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The third way

«The Times Literary Supplement», august 6, 2019

Following two volumes of verse (Mala kruna, 2007, and Pasta madre, 2013), the Italian poet Franca Mancinelli has turned her hand to a small book of short prose pieces. The Little Book of Passage is the first of her works to be translated into English. Though the book is brief and its language plain, her subject, treated with respect, modesty and delicacy, is the great undertaking of all major poets – to discover, as her excellent translator John Taylor puts it, “the genuine sources of what we feel, think, dream and [which] remain at a remove … it is the task of poetry to try to bridge those gaps or at least to show where the bridges might be built”.

Mancinelli explores the fault lines (faglie) across which religions attempt to build bridges that philosophers would remove, using the third way, of poetry. Deploying the uncertainties and ambiguities of language, she attempts to construct bridges of meaning that might at any time prove illusory. “Unfinished sentences remain ruins. You’re supporting inside yourself an entire village in danger of collapsing”. For a true poet, which Mancinelli undoubtedly is, the quest goes beyond simple philosophical questioning. It is an existential struggle.


When her writing does cross religious terrain, it is in its esoteric forms. The words “and here you are at the treshold, light flashing through you. You no longer have a face, you’re beyond all contours. Only clear light” touch on kabbalistic notions that also informed the late poetry of Paul Celan. Yet she also finds comfort in the mundane: “the old woman who lives in the next building [that] …sweeps, hangs out the washing on the line, brings the laundry back in… Such instinctive precision guides me for short sequences.” Mancinelli has a healthy fear of the places to wich her journeys might take her, the fault line that begins as a place of comfort before widening, where “Between one shoulder and the other one opens a darkness peopled with shivers”. “Keep sleeping”, she concluse. “The leaves are speaking to each other like brothers. From the heart to the crown of the tree, the leaves are thinking of a sentence for you.”

Mancinelli’s book is prefaced by a quote from Emily Dickinson: “To fill a Gap / Insert the Thing that caused it–.” Her exposition of these words is realized in a remarkably mature poetic voice, sincere and humble in its search for meaning, worthy of the awards and accolades she has been accumulating.

© foto di copertina di Sabrina Mezzaqui