Reviews / February 2011 (Issue 13)

Creatures, Inside and Out: Tiziano Fratus's Creaturing

by Michael O'Sullivan


Tiziano Fratus, Creaturing, Trans. Francesco Levato, Marick Press, 2010. 93 pgs.

Tiziano Fratus's Creaturing is a multivoiced collection that slowly moves from the political to the personal. The vast majority of the poems are of a similar form—prose-like passages with lines of various length that give the poems a jagged right edge on the page. The poems are conversational and those collected in this volume appear to come from various earlier collections, or "matchboxes," as the author names them in his bio.

"Mouth II|old documents" is perhaps representative of the political poems in the collection that ask us to bear witness to numerous atrocities and remember what the dead have died for. It moves from recalling the different stages of Germany's Third Reich and Italy's fascist past to Palestine and then onto the lives of writers such as Lorca and Celan whose work is haunted by revolution and atrocity. The poem then shifts to a general commentary on how "impossible" it is "to start building the world again." The poem's wide range occasionally allows some all too prosaic passages to slip in. Such sections often smack of a political pamphlet or tract—they speak about "stopping the falsification of documents" and "challenging the laws upholding lies." But these are rare kinks in an otherwise refreshingly bouyant collection.

The poetry is perhaps at its strongest when describing natural images and environments and moments from everyday life as in "Kitano's Frog, a Species on the Verge of Extinction" and "Tattooed Women at the Avignone Post Office." The former is reminiscent of Seamus Heaney's "Death of a Naturalist" with its descriptions of a group of boys "going to the lake to catch frogs"; the latter is more Elizabeth Bishop with its effervescent detailing of local character and custom: "two old fisherwomen from marseilles, praying to god/when it was time to pray to him/[…]hair/ gathered and shriveled in a band of algae, pinned/with rusted fish hooks, as if speaking the language of fish." "A Track Meet during the Giro D'Italia" continues this inspired detailing of everyday tics that are lost to most: "arrows of vibrant color entwine in/a tapestry at the mission, red and green[…]/they cheer one another on, words no longer than three/letters, subtracted from sweat, from the taunting glare/of the firemen." But perhaps the poem that is most vibrant and playful in this attention to local colour and yet most self-contained and free of sprawl is "The Soccer Match on Sunday Morning": "sunday morning, during the soccer match: the quantity of dispossessed saints, of insults, of cursing,/[…] a certain idea of universal massacre, of extermination: and to speak/of the fates marked for entire generations of referees."

The poems are translations from the Italian and the collection is bilingual with the Italian and English versions facing each other on the page. This leads even the most unproficient reader of Italian to occasionally marvel at the detail and music of the language that is lost at certain points in the English translations. The alliterative turn of "non/sarebbe spregevole sapere" in "Il San Sebastiano Di Piossasco" is absent in "it wouldn't be so terrible knowing" and, in the same poem, the descriptive detail of "ai piedi della chiessetta ad una navata" is reduced to "at the foot of a gothic church." The poet also has the delightful habit of using abbreviations in Italian; however, English equivalents are not used in the translastions. Thus "c+è chi" becomes "there are those" and "all+europeo, l+uomo-kalì di Leonardo" becomes "against the Europeans, the Kali-man of Leonardo." It all suggests that a distinctive charm and sense of play is lost in the English. Perhaps acknowledging the fact that the translated lines are not as weighty as their Italian originals, the translator chooses, at one point, not to carry over the italicisation of a complete line: "C'e chi è interessato e chi no ai peccati altrui" is given as "There are those that are interested and those that are not in the sins of others".

A personal note creeps into the poems in the last section of the collection entitled "from Historias de Malo Amor." "Talking about International Travel at the End of November" is a punchy, humorous description of how one couple endures the marriage of the real and the romantic in their talk of international travel: "maybe to Norway, I've always/liked the fjords […] why not, I add,/we can take some canoeing lessons, and stay away/all of August, we could take a shortcut between Corsica and Sardinia,/cruise the south of France, visit Marseilles, Barcelona/and Seville, and then Lisbon and the port, and up towards La Coruna […] you look at me with the ususal air of sympathy, mouth/curled: in that case we'll need to bring a scarf, and a windbreaker." "Utamaro at the Foot of Monviso" is an intimate and erotic poem that sets up an intriguing unresolved tension between the tools of the writer—his "Franciscan grammar," the "black pencil" that the lover "wove into" her hair and the lover's hair like a "black comma"—and sensuous discovery. In it, a description of the Alps "laid bare" tranforms into a depiction of the lover, neck sprouting "from the top of her spine,/a delicate stroke of/slender white moving upwards, and her/hair, a black comma, compact,/in the opposite sense." A letting of blood for both lovers that begins with one lover "indelicately, lacerating/the thick skin of my index finger" leads to a new kind of writing of, and with, the body: "I use the blood that flows without/any drama to inscribe/the ideogram for FIRE/on the mature part of your back,/the one the towel doesn't hide." The extraordinary nervous tension of this physical landscape dramatically changes course with the two final poems of the collection, which pay homage, respectively, to Carl Sandburg and George Ballantine.

Overall, there is such a medley of bristling voices and enticing themes being set in motion in the collection that the reader gets the impression the poet may still be searching for a single, guiding thread. However, this sense of child-like inquisitiveness is also a strength as it returns us to a time "when all/seemed still possible and instinct dominated/reason."

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