Many of you have come to know my friend Antonio Lonardo and his work through this blog, so I thought you might enjoy this interview with him which was published in Italy Magazine last week.
The Modican poet Antonio Lonardo lives in an apartment full of light under the town’s famous Guerrieri Bridge. I first met him at the launch of his collection, “Desiderio di Luce” on a January evening in 2009. After the presentation, I asked Antonio if I could take some photographs and publish an extract from one of his poems on my blog, with my own translation. He not only agreed but the next day rang me to ask if I would be interested in translating a new collection.
Thus began a project and a friendship and now I call Antonio “My poet”. In February I had the privilege of travelling with him to Buggiano [Tuscany] where he received a prize for his poem “Esistenziale Itinerario” and I spoke about the translation.
Today I would like to introduce all of you to “the poet of the bridge” or “my poet” so I interviewed him for Italy Magazine:
Patti Chiari: Antonio, we met in the autumn of our lives and I don’t know much about your youth. Can you tell us about it?
Antonio: I was born in Avellino [Campania] on 3rd September 1943. It was a difficult birth and I was a weak child, the seventh in my family. I try to express how this felt in my poem “Analogiche Differenze” which I wrote for my sisters:
Ero fragile pianta di vetro
in una brughiera di spine,
smussate solo da campane a festa;
le pareti del mio cuore,
trapassate da circoli di fosforo,
battevano in sintonia con i vostri.
I was a fragile plant of glass
in a moorland of thorns
blunted only by feast-day bells;
the walls of my heart,
pierced by phosphorus circles,
beat in harmony with yours.
PC: Did the war affect you?
Antonio: Yes, there were many battles in my area and I saw soldiers all the time. My family had been deeply and personally affected by the First World War because my uncle had been killed in battle only twenty days after that war broke out. My grandfather, who was a remote figure to me, never stopped grieving and my grandmother never got over the shock and died in 1923. In my poem “Nonno Celestino”, dedicated to my grandfather, I imagine the town like a trench on the day of his own funeral:
Sembrava una trincea,
scavata nella neve,
tra le case del paese
e gli alberi della strada,
il percorso funebre,
di morte terribilmente avvenuta
nel vallo contro il nemico.
It was like a trench,
dug in the snow,
among the houses in the village
and the trees in the street,
the funeral journey,
of a death cruelly penetrating
the ditch against the enemy.
PC: What was your first job?
Antonio: As a young man I did various jobs in the countryside and then I went to Milan. I became a secretary in a middle school and then I went to University in Salerno [Campania] and afterwards trained as a teacher.
PC: Where did you teach before coming to Modica?
Antonio: I taught Italian literature in upper schools in Benevento [Campania] and Salerno.
PC: When did you start to write poetry?
Antonio: In 1977 after my fiancée, Edvige, died at the age of thirty following a bungled operation. Writing poetry helped me.
PC: Did you publish your poetry?
Antonio: No, I distributed copies to family and friends, particularly Edvige’s family. I still have a good relationship with them and we keep in touch.
PC: When did you meet your wife, Carla?
Antonio: I met her in Bergamo through friends. I remember the date - 5th March 1981. We started going out and we got married after 13 months.
PC: That’s quick by Italian standards! Carla’s been a source of inspiration, hasn’t she?
Antonio: Oh, yes, always. I talk about the day I met her in “Quel giorno”:
di un giorno,
con il sole
il domani s’attendeva radioso.
In the words
of a single day,
with the sun
on my back,
the horizon alight with hope,
a brilliant tomorrow was promised.
PC: I love that poem. Did you come to Modica because of Carla?
Antonio: Yes, she’s from here.
PC: What else inspires you?
Antonio: My studies, particularly of the classics, family, friends, particular emotions and world news. I like to think that my poems are the story of a life lived and I try to impart a sense of history.
PC: You wrote a poem about Pope John Paul 11, didn’t you?
Antonio: Yes, “Outsider”. I wanted to express all aspects of this complex man and it was difficult. Then one Sunday afternoon I felt like writing and I put all the verses from my drafts in order. Each verse expresses a different aspect of the man:
ha attraversato i deserti
dei cuori induriti,
scavalcando i muri,
caduti con le ideologie.
coming from the East,
you crossed the deserts
of hardened hearts,
climbing over walls
felled with their ideologies.
PC: I know you won a prize for the poem. Which one was it?
Antonio: The Premio Pompeii in 2007. I’m very proud of it.
PC: How many poetry prizes have you won altogether?
Antonio: Fifty-three in the last three and a half years. Eleven of them are for my collection, “Desiderio di Luce”.
PC: I think you’re soon going to have to move house to find room for all these prizes, Antonio! Tell us about your daughter, Lilli.
Antonio: We adopted Lilli from Romania in 1995. She was thirteen years old and illiterate. She had never been to school. Slowly and patiently, we taught her to read and write. I wrote about it in “Metamorfosi”:
Era una pangea
il suo linguaggio:
di un mondo sconosciuto,
riservato ad eletti.
It was a Pangea
the concise synthesis
of an unknown world,
the mysterious labrynth,
an Edenic space
reserved for the élite.
PC: And now Lilli is grown-up and has a child of her own…
Antonio: Yes, my nineteen-month-old grandson. He is a joy to me and I don’t have much time for writing poems with him around!
PC: When did you decide to have your poems translated into English?
Antonio: I’d thought about it for a long time and then I met you! It’s been a great experience and it makes me happy to know that people are reading my poems on the other side of the world. And now a former pupil of mine may translate them into Arabic.
PC: Of all the poems you’ve written, what are your favourites?
Antonio: The personal ones, such as “Nonno Celestino” and “Analogiche Differenze”. And “Outsider”.
PC: Who are your favourite Italian poets?
Antonio: Leopardi, Ungaretti and Montale. And of the non-Italian poets my favourite is Neruda.
PC: Do the young people you teach appreciate poetry?
Antonio: No, I’m afraid they don’t. They just learn it off by heart and don’t see that poetry explains life. It’s very sad.
PC: What are your ambitions now?
Antonio: I’d like to write an autobiography, in prose and verse, and to write more prose in general.
PC: Antonio, I’m sure you’ll achieve this ambition. Thank you for talking to Italy Magazine.
Antonio: If my grandson allows it, I’ll do it! Thank you.
You can read new poems by Antonio Lonardo on his blog .
If you are interested in ordering his latest collection, “Il Profumo del pensiero” [in Italian and English] you can contact Antonio at: