January 24, 2019

Poetry – ‘What they say in Avenale’ by Caroline Maldonado

‘What they say in Avenale’ is a superb publication in the Indigo Pamphlets series by poet and translator Caroline Maldonado. This pamphlet of twenty-five poems makes a fine counterpart to her translation of the poems of Rocco Scotellaro ‘Your call keeps us awake’ (Smokestack Books. 2013).

The illustration on the front cover of the collection is a photograph of a hillside village in Le Marche region of Italy where the poet lives and this provides the setting for the poems with their cast of characters from local farmers to wild boars and olive trees. Here we have a vivid range of visual, filmic images accompanied by the sounds of church bells, accordions and footsteps on cobbles, together with the smell and taste of figs in their ‘sun-warmed skins and juices’.

Yet there is darkness as well as light in these poems. The reality of death and loss is never far away. African refugees lose their lives in small boats as they seek safety on Italian shores; ewes on the hillsides perish in the heat which also brings ‘wheatfields crackling like tinder’ as ‘frogs lie coupled in caked mud/ a mix of clumsy thighs’; underlying violence and abuse is suggested by the shocking image of the bee-catcher in his ‘harlequin suit’ who ‘with perfect manners’ traps a bee in the hive then ‘batters her to a pulp’.

Above all, these are sensual, lyrical poems crafted like cameos with small but perfect details. One of my favourites is ‘Horses above the lake of Cingoli’ where the horses with ‘sheen on their golden necks/come flying to greet me/ … Black forests above, and below/the valley where clouds lap green water/like wolves’. Beautiful imagery but there is more, tender and precise: ‘Later they nod their heads/against the flies that bathe/in the rims of their deep eyes./ Two or three stand side by side/lean their haunches into one another,/one bends her back leg,/she points a hoof and/shifts her weight./One always stands alone.’

Caroline Maldonado has written a collection of exquisite poems. Read them for yourself and you’ll see.

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by Mandy Pannett

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