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Rewriting of Latin poet Catullus now available in Italian

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas scholar is introducing Italian readers to Canadian poet and classicist Anne Carson’s reimagining of poems by Latin poet Catullus.

Patrizio Ceccagnoli, assistant professor of Italian, translated 16 Catullus poems that have been rewritten by the award-winning contemporary poet. In her modern retelling of Catullus, Carson introduces significant changes and anachronisms. Ceccagnoli’s translations along with an introduction to Carson’s work were published in the September issue of Poesia, an Italian poetry magazine. 

A scholar who produces modern English translations of ancient Greek literature, Carson is also a post-modern poet who has a cultlike following in the United States.

“She is a very fascinating paradox and mix of extremes, combining antiquities and post modernism,” Ceccagnoli said.

Ceccagnoli, also a trained classicist who taught Latin and Greek in Italy and even translated Catullus in college, was drawn to Carson’s rewritings. Catullus, a love poet from the first century B.C., is popular in Italy for his poems that speak of love as a radical experience.

“I thought this was a captivating project, especially for an Italian audience, which is more familiar with the classics because of our background and schooling,” Ceccagnoli said.

While Catullus is a better-known figure in Italy than the United States, Carson is not. Only Carson’s best-known work, “The Autobiography of Red,” portions of her book “Plainwater” and a few poems have been translated into Italian.

“I like to believe that I’m making Carson more accessible and available in a different language,” Ceccagnoli said. “The reception of contemporary poetry is very idiosyncratic, and it takes time to establish a writer. Someone who is widely popular in one nation is not necessarily popular in another.”

Stanley Lombardo, a KU professor of classics, introduced Ceccagnoli to Carson. In 2015, Carson, via Skype, joined Lombardo and other performers for a reading of her work “Antigonick,” in honor of Lombardo’s retirement.

Fifteen of the poems Ceccagnoli translated come from “Catullus, Carmina,” which was included in Carson’s 2001 collection of short poems “Men in the Off Hours.” Ceccagnoli also includes a translation of Carson’s rewriting of “Catullus 101,” which the ancient poet wrote to his dead brother. The last words of the poem, “hail and farewell,” are among the poet’s most famous.

Carson’s translation of “Catullus 101,” is central to her 2010 work “Nox,” which is an epitaph in the form of a book to Carson’s dead brother. The book is presented as a box of memories, and along with Carson’s modern translation of “Catullus 101,” it contains handwritten letters, personal reflections, family photographs and definitions of words comprising “Catullus 101.”

“She shares a very personal and sorrowful story, which is filtered through the sorrow of Catullus for the death of his brother,” Ceccagnoli said.

Carson’s work isn’t the first of Ceccagnoli’s translations to be published in Poesia. In May 2014, Ceccagnoli’s Italian translations of the American Pulitzer prize-winning poet Stephen Dunn appeared in the magazine. 

Photo by Schorle, via WikiCommons.



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