Franco Buffoni – Good Mo(u)rning, Italy
Hello, dear friends of «Beyond Thirty-Nine». Pietro Pàncamo is glad to tell you that today «Good Mo(u)rning, Italy» has a prestigious guest: I mean the highly-esteemed poet, translator from English and professor of literature Franco Buffoni, who is a compatriot of mine; over the years, his verse books (which have been issued by renowned publishers such as Mondadori and Guanda) have been rendered into many languages, including Dutch, French and Spanish. And now, as will be clear even from the brief interview which is on the point of being transmitted, he has just sent to press a couple of new volumes: the first (entitled «Avrei fatto la fine di Turing») is a poetry collection about his complex and problematic relationship with his parents, while the second (called «O Germania») is a sort of pamphlet both in rhyme and prose against Germany (whose political and economic misbehaviour is currently getting European peoples into trouble).
Well, at this point, before carrying on with the programme, I feel obliged to inform you in advance, dear listeners, that the already-announced interview, since it took place at Buffoni’s (where a workman was hammering here and there), is rather jammed, so to speak. But don’t worry: you’ll be able, all the same, to easily understand each question and its respective answer.
PIETRO PÀNCAMO: Dear professor Buffoni, what skills are necessary to become a good translator?
FRANCO BUFFONI: I would say a good translator of poetry, because it’s a very peculiar kind of translating; and I would make a difference between being faithful and being loyal to the poet you are translating. I would give an example based on John Keats’s «Ode to a Nightingale», a text containing the line “Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs”, in which you’ve got four adjectives for a noun (“hairs”). It’s a wonderful line in English and Keats is a wonderful poet, but in Italian language, where you’ve got a polysyllabic choice of adjectives, you kill that line, because Keats has got a monosyllabic language; indeed those four adjectives are monosyllabic: “few”, “sad”, “last”, “gray”. And in this case, while a faithful translator would surely render the adjectives in point word for word, a loyal translator, in order to be loyal to Keats, would certainly regard it as his duty to consider the possibility of reducing the adjectives from four to three or two: in fact only thus the line would sound right even in Italian. And this is the difference between faithful translating and loyal translating.
PIETRO PÀNCAMO: What working method do you use to write and “construct” your books of poetry?
FRANCO BUFFONI: In my opinion, a book of poetry is a book, first of all. That is to say, I’m not that kind of poet who, when he has got sixty poems, goes to publishers and announces: “I’ve got a new book”. Because a book of poetry, to me, must have a plot and I have some stories to tell and each book of poetry tells a story. This is a method I had also when I was young, but nowadays I feel more and more this necessity of telling a story, even if in poetry. This began particularly when I published a book in 1998, which was entitled «Suora carmelitana e altri racconti in versi» («Carmelite nun and other tales in poetry»). And more and more I feel this necessity, and I notice that my readers appreciate this.
PIETRO PÀNCAMO: In my opinion «Avrei fatto la fine di Turing» is a very touching poetry collection. But what’s stronger in you? Your love for your parents or the sadness springing from your awareness that they wouldn’t have been able to accept your homosexuality, if you had ever revealed to them that you’re a gay man?
FRANCO BUFFONI: Both feelings are strong, but sadness prevails, if I think how our lives, mine and my parents’, might have been different, had they been less saturated with Fascism, Catholicism and hypocrisy.
PIETRO PÀNCAMO: Is it correct to say that the texts in verse you collected in «O Germania» are an example of civil and political poetry?
FRANCO BUFFONI: Yes, I would say it is: they are an example of civil and political poetry, because I make a difference between the Germany that I knew when I was young –in the seventies, when I was in Germany to study in Heidelberg– and what Germany has become in the last two decades. Perhaps it is true what Hannah Arendt said: after seventy years, blood becomes something else and if the generations of German boys I met in the seventies –we all had been born after the war, but the memory of that war was quite close– were still full of the ethic dismay characteristic of innocent people, nowadays something has changed and in this book –I’m sorry: it has not yet been translated into English, so I have to quote it in Italian– the first line says: “Oggi che la Germania non è più il mostro accucciato che ho conosciuto nell’infanzia, oggi che è tornata arrogante”, that is to say, more or less, “Nowadays that Germany is no longer the country that I met when I was young, nowadays it has become again an arrogant country”.
PIETRO PÀNCAMO: Do you think Germany is the source of the many economic and socio-political problems currently afflicting both Europe and Italy? Or are there any other causes?
FRANCO BUFFONI: Of course, there are many causes. Germany is not the only source: is one of the sources of Latin European countries’ problems, those countries that, by German daily papers, are called PIGS (which is an acronym in English: Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain). And these countries are also called “le club de la Méditerranée”. And we, the Mediterranean countries, know that if a PIG goes out of the euro (the European currency) dies in three, four weeks; but if a PIG remains in the European currency, under these rules that Germany imposes on the whole of Europe, dies in some years, but dies all the same. So we need a completely different approach, both political and economic, and this is what we ask Germany to make.
Franco Buffoni, who so kindly answered my questions, is completely right: European difficulties spring from several sources, including financial and pecuniary issues. And the same is true for Italy where, as regards just money-related problems, undoubtedly fiscal system’s greed, intricacy and blindness stand out for their harmfulness. Indeed, in my country, taxation largely exceeds fifty per cent of the annual income of each citizen, which means that for at least seven or eight months a year my compatriots, whether they like it or not, work only to fuel the mastodontic and unwieldy machinery of the state. As is obvious, such huge pressure of taxation is a great obstacle to economic development. (Suffice it to think that even the shadows cast by the awnings of shop windows are taxed).
Well, after my usual philippic, and the just-finished tune, it’s time for another little bit of literature: that’s why I’m now going to read out for you, dear listeners, a poem by Franco Buffoni. It was translated from Italian by me and its title is «Oggi che la Germania» (in English «Nowadays when Germany»).
Nowadays when Germany
Nowadays when Germany
no longer is the squatting she-monster
that I experienced in my childhood,
nowadays when she has become arrogant again
meticulousness in being efficient
is showing itself to me for what it is
–a case of submissive neurosis–
I repeatedly say to her: keep calm, be silent, lie down
you already performed your best, don’t do too much.
That’s all, folks! Needless to say, Pietro Pàncamo is really grateful to you, dear friends of Radio B39, for having listened even to this episode of «Good Mo(u)rning, Italy». Bye-bye till the next one!