring 2016 issue," write the editors. Allegra Rosenbaum asks the important questions, including "How did you know you wanted to be a translator? How did you become a translator?" and "What is a recent translator puzzle you’ve overcome rather cleverly?" Excitingly, this is where Amelia Rosselli comes in:

In translating Amelia Rosselli’s early work, I was confronted with a major problem: her centrifugal treatment of personal, impersonal, and possessive pronouns, cast into archaic, elided, foreign, and improper forms. This tendency is at its most intense in “Cos’ha il mio cuore che batte sì soavemente,” a short lyric in Variazioni belliche [Bellicose Variations] that plays in the space between archaism and neologism as it echoes the sounds and tropes of early vulgate love poetry, successor to the troubadour lyric. As I point out in the introduction, eo (from the Latin ego) is an archaic form of io (I), sometimes found in regional vernaculars, though Rosselli claims in her notes that it refers to egli (he) or esso (it), rendering the term almost impossible to translate “correctly”:

…tu [you/all?] Quelle

scolanze che vi imprissi pr’ia ch’eo [I/he/it]

si [reflexive or impersonal pronoun] turmintussi sì

fieramente, tutti gli sono dispariti!…


…lle Those

scomminglings therein ’mprinted fore Ille

be harrowed so

fiercely, alle hath evanished!…

Rosselli explained in annotations to Pasolini that the “tu” (you) opening this excerpt was a truncation of “tutte” (all), though given the pervasive presence of the phoneme “tu” and its echoes throughout the poem, readers are bound to see “you” where the poet allegedly intends “all,” rendering these pronouns mutual in some way. I translated this word, in turn, as “lle,” which echoes and truncates the pseudo-Elizabethan “alle” below it, while appearing as a Roman numeral II, or an I and e (‘e or hee, in archaic English speech) placed together at the same time.

I then chose to translate the phrase “pr’ia ch’eo” as “fore Ille,” as if “pr’ia” were an elision of “prima” ([be]fore) and “ch’eo” were “che io/esso” ([that] I/he/it). This “Ille” stands orthographically between “I’ll” and “egli” while being pronounceable as “eel” (“[h]e’ll) and becoming almost geometrical on the visual level, hovering between an I I I or a HE.

As you can see, there really was no palatable conservative way to preserve Rosselli’s meaning and intention, to the extent that one might manage to excavate them. Instead of making a single clarifying or rationalizing choice, I tried to preserve the ambiguities in a very erratic original text (and I could go on at length about the lexical choices made above!). One necessarily “errs” when doing this.

Find more Q&As with Scappettone and Rosenbaum at Asymptote.

Originally Published: November 14th, 2017