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Joseph Tusiani
When translation is an art
L’arte della traduzione poetica, the recently published anthology with two essays, edited by Cosma Siani, explores the beauty and the pleasure of letting English speakers enjoy Italian literature.
From Dante to Montale, from Machiavelli to Alfieri; these are just a few of the “greats” translated by the Apulian American poet
by Sergio D’Amaro
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It is easy to understand that the translator must be a poet himself. He must feel the poem that he wants to translate; and he will feel it only if he is suddenly lit up by the inexplicable beauty of which the poem itself seems to be the only possible explanation. In other words, he must capture the thought, the feeling, the color and the rhythm, and try to combine them not in the same way but in the same spirit and with the same fervor”.

These words of Joseph Tusiani’s, taken from one of his old essays, the fundamental La traduzione poetica, immediately convey the idea of what Tusiani meant when he was irresistibly drawn to a work and wanted to translate all or part of it. A host of critical articles have focused on Tusiani’s special ability to literally immerse himself in the linguistic and creative dimension: his translations are actually re/creations of the original in the target language through a cognitive and aesthetic process that presumes a perfect control of the power of expression. In his youth the author worked on translating from English to Italian, producing numerous publications (from Sonettisti americani, to an Antologia della poesia americana for the journal “La Parola del Popolo”, and essays comparing Italian and Anglo-Saxon authors) which helped to consolidate the mastery of his acquired language, while refining his great natural bent for poetry. Later Tusiani threw himself with all his might into translating the Italian classics into English, producing some of his most original work and achieving unsurpassed levels of quantity and quality.

The anthology edited by Cosma Siani for the Roman publisher Cofine, L’arte della traduzione poetica (2014, pp. 152, € 15), bears witness, in a very readable form, to the enormous number of translations done by Tusiani of Italian literary works, well-known and more obscure, from Dante to Montale. Not many people know that Tusiani also introduced the Anglo-Saxon world to the poetry of Machiavelli or to Alfieri’s America libera, as well as to colossal works like Pulci’s Morgante. The anthology also includes works by female poets (Vittoria Colonna, Gaspara Stampa, Vittoria Aganoor, Ada Negri) and dialect poets (Carlo Porta, Giuseppe G. Belli, Salvatore Di Giacomo) and incorporates two of Tusiani’s fundamental essays (La traduzione poetica, mentioned above, and Problemi di traduzione petrarchesca), which shed light on the translation process.

Why such plurilinguistic passion? The answer lies, without much doubt, in the story of the author, who migrated from Italy to America but kept in his heart the only real land of his life, which was literature. Discovering beauty and the pleasure of communicating it, so that its perfume, its power of suggestion, and its imaginary world can be savored in another language; sharing with speakers of another language the unique heritage of a cultural tradition imprinted with the great spirit of Dante and launched into the pyrotechnical explosion of the most varied forms and styles; blending one’s own language with the acquired language while still hearing its echoes in a new cadence and in a new music, both alien and evocative.

The anthology, containing bio-bibliographical data, also bears witness to this and points the way towards an understanding of the translator’s art forged by Tusiani in fifty years of activity ‘bridging’ the ocean from one shore to the other.