Piero Carbone, The Poet Sings for All/Lu pueta canta pi tutti.
For almost four decades Gaetano Cipolla has been an indefatigable promoter of Sicilian culture and history in the United States. As president of the cultural organization Arba Sicula, Cipolla has translated modern and contemporary Sicilian poetry, edited volumes, and contributed with essays and a grammar book to the preservation of Sicilian. Italian linguists tend to classify Sicilian as a dialect, while Cipolla, in line with other American scholars, has argued that Sicilian should be considered a language. The rationale behind this classification lies in the specific phonetic-phonological, grammatical, semantic, and syntactic organization that Sicilian exhibits. According to Cipolla's reshuffling of sociolinguistic taxonomies, what also crucially contributes to the status of Sicilian as a Romance language, parallel and not subordinate to Italian, is its rich and longstanding literary tradition. In an effort to preserve this tradition, Cipolla edits the 'Pueti d'Arba Sicula' series, whose thirteenth volume is dedicated to the poetry of Piero Carbone.
In his introduction to the bilingual anthology of poems by Carbone, a collection that Cipolla has edited and translated into English, the scholar explains that the goal of the series is to make Sicilian poetry available to an American public while 'fighting' (p. 11) against stereotypical depictions of Sicilians in the media. Having conducted this 'battle' (p. II) for over 35 years, Cipolla argues that 'Sicilians should be willing to go to war in the defense of their language' (p. 13). For all the undoubtable merits of Cipolla's work, one cannot help but wonder if the belligerent tone of a cultural warmongering really helps his cause. What Sicilian needs is not a metaphorical war, but rigorous scholarship and an intelligent politics of linguistic preservation. The idea that the verses of Carbone and other poets offer access to 'the Sicilian soul that breathes in their poetry' (p. 11) is a problematic essentialist claim that, in addition, does not render justice to the complex linguistic, cultural, and literary history of Sicily. Both Cipolla and Carbone lament the progressive erosion of Sicilian, but fail to place the state of Sicilian within the larger context of other regional languages or dialects spoken in Italy. Despite the fact that its nonRomance vocabulary is slowly waning under the pressure of the perceived cultural prestige of standard Italian, Sicilian is doing comparatively well in a linguistic environment that is generally marked by diglossia and/or bilingualism. Code-switching and the establishment of a linguistic middle ground, a regional variant of Italian in Sicily, often enrich and expand both linguistic systems.
In his role of series editor, Cipolla offers a brief introduction to the phonetic and phonological characteristics of Sicilian. His guide to the pronunciation of Sicilian sounds is accurate and can be very helpful for non-native speakers of Sicilian. The transcription of certain sounds, in particular of retroflex consonants, is not convincing. Equally problematic is the rendering of the voiceless palatal fricative, so common in Sicilian vernaculars, with the grapheme h. Carbone elects to write out sounds contained in terms such as piuri or ciauru (meaning "flower" and "smell" respectively and pronounced like the English shine with an additional slight exhaling of air) as hiuri and hiauru without presenting any phonetic or etymological justification for this misleading choice. Cipolla leaves Carbone complete freedom with this alternative, eschewing in this way any attempt at standardization. A better editorial solution could be represented by an orthographic systematization. One could adopt diacritic signs or resort to the International Phonetic Alphabet, when such a choice appears suitable.
Piero Carbone writes in the Romance Sicilian tradition of Nino Martoglio, Giovanni Meli, and Ignazio Buttitta, while acknowledging the multicultural and Mediterranean past of the island, especially the Greek, Arab, and Norman history of Sicily. At the same time, recurrent epigraphic references reveal his familiarity with the Spanish Generation of'27, in particular with Luis Cernuda and Rafael Alberti, but also with Juan Ramon Jimenez and Pablo Neruda. The impression is that Carbone tries to ground his writing in a regional literary tradition while embracing wider networks of cultural exchange. The themes in the collection of poems gravitate around socio-political commentaries, the role of poetry, and the gradual loss of Sicilian as a vehicle of oral and written communication. The poetic voice in Carbone's poems is weary of nostalgic remembrances of the past that often dominate the tone of the discussion about Sicily. Poems such as 'Senza cchju normanni' and 'Ddra storica lanterna' well express this sentiment. Sterile is the 'chjanciri l'aranci e li lumii' and the 'luntanu suspiran ppi turnari' (p. 44) of the Siculo-Arab poet Ibn Hamdis, exiled from his native Syracuse after the Normans take control of the island. Carbone makes the medieval poet's bitter exile symbolic of modern Sicilian emigration. Although the poems are cautiously optimistic about a more prosperous future for the island, often it is unclear probably to the author himself- what shape this Sicilian future should assume. Overall, Carbone's poetry is of uneven quality, alternating moments of dense poetic expression to flickering images that lack substance.
Cipolla's strongest contribution is a translation strategy that appropriately balances efforts of domestication and effects of foreignization. His profound knowledge of the different semantic ranges of Sicilian terminology, the different cultural connotations of Italian cognates, and certain idiomatic expressions allows him to fully capture Carbone's rhetorical fluctuations between lyrical and elegiac moods, serious tone and dry humor. The translation is masterful, faithful enough without remaining literal or subservient to the original. Cipolla's great ability as a translator makes him a resourceful interpreter of this Mediterranean crossroads and an important cultural mediator between Sicily and the United States. The volume, despite the shortcomings mentioned earlier, represents a good source for anyone interested in Sicily, and certainly represents a stimulus for further investigations of Sicilian history, literature, and culture.
Reviewed by: Salvatore Pappalardo, Towson University, USA
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2016|
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