Alda, the Asylum and Tightrope Walking

I was recently talking with a friend about contemporary Italian women poets. We both love Amelia Rosselli, but Patrizia Valduga and Alda Merini have a special place in my pantheon. I know my friend is probably shaking her head at this point, since she does not love Merini. But, it cannot be helped! I checked whether Poetry Magazine has a page doveted to her. And, I was glad to find her there even if her poems are spare and not among her most relevant. I wrote the magazine a polite note too since her bio is not updated. She passed away 3 years ago. Maybe it's time for an update.

Merini's life was characterized by hardship and great suffering. She got married very young and had 4 kids. Since--out of rage--she had raised a chair against her husband one day, she was sent to an asylum. Being perfectly sane, she wrote wherever and however she could and this prevented her from becoming mad. She had to undergo electroshock treatment too (as other famous writers: i.e. Sylvia Plath, Janet Frame and Antonin Artaud). She became well known to a wider audience in her latest years only. She won Italy's most prestigious poetry prize dissipating it and keeping up her bohemian lifestyle. Her nature was almost wild. In the house where she lived in Milan she would use walls as writing pads and floors as ashtrays. But, she was a poetical genius. 

Her poems are mesmerizing. Reading her is like being a tightrope walker. I so admire funambulism in poetry! Here below is one of her poems.


Hours wasted in vain,
in  the asylum gardens
back and forth along the walls
made fierce with flowers,
all of us lost in a fleeting
dream of reality,
which some cleric
tossed behind our backs.
And after meeting 
some patients smile
at the fake friendliness.
Time wasted in whirling thoughts,
hedged in behind the bars,
like naked swallows.
Then we listened to the sermons,
we multiplied the fishes,
down the Jordan,
but Christ was not there:
he had uprooted us from the world,
like dreadful weeds.
(translation by Stephanie H. Jed & Pasquale Verdicchio)


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