Poetry book launch: Night Road to Life
Strada di notte per la vita
This is the full text of the speech by renowned Italian poet Paolo Totaro AM to launch Ferdinando Manzo’s latest poetry collection at Knox Street Bar, Chippendale, Sydney, last Saturday night.
Paolo Totaro speech:
‘Before we start, let’s remember those in Umbria now in unimaginable suffering.
Over the millennia Italy has been routinely savaged by nature and wars. She always picks herself up. It is the collective wish from this gathering.
We see them at Woolworths, at the gym, they are young, speak Italian better, are tall, well-dressed. They are the new Italians of Australia. They are Italy’s great loss and our gain. Ferdinando Manzo is one of them. He is a poet and, as such, deserves particular attention.
Australian poetry has a special place in English literatures also because among its poets are Italian, Greek, Arabic, Vietnamese, Lao, Filipino, Latvian, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Yiddish, and Irish writers. Only a few of these have been published and received recognition. Their stories are often interwoven with world events, and always they are efforts to find a new voice in a new language and a new land. So it was for Italians like me, who arrived on these shores over half a century ago, soon after WWII.
It is now the turn of the immigrants from today’s Italy to stake a claim for an original Australian voice. Ferdinando, in his poem Fear of Tomorrow (p 24) hints at a new relationship between they who knock and they who open the door. It is more between equals, than it was for immigrants sent from ship to camps to distant work-sites, with no clear hope of ever returning home:
Don’t give me your fears.
You can keep them.
I have to finish my bottle,
Count my pennies and read my book.
Each of these is more real than your paranoias.
As a published poet who writes in both languages, I keep my attention to these developments well-honed. So, when a dear colleague at the Ethnic Affairs Commission, Lawrence Goodstone, spoke about a poet arrived four years ago from Naples, my attention was awakened. Then Ferdinando sent me Night Road to Life and wrote:
Mi farebbe molto piacere ricevere un tuo parere (positivo o negativo che sia) su questa piccola selezione che rappresenta il mio primo impegno nel campo della poesia. Materia che per me, autore di sciFi e fantasy con background da giornalista, rappresenta ancora un vasto campo sconosciuto.
I read the book in both languages. I did like his poetry and was honoured that he and his wonderful publisher, Christine Williams, asked my help in launching it today.
Ferdinando comes from Torre del Greco (The Greek’s Tower, named from an ancient Greek Hermit who squatted in a local tower). Torre was, in Roman times, part of Herculaneum and patricians’ villas lie now under the modern town. Today it is in a continuum with the ever-expanding Naples, dangerously right at the feet of the Vesuvius, where lava and sea have met for millions of years. Torre is on the way to Pompei and Sorrento, one of the most recognizable landscapes in the world, every few centuries incinerated then punctually fertilised to new life by the volcano. Echoing Horace’s Ode 1:11?
it’s not yesterday
it’s not tomorrow.
It’s just today
and today is always
the perfect day
(Today, p 25)
In other words, Carpe diem.
In Italy, Ferdinando worked in the media and in politics, as an editor and journalist. In Australia, he works both with Christine Williams at the Sydney School of Arts and Humanities and as a chef.
Recently he received his first contract as an author, for his science fiction book The man who saved the world, with two more books in the pipeline.
Tonight, he presents his first collection of poetry, Night road to life and I don’t want to influence you at this stage except to draw your attention to one important fact. The same as, say, with North Africans in Italy, who now write poetry in Italian and are studied in universities as part of Postcolonial Literature, Italian poets in Australia who write in English become part of Australian Literature. Some call them of the ‘diaspora’: which literally means ‘of people dispersed from their homeland’.
I do not like the Biblical term. But it is useful to remind poets who are in search of a new voice to celebrate their new place, on a journey requiring a gigantic effort. And not only in balancing the familiar sound of Leopardi and the less familiar Yeats, of Ungaretti and Les Murray. The search of our own, new, poetic language is a tough journey.
It is about listening both to other poets and to our own work when read or sung by others.
Only as a digression let me mention that in Il cielo su di noi,(p 5) I heard Ferdinando echoing the sound from Lorenzo da Ponte, the immortal exchange between the libertine Count and the virtuous Susanna:
Dunque in giardin verrai?
Se piace a voi, verrò.
E non mi mancherai?
No, non vi mancherò.
Of course, Ferdinando might not know this Mozart aria but listen to his voice:
tu non verrai
Lo so, lo sai. (p 59)
In two poems, The oblivion of the forgotten (p 38) and The forgotten beach (p 38) he gives voice to the daily reality of the millions of refugees who seek asylum. Like most of us, he fluctuates between hope and despair facing this epochal crisis:
on that beach
I have seen the birth of a flower
I call tomorrow.
… as his hope is shipwrecked
among waves of indifference
in a common sea
in a statistic
in the oblivion of the forgotten.
There is so much more to say about this truly interesting new poet and no doubt it will be said. Let me finish with this positive note. True, publishing poetry in print books is more and more difficult, if one is not part of a quite restricted canon of celebrated poets. But the internet has opened to many, new important poetry magazines all over the world, much more receptive. Universities, such as those in Lecce, Udine, Milan, Padua, just to mention a few in Italy, and Leeds, Salzburg, New York, actively study new literatures in both Italian and English. And their offerings are available at the strike of a keyboard.
I am sure that Ferdinando Manzo has the qualities to join in, on his own terms. Now some of his poems will be read. You will be the judges. But before I move on, he wants me to thank on his behalf Melina Marquez who has been another great help for him.
Good luck and, here it is, Strada di Notte per la Vita (or Night Road to Life) is launched!
Copyright Paolo Totaro
 Also, performance poetry is re-animating the art form. Miles Merrill is an Australian poet of African-American descent and performs for school students around the country. Merrill is also director of the State Library of New South Wales’s ‘poetry slam’. Poets have two minutes to impress judges for $10,000 in prize money. The 2006 New South Wales finalists included a 12-year-old from Broken Hill and a 70-year-old from Armidale. The sponsor of the Slam is the Copyright Agency Limited. (John Tranter)
Photo credits and copyright Christopher Waters.