March 12, 2013

Sandro Penna

Sandro Penna [Italy]

Born in Perugia on July 12, 1906, Sandro Penna lived together with his father after his divorce from Penna’s mother until 1929, taking up residence in Rome until the end of his life.

     In correspondence as a youth with the Italian poet Umberto Saba, Penna met him in 1932, beginning a long friendship. Saba, in turn, introduced the young poet to Cesare Pavese and Eugenio Montale, who helped get some of Penna’s earliest poems published in literary journals. The censors of Mussolini’s regime, however, prevented publication of any poems in book form until 1939, when an expurgated collection entitled Poesie appeared.

     Over the next few years Penna worked occasionally as a journalist, translating works by Paul Claudel and Prosper Merimee into Italian. In 1950, he published a collection of 37 poems, Appunti which gained notice from the Italian writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, who championed his work. A new edition of Poesie appeared in 1957, published by the noted Italian publishing house Garzanti, which included all the earlier work as well as material that had been previously censored, along with one hundred new poems. That year Penna shared the Premio Viareggio literary award with Pasolini, provoking the right-wing press to describe his work as a triumph of pornography. Over the next few years, several other books were published, including a collection of prose works, Un po’ de febbre (1973) and a new volume of poems, Stranezze in 1976.

     Most of Penna’s works are marked by his expression of his melancholic view of his own homosexuality and his feelings of marginalization. His affection for young boys, often expressed in his poetry, was actualized by his taking a 14-year-old street boy, Raffaele, into his home, where he lived with him, off and on, for fourteen years.

     On the night of January 21, 1977, Penna died of the authorities described as an overdose of sleeping medication. In his room was discovered a new collection of poems, Confuso Sogno (Confused Dream) which was published posthumously in 1980.

     One of his English-language translators, George Scrivano, has described his work:
Penna’s style, often epigrammatic and dialectical in Plato’s sense…relies heavily on paradox, his lyrics represent[ing] a mental attitude and very specific moods or feelings suggested by that attitude.


Poesie (1939); Appunti (1950); Una strana gioia di vivere (1956); Poesie (Milan: Garzanti, 1957); Croce e delizia (Milan: Longanesi, 1958); Stranezze (Milan: Garzanti, 1976); Tutti le poesie (Milano: Garzanti, 1977); Confuso sogno (Milano: Garzanti, 1980); Peccato di gola: poesie al fermo posta (Milan: Schiwiller 1989)


This Strange Joy: Selected Poems, trans. by W. S. Di Piero (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1983); Confused Dreams, trans. by George Scrivani (Madras and New York: Hanuman Books, 1988); Remember me, God of Love (Manchester, England: Carcanet, 1993)

When the trees are bare
and January
has just begun,
under a pure sun
pebbles in the now
deserted park
glisten with the spit
of a boy who
passed running maybe,
driven by April
—Translated by George Scrivani
(from Confuso sogno, 1980)
Like the April wind, my boy—
clear, light,
and a bit variable.
But in my fields
the grass is warm.
Futile to expect
a more constant caress.
—Translated by George Scrivani

  (from Confuso sogno, 1980)
If my boy appears
at the tavern,
the men smile at him,
surprised by the light.
But the deal changes
after that.
My boy in their rough hands,
alone, unsure of himself.

—Translated by George Scrivani

(from Confuso sogno, 1980)

He left the field abruptly,
still half naked,
and immediately disappeared.
In the warmth of that moment,
a warm odor remained….
a few flies—
among them, me.

—Translated by George Scrivani

(from Confuso sogno, 1980)

English language translation copyright ©1988 by George Scrivani. Reprinted from Confused Dreams (Madras and New York: Hanuman Books, 1988).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a nice surprise to find Penna here at the PIP / Green Integer! I myself have been translating his poetry for a number of years now.

May all be well,

Alexander Booth