Camillo Sbarbaro
SHAVINGS
SELECTED PROSE POEMS 1914-1940


Translated by Gayle Ridinger

Paperback, 184 pages
ISBN 0-9725271-1-7
$20



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CAMILLO SBARBARO (1888-1967), born in Santa Margherita Ligure, experimented with a hybrid form of poetry and prose, often irregular and quirky, that he called trucioli—"shavings." Some of the first were written in the trenches during World War I. Developing the form for more than fifty years, he published a complete set of these writings in a 400-page volume in the year before his death. The selections published here are drawn from this corpus. Simone Giusti writes in the Introduction that Sbarbaro's quest was to capture the ephemeral joys and sorrows of life with the right word or phrase so as to "free human beings from the hell that comes of depression, deadened senses, and dulling routine."

GAYLE RIDINGER teaches English writing skills and Italian-English translation techniques at the State University of Piemonte Orientale in Vercelli, Italy. She is the translator and co-editor of the anthology Italian Poetry 1950-1990, and her children's book, A Star at the Bottom of the Sea, has been published in Italy, Greece, Taiwan, South Korea, and the United States.


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REVIEWS

"The main inspiration here is a love for 'remnants' and 'scraps,' the poetry of failed humanity and of things that remain irremediably obscure and out of reach. Disoriented and amazed, Sbarbaro finds himself surrounded by people he doesn't understand, while life passes him by, eluding him. He can't find a country or home to call his own. True, the sweet delights of nature, the world's everyday marvels, and his astonished joy at finding himself the living focus of this spectacle that death undermines and destroys—all this is enough to keep him afloat on top of life's occurrences like a cork in the sea. Yet there are times when he realizes that these worldly displays end in smoke and ashes and that at the bottom of the full cup lie murky dregs... Profoundly honest, and sincere to the point of absurdity, he instinctively worked to pare down and simplify his essential self, all the while scorning advantageous compromises and easy, tempting shortcuts."

~ Eugenio Montale


"Shavings is a revelation, and a highly welcome one. Even those who know Sbarbaro as the author of a sentimental lyric or two in the standard anthologies will be stunned by the lush descriptiveness and by the passion, fury, and sexual candor in these prose poems—all of it beautifully rendered in Gayle Ridinger's vivid and vigorous translation."

~ Michael Palma

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Selections:


From Trucioli / Shavings (1914-1918)

16

Adolescente. Contenuta a stento nella vesticciola; vigilata
dalla madre come il capo di bestiame dal contadino avido.

Sento il suo corpo come una lava impedita.

Oh le sue possibilità!
Frustare i desideri degli uomini; sventolare il corpo come una
bandiera; invischiare il milionario bavoso; entrare nel letto dei
re; sfinge comparire alIa sbarra nel processo sensazionale;
sfiorire nell'orgoglio; battere i grandi porti...

Cammino dietro a lei su un marciapiede ardente.

16

Teenager. Bursting out of her party dress; watched over by her
mother as a covetous farmer would his farm animal.

I sense how her body is like obstructed lava.

Oh, what opportunities await her!
The chance to frustrate men's desires; display her body like a
flapping flag; entice a drooling millionaire; enter the beds of
kings; make her sphinx-like court appearance in a sensational
trial; lose her self-respect; hang out around large ports...

I walk behind her on a red-hot sidewalk.

19

Quando godo una tinta tenera mi torna a mente l'amico Natta.
Testone di ricci. Faccia sprizzante d'ironia; logora, dove la
bocca si apre come una lunga ferita.
È ghiottissimo di dolciumi.
L'intera giornata pellegrina da un caffè all'altro e s'incanta per
ore a guardare il vuoto. Galleggia sulle apparenze come un
sughero e si ciba di sfumature.

Una volta mi parlò d'un convento ch'era stato ammesso a vis-
itare; delle poche rose, del silenzio e della dolcezza del luogo,
delle mani di dama del Superiore, in modo che l'immagine di
lui è ora mescolata a quella dell'abate.

Il suo sogno è una veranda su un mare in bonaccia. Una donna
soave e devota gli risparmierebbe il contatto del mondo.

Un giorno che gli parlavo con entusiasmo di Leopardi mi
ascoltò compiacente; ma alIa fine mi osservò che Leopardi
aveva i denti guasti.

Gli chiesi come faceva a mantenersi in quella leggerezza di
spirito. Mi confida che quando sentiva di perderla si dava a
tirare i campanelli delle porte, a giocare delle burlette ai
passanti. Faccende così gli mettevano in pelle l'arzillo dello
sciampagna.

La sua compagnia induce me pure in questo stato di grazia.
Basta allora una sedia di giunco, il cristallo d'un bicchiere a
farmi tacere di felicità.

Soltanto, non riesco a mantenermi a galla. E, ricalato come il
ciottolo a fondo, trovo l'amico Natta riposante e un po' fatuo
come in mezzo alIa città il giardinetto pubblico.

 

19

When I'm finding pleasure in being tenderhearted, my friend
Natta comes to mind.
Big curly head. Face brimming with irony, but hampered by a
mouth that opens like a long wound.
He adores sweets.
He spends all day in pilgrimage from one cafè to the next, and
he can sit spellbound for hours staring into space. He floats on
top of appearances and lives off nuances.

Once he told me about a monastery that he'd been allowed to
visit; about the few roses and the gentle silence of the place;
and about the ladylike hands of the abate; so that now his
image is jumbled up with that of the monk.

His dream is a veranda overlooking a calm sea. A sweet devot-
ed woman would shield him from contact with the world.

When I talked enthusiastically to him one day about Leopardi,
he listened obligingly, but at the end he commented that
Leopardi had rotten teeth.

I asked him how he managed to keep up that lightheartedness.
He confessed that when he felt in danger of losing it he went
and rang doorbells or played pranks on passersby. Such busi-
ness
put the champagne bounce back in him.

Being with him puts me in a similar state of grace. A cane chair
and the crystal of a glass suffice to make me feel unutterable
happiness.

Only I'm not able to keep it up. And pressed back into place
like a cobblestone, I find my friend Natta relaxing but a bit
fatuous, like a small public park in the middle of the city.


From Scampoli / Remnants


3

Camogli m'apparì una notte paesaggio d'apocalisse. Le
case, altissime, erano quinte rizzate per spaventare. Sulla
piazza, barconi tirati in secco parevano pronti al salvataggio
della popolazione nell'imminenza d'una mostruosa marea.
Ogni lume che forava il buio allarmava come un appello di
soccorso.

Nella pece dell'acqua, addentata dai moli, bisce di luce
si divincolavano.

Ogni aspetto, sotto il cielo invisibile, esprimeva necessità,
chiusa angoscia, disperazione; quando ad un piccolo caffè
all'aperto, inaspettato usignolo, tutto ciò si mise perdutamente
a cantare.

 

3

Camogli appeared to me one night as a land of apocalypse.
The tall, tall houses were stage sets put up to frighten. The
beached barges in the square seemed ready to save the population
from a monstrous tide in the offing. Every light penetrating the
darkness was as alarming as a call for help.

In the tar of the water, imprinted by the piers, snakes of
light wriggled their way free.

Everything under the invisible sky expressed the way
things had to be, bottled-up anguish, desperation; when at a little
outside cafe, like an unexpected nightingale, all this started
hopelessly to sing.

 

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