Maria Luisa Spaziani

A Selection of Poems 1954—2006
Translated by Lynne Lawner


Paperback, 196 pages
ISBN 978-0-9725271-8-7

OUT OF PRINT (at Chelsea Editions)
May be purchased through SPD Books

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MARIA LUISA SPAZIANI, born in Turin in 1924, is a recipient of the prestigious De Sica Prize, awarded to Italy's outstanding poets and poetesses. A life-long friend of poet Eugenio Montale, she is President of the International Eugenio Montale Soceity. Her recent memoirs have piqued interest in Italy, in no small part because she was one of Montale's "muses," to whom he gave the nickname "la Volpe" (The Vixen).

Maria Luisa Spaziani was teaching French literature at the University of Messina in Sicily when her first book of poems, Le acque del sabato (Sabbath Waters), came out in 1954. The critic Luigi Baldacci found in these early poems "a re-appropriation of the private sphere that restores it to its dignity." Selections from that collection, and from ten more to follow, including Geometria del disordine (The Geometry of Disorder, 1981) and La luna è già alta (The Moon Is Already High, 2006), are included in the present volume. The edition has facing Italian and English texts.

Spaziani seizes on the objects and episodes of everyday life, and slyly transforms them. From the poets Ungaretti, Montale, Campana and Quasimodo, she has learned the art of the difficult and the obscure, as well as the techniques introduced into modern literature by French poet Stéphane Mallarmé: a restricted vocabulary, short lines, compact forms, recurrent events, mysteries carefully wrapped and then partially unwrapped, but never made fully visible. The emotions as well remain under control, yet at times convey a chilling exaltation.

LYNNE LAWNER, the translator, is an art historian, poetess and author of six books. A graduate of Wellesley, with a PhD from Columbia University, she is known for her translations of Renaissance and modern Italian poets, such as Ungaretti, Saba, Pasolini, Erba, Guiliani, Orelli and Pozzi, as well as The Letters of Antonia Gramsci (reprinted by Farrar Straus Noonday Press). Her poetry has appeared in two volumes from Atlantic Monthly Presss and Harper's: Wedding Night of a Nun and Triangle Dream. She won Poetry magazine's Oscar Blumenthal Prize and was a resident of the writer's colony, Yaddo. Lawner is now preparing a selection of her poetry. Engadine Impressions will appear in Italiy in 2010 and includes her recent photographs. Once a longtime resident of Rome, she now lives in Manhattan.




"In her long, distiguished, ever-evolving career, Maria Luisa Spaziani has written poems of a remarkable decisiveness and beauty that stand among the greatest in postwar Italian poety. Deeply informed by a great lyric tradition which she has used for her own subversive purposes, she has explored and exploited history and feeling with insight, wit and a strong and particular musicality. She is a wonderfully memorable and challenging poet who deserves to be much better known here. Grateful thanks to Lynne Lawner for giving us a tantalizing sense of the riches her work holds." ~ Jonathan Galassi


Notte Marina / Night by the Sea
Le Torri / Towers | La Realtà /Reality



Poetess Maria Luisa Spaziani



La mano, quella vergine radice.
L'innocenza del fraffio felino.


Messaluna di zucchero dei denti
nel rito di una notte senza luna.


Qell'anca, conca di ciliegi in fiore.
Il vento un secco brivido.


Il buio capelvenere, lunetta
sul bianco di una pagina sognata.
(Verso che mi verrà.)


Quel respiro, risacca dell'oceano.
Il mio pietrisco umido scintilla.


The hand, that virgin root—
innocence of the feline scratch.


Teeth a half-moon of sugar,
ritual of a moonless night.


That hip a knoll of flowering cherry trees;
a dry frisson, the wind.


Fern—tiny, dark half-crescent
against whiteness of a dreamed page.
A line will come to me.


That breath, ebbing of ocean.
Dampened, my precious jewels scintillate.




e penso ai sogni non realizzati,
rami-fantasma di antiche foreste,
macerie di mattoni triturati
per le tredici torri di vedetta
della Grande Muraglia




I contemplate dreams that never came to be,
phantom branches of ancient forests,
dust of bricks sawed-away
to make the thirteen watchtowers
of the Great Wall of China.




La realtà è pura percezione.
Guardiamo il mondo in uno specchio
oltre il sipario a volte trasparente—

sotto, sotto la vita. Puoi coglierla a volte
come il casale abbandonato, a notte
visibile per lo scoppio della folgore.


Reality is pure perception.
We look at life in a mirror
beyond an often transparent theater curtain.

Underneath is life. Occasionally we see it
take the shape of an abandoned farmhouse in he night
which lightning suddenly renders visible.

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