Winner of the
2014 Best Translated Book Award

Elisa Biagini

The Guest in the Wood
A Selection of Poems 2004-2007

Translated by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney
& Eugene Ostashevky
Introduction by Angelina Oberdan



Paperback, 301 pages
ISBN 978-0-9884787-6-3


OUT OF PRINT (at Chelsea Editions)

Author Bio | Reviews | Read Selection

Available through Small Press Distribution


ELISA BIAGINI, born in Florence in 1970, has lived, studied and taught in the United States. She earned her Ph.D. at Rutgers University, taught Italian there and also taught at Columbia University and New York University. She translated Louise Glück, Sharon Olds and other American poets into Italian for the anthology Nuovi Poeti Americani (Einaudi, 2006), and her translation of Gerry LaFemina's collection, The Parakeets of Brooklyn, won the Bordighera Prize in 2003; it was published by Bordighera in a bilingual edition the next year.

Her own poetry, both in Italian and English, has appeared in numerous Italian and American journals, such as Poesia, Linea d'ombra, Lungfull and Women's Studies. She has published six collections of poetry in Italy, of which the most recent is Nell'osso/Into the Bone (Damocle, 2012). Her poetry has been translated into a dozen languages or more, including French, Spanish, German, Russian, Arabic and Chinese.

The Guest in the Wood, a bilingual collection, offers English translations from L'ospite / The Guest (2004) and Nel Bosco / Into the Wood (2007). The latter collection consists of two parts: La sorpresa nell'uovo / The Surprise in the Egg and Gretel o del perdersi / Gretel or About Getting Lost. The translations were done in close collaboration with the author in Rome and Bologna.

Elisa Biagini lives in Florence and teaches creative writing, literature and art history in Italy and abroad. She collaborates with musicians, artists and choreographers, and participates in poetry workshops and festivals in Europe and places as far away as Hong Kong.

Her website provides a full list of her activities and presents a video on the home page in which she answers the question, What is poetry? (In Italian.)

The website offers a selection of her poems. (In English.)



In her preface to The Guest in the Wood, Angelina Oberdan compares the concise diction of Biagini's verse to Emily Dickinson. She notes that her lines are similar to the accentual lines of Kay Ryan, while her ability to give the reader only enough information with which to enter the world of the poem recalls Ellen Bryant Voight. Oberdan writes that Biagini, in her intense interaction with contemporary American poets, "started to feel the responsibility to write about the taboo or what makes us uncomfortable."

In this context, she cites Biagini:

"Certain themes—the self, the other, the body—started to appear urgent to me, and I began to recognize the brutal light of affectivity, a light that is shadowy and contradictory [...] I am not aiming to make things difficult for the reader with these texts, but I don't want to console him either. I try to elicit in readers questions regarding their lives, in order to create a space for comparison and reflection."


Alicia Ostriker, a prominent poet and critic, asks:

"Who is the terrible guest haunting Elisa Biagini's poetry? Where are the woods in which this Gretel loses herself? In a language that is part dream, part memory, part barbed wire, part a mouth full of teeth, and part an ordinary kitchen or bedroom, the poet lures us and snares us. If it were music, Biagini's poetics might be brass, might be the thread of a violin. If it were painting, the pigments would be dark reds and grays, layered, jagged, mazelike,

"The guest, intimately close to the poet, is also intimately repellent. She never has a face, and her body is never whole, but always in parts, associated with aging and illness, a corset that fuses with skin, food never intended to nourish:"

with your heart that weighs 3
oranges, you with an
arm that weighs 3

You have a honeybrain
in your hat, and the years
weighed in flour,
the butter in your wrinkles
preserves you and liters of cologne

as if pickled in oil.

"There's masochism and martyrdom as in family life and love gone weary. Domestic images of food, kitchenware, ironing board, are laced with the threat of violence in which the poet might eat her guest, or be eaten. Maps lead nowhere. Yet anyone reading these surreal poems will find in them a mirror. For are we not each lost? Are we not each entrapped? Are we not each fearfully mortal? Of our inescapable human situation, Biagini has created, as if under a spell, a rare and compelling beauty."


DIANA THOW holds an Master of Fine Arts in translation from the University of Iowa. The recipient of a Fulbright grant to Italy for her work on Amelia Rosselli, she is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has been published in The Iowa Review, Unsplendid and Words Without Borders.

SARAH STICKNEY earned her MFA in poetry from the University of New Hampshire. She received a Fulbright grant to study and translate poetry from the "Scritturi Migranti" movement in Bologna, Italy, where she currently lives and teaches writing at Johns Hopkins University. Her poems have appeared in Scarab, Praxilla and Blast Furnace magazines, among others.

EUGENE OSTASHEVSKY is a Russian-born American poet and translator. His books of poetry include Iterature and The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza, both published by Ugly Duckling Presse. He also edited and co-translated OBERIU: An Anthology of Russian Absurdism, containing the writings of Alexander Vvedensky and Daniil Kharms.







From The Guest in the Woods


Poetess Elisa Biagini



From L'Ospite / The Guest


Mi mostre la ferite, da soldato
la tua battaglia
contro un'altra te che ti consuma
negli occhi, nelle ossa
nella pelle
che ha tagliato I tuoi tendini da tempo,
il filo tutto intero che ti tiene,
palombaro che più non risale.

You show me your wounds, like a soldier,
your battle
against another you consuming
your eyes, bones,
who cut your tendons a while ago,
the cord that holds you,
diver who won't resurface.


Adesso vuoi che tocchi le fratture,
un alfabeto braille,
vuoi che le tocchi
dopo le lettere, le ricette e I punti.
Dammi i tuoi occhiali
perché separi il bianco da quell'osso
e vada dritta al ferro,
al tuo pensiero.

Now you want me to touch the fractures,
a braille alphabet,
you want me to touch them
after the letters, the recipes and the stitches.
Give me your glasses
so I can separate the white from the bone
and go straight to the iron,
to your thought.


Le ossa torneranno in una scatola
forse quella che usi per i fili
o i biscotti,
oppure in una scatola da scarpe
numero 37,
per le ossa corte e le vertebre:
finiranno sotto il letto con I tronchi,
o ci farò orecchini
da usare tutti I giorni
e averti accanto ai denti.

The bones will come back in a box
maybe the one you use for yarn
or cookies
or in a shoebox
size 6,
for the short bones and vertebrae:
they'll end up under the bed with the trunks,
or I'll make earrings out of them
for everyday use
to keep you close to my teeth.

From La sorpresa nell'uovo / The Surprise in the Egg:


io, una bolla
di latte che
nel tuo
movimento si
fa burro

(noi, 4 gambe,
4 occhi, visione
laterale come
i polli, cinemascope)

io, che risalgo come
pesce a pelo d'acqua,
affacciata dall'
oblò della
tua bocca.

I, a bubble
of milk that
your movement
turns into

(we, 4 legs,
4 eyes, lateral
vision like
that of chickens, cinemascope)

i, who rise
like a fish to the surface,
at the porthole
of your mouth.


e oggi ascolto
il suono alle
lo spazio interno
lucciole di
questo mio

and today I listen
to the hum
of your vertebrae,
the inside space
glowworms in
this my


e adesso che la
pelle si fa opaca,
mi manca una
finestra per vedermi

dentro, guardare
il formicaio

and now that
the skin clouds over,
I want a
window to see me

inside, observe
the cellular

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