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Professor translates works of one of Italy's most recognized poets

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

LAWRENCE – Poems on loss and everyday life in Milan written by one of Italy’s greatest living poets can now be read in English thanks in part to the work of a University of Kansas professor.

In “Theme of Farewell and After-Poems,” Patrizio Ceccagnoli, assistant professor of Italian, and Susan Stewart, American poet and critic, edited and translated two books by Italian poet Milo De Angelis. The volume of poems is the first English translation of De Angelis' most recent works.

In the fall of 2014, the volume was one of five finalists for the American Literary Translators Association’s National Translation Award. The volume also was awarded the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Translation Prize.

Publishing his first collection of poetry, “Somiglianze,” in 1976, De Angelis is one of the Italy’s most important living poets.

“He is more of a poet’s poet who works with language and philosophical ideas in a way that is very subtle and reticent,” Ceccagnoli said.

The volume combines two separately published books, “Theme of Farewell” and the subsequent “That Wandering in the Darkness of Courtyards.” “Theme of Farewell” was written after the 2003 illness and death of De Angelis’ wife, celebrated poet Giovanna Sicari, who died of cancer, leaving behind her husband and young son.

“The death of his wife and her sickness is present throughout the book but remains in the background,” Ceccagnoli said. “He’s a modern contemporary poet who tries to avoid the stereotypical combination of death and love. He focuses on keen details or philosophical ideas with a very well-chosen and narrowly selected vocabulary.”

In 2005, the book earned Italy’s top literary award, the Viareggio Prize.

In the second book, “That Wandering in the Darkness of Courtyards,” De Angelis moves past his wife’s death and focuses on other aspects of his life, including his work as a teacher in a prison and working-class Milan.

“Many of the poems are connected to the portrait of the peripheral aspects of industrial Milan,” Ceccagnoli said. “He looks at what he thinks is the most authentic part of the city, the working class part, and not the glamorous part that you usually think of with Milan.”

Ceccagnoli and Stewart started translating a few of De Angelis’ poems for journals and magazines and then decided to translate the full books, which turned into a five-year project. De Angelis worked with them to make sure the true meaning of his words were conveyed.

While Italian writing is known to be based on a Latin structure with longer and highly rhetorical sentences, De Angelis' poems are minimalistic. The style works well when translated into English, Ceccagnoli said.

“It’s our hope and the poet’s hope that our work will help him become more popular and increase his readership,” Ceccagnoli said.


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