Butterfly Cemetery front cover
A Bilingual edition (Italian/English) 184 pages
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The Butterfly Cemetery

Franca Mancinelli (b. 1981), known for her acutely crafted and existentially incisive poems and poetic prose, is considered to be one of the most original poets to have emerged in Italy during the past fifteen years. The Bitter Oleander Press has published her prose poems in The Little Book of Passage (2018) and her verse poetry in At an Hour’s Sleep from Here (2019). The Butterfly Cemetery gathers her most important autobiographical stories, personal essays, writings about poetics and landscapes.

A little girl would chase butterflies through an alfalfa field, with her hands open like a net in the air or she would catch them by their wings when they stopped on flowers. Held between the thumb and forefinger, they were like colored sugar coatings that she might have eaten. But it was enough for her to talk to them, barely moving her lips or murmuring in her mind, until the butterflies, resting on her shoulder, no longer fluttered off: they had become attached to her. And yet not long afterwards, they would be inert, enfeebled leaves. After playing some games in which they responded, as if tame or drowsy, to all her desires, the little girl understood that the time had come to bury them in a place, beneath a staircase, where, inside a corolla of white pebbles, crisscrossed twigs, and flaccid flowers, she had created a small cemetery. 

from The Butterfly Cemetery

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With my first strokes, before the water has been plowed up and while my uncertain arcs are progressing, it seems to me that I continue to write with my whole body, on a transparent sheet of paper. I think that one comes to the end of a line as if it were a lap, while moving inside a measure. A series of movements is repeated until a kind of equilibrium is reached through which one seems not to pass, but rather to be carried. Whoever breaks the movement rules and flounders beyond the established form, wears down the body and, in the long run, makes it ache. The splashing sounds out of tune, unneeded. He or she errs out of inability or ignorance. I see several of them on their backs, kicking their legs with bent knees, or constantly running into the line buoys. Actually, all the movements are already written. One’s unique thought is to comply, to eliminate any intention that swerves off course.

from A Line is a Lap and Other Notes on Poetry

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Once a few years ago in a woods in the Apennines, I was walking for hours, entrusting my sorrow to every footstep, listening to the light within the foliage of the trees, to disperse the circles of my torment like water enveloping a smooth boulder fallen to the bottom. When suddenly a tree with a very scarred trunk came to meet me. All the eyes that I have opened are the branches that I have lost, it said to me. Its sparse foliage opened out high, far above my eyes. You could read in its bark the history of cuts and amputations, healed and transformed into growth, obedient to light, beyond all obstacles. I continued to walk with this voice that had been articulated in me, and one clear image: there are losses that you can weep over with all your tears, fight with every effort, yet they are necessary. We would give our whole life so that they won’t happen, yet they are guiding our sap towards the shape and the place that belongs to it. It takes a lot of strength to see reality in its dark parts as well. I have always closed my eyes in the face of horror, as if by an involuntary reflex. In that fraction of time the horror does not stop existing, it happens. And you are not witness to it, you are involved in it. Wounds are eyes that we have never wanted to open. Instead, here they are, on our body, on our bark. […]

Writing takes us into our darkroom, to the place of the unknown, where our demons nestle, our most tenacious and impenetrable shadows. It is a place that has precise laws and rhythms, a fundamental relationship with darkness so that the vision is fulfilled. Writing feeds on this darkness, on this possibility of loss and destruction which becomes necessary knowledge. We write to see inside our darkroom.

from An Act of Inner Self-Surgery

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For me, poetry is a practice of daily salvation; a form of ritual, of taking root in life. It is like finding my feet on the ground, walking forward. A poem is precisely this: the possibility of guiding ourselves, of going forward, of overcoming fear, bewilderment, uncertainty. It is a force which guides us and to which we entrust ourselves. […]

When we find ourselves above an abyss, every emerging word must support us entirely, all our weight: then a bridge begins to be built, to bring us home. Recovering language, we return to the movement, the flow of life. We are already free from the pain that is fixedness; it is a nail that transfixes us and that would like to make us its own, forever, like insects on the wall. But by pronouncing a word you can sense that nothing has halted: everything can be seen from a different vantage point, from afar or nearby. And while you sense this, your way of looking changes, your eyes are transformed, you are already someone else. We often forget this ancient cord that feeds us, we forget that we have a mother tongue that takes care of us, of our fragility. We are children of our language, we are born into it. It gives us birth and rebirth into life.

from Poetry, Mother Tongue 

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In the many paintings that depict Lucy, the protectress of light and sight, she holds the palm leaf of her martyrdom in one hand. After she was tried for her faith, it seems that it was impossible to move or burn her (what human power can  move or destroy light?) and that she finally died transfixed. The palm leaf she holds resembles a large feather dropped by an angel. It is a cut branch which can write on clay; the substance can be engraved with visible signs. Staying close to the origin: leaving room for the invisible as the facing page.

Every time we hold a pen we must remember this ancient branch with which we wrote as children, when we were translating from the invisible (our own body, our presence, was a recent translation from the invisible).

from The Invisible as the Facing Page

Mancinelli speaks of writing as something carried “in my body”. It is an art of suspension that might be compared with swimming: “Every intention … must be supported by the whole body, approved by its forces and reserves”. It’s also a psychosomatic and allusive endeavour. One essay, “An Act of Inner Self-Surgery”, opens with echoes of Dante’s Inferno: “Once, a few years ago, in a wood in the Apennines, I walked for hours, entrusting my sorrow to every footstep, listening to the light within the foliage of the trees, to disperse the circles of my torment”. Mancinelli’s guide on this reflective journey is not Virgil, but “a tree with a very scarred trunk” – inspiration for the title of her most recent collection, Tutti gli occhi che ho aperto (2020). “Wounds are eyes that we have never wanted to open”, the poet explains. “Here they are, on our body, on our bark.”

(Mark Glanville, In the swim. Franca Mancinelli’s view of her literary vocation, The Times Literary Supplement)

TLS

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Mancinelli is a poet who manages to address the intimate and the universal, by speaking from the essential boundaries of experience […].

If Mancinelli’s poems tend to be very open and spare, in her prose there is a profound lyric intensity. Her writing breathes, deeply and slowly, as her images, ideas and reflections rise, disappear and surface again. […] 

But it is the vital connection to poetry as a “practice of daily salvation” that comes through in the most powerful of these essays. […] In the wonderful piece “Poetry, Mother Tongue” she suggest that writing is the act of trying to translate what is already written within us, of looking into the empty space between “the unknown and nothingness” […].

(Joseph Schreiber, Rough Ghosts)

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Her prose, at least in translation, is reassuringly poetic in its narrative meander around mood and memory, spinning the reader around its spells, seductive in its textures and references, with narratives so nuanced the very order of events is subsumed in the music of their expression.  Delight in sophistication of expression repeatedly tore me from the page to the haunting spells of psychic renewal.  All praise to the translations of John Taylor.

(Gordon Phinn, WordCityLit)

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Childhood memories and fairy stories turn into stories with corpses, frozen tears which form stalactites in the eyes, blood and portentous signs. Yet these are deftly written, engaging and lucid tales, written with an accomplishment and flair that does not linger on the darkness but works to produce worlds of magic and light, and of promise, even when things seem grim. […]

The butterflies of childhood have long faded and turned to dust, but Mancinelli’s desire to make words live and fly again, informs her strange and original writing that evidence traces of both her and our being.

(Rupert Loydell, Tears in the Fence)

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Mancinelli uses language, extreme metaphor and imagery as a master craftsperson. […] 

Simply a masterpiece by Franca Mancinelli translated by John Taylor. The collection changes before your eyes, strong metaphor, imagery and while you read it you will not know that you too are transforming for your gaze will now become different.

(G. Emil Reutter, North of Oxford)

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Franca Mancinelli documents many phases of her life as she searches for the boundaries delineating them. This book draws your attention to an idea that the poet describes as, “At times, you can pick things out floating along these waves that seem familiar, lost.”

(Sonnet Mondal, The Bangalore Review)

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