Eleven Italian Cities ‘Against the Oblivion,’ United by a Love of Mahmoud Darwish

On March 13 — the day in 1941 on which Mahmoud Darwish was born — organizations in eleven Italian cities will stage readings “against the oblivion.”

poesieThe events are being coordinated by Chiara Comito, the blogger behind editoriaraba.wordpress.com. Comito was one of many Italians concerned by the pulping of many copies of Darwish’s poetry in Italian and its virtual disappearance from Italian bookshops. Although back copies are still available in some libraries, Comito says it is difficult to find Darwish in Italian.

She answered a few questions about the event she’s organizing and, more broadly, about Darwish’s poetry in Italian.

ArabLit: How many readings have you organized? Where will the readings be? Are you still looking for more to participate?

Chiara Comito: So far I’m coordinating the organization of eleven readings and I’m personally organizing the reading in Rome, the city in which I live. The readings will take place in the following cities all over Italy: Bari, Cagliari, Florence, Macerata, Messina, Milan, Naples, Rome,  Salerno, Turin and Venice. There will be public readings in Italian, Arabic, and hopefully other languages, talks by experts, screening of videos where Darwish performs his poems, workshops with students and much more. We are defining the different programs and I’ll constantly update the blog and the Facebook page with all the details.

Some amazing people responded to my “call for action” launched last December and have agreed to organize the readings in their cities: It would have not been possible to put up such an event without their invaluable help. And I’m talking of professors, students, Arabists, friends, cultural associations, bookshops. We are all united by the love for Mahmoud Darwish, his poetry and Arabic literature in general. And yes, if anyone else wishes to join us please contact me at: chiara.comito@arabismo.org!

AL: Can you explain why Darwish’s poetry is “disappearing” in Italy? What happened?

CC: The publishing house Epoché, which was the publisher who translated most of Darwish’ s poetry, closed down at the beginning of 2013. It was a small publishing house and was engulfed by the economic crisis. The unsold books went to the shredder and this means that if one wanted to buy a poetry book of Darwish could only hope to find it online (I myself bought a copy of Murale/ جدارية online a couple of months ago). It is almost impossible to find his books in an ordinary bookshop. Not to mention the other publishing houses who translated him: they did a good job (I’m talking about De Angelis Editore, Cafoscarina and San Marco dei Giustianiani) but none of them has recently published any of Darwish’s works so it is really difficult to find their books.

AL: Darwish’s poetry was very popular in France — according to Richard Jacquemond, Dariwhs used to sell more books in France in the 2000s than any living French poet. Did he ever have that sort of popularity in Italian?

With our event we wish not only to sensitize the Italian public on the disappearance of his poetry books but also, as one of the organizers in Milan wrote me a couple of days ago: “sensitize the public to the poetry because… Poetry saves your life.”

CC: Tough question. I do not want to sound negative, but I don’t think so: He is famous and renowned but not that much. Still, according to some statistics, Mahmoud Darwish, together with Adonis and Nagib Mahfouz, is the most translated Arab author in Italy. He came to Italy several times to perform in public readings and to participate in literary festivals, such as the Festivaletteratura in Mantua in 2005, the most famous Italian literary festival.

He is very much studied in the university courses of Arabic literature and he is also known and loved by non-arabist lovers of international poetry, but I wouldn’t dare saying his books sell, or used to sell, more than any other poet in Italy. Not to mention that many critics complain that poetry doesn’t sell very much in Italy (although the Italians love poetry), at least not as much as fiction.

With our event we wish not only to sensitize the Italian public on the disappearance of his poetry books but also, as one of the organizers in Milan wrote me a couple of days ago: “sensitize the public to the poetry because as Donatella Bisutti (an Italian poet and journalist) wrote: Poetry saves your life.”

AL: Which of his works have been translated into Italian?

CC: Poetry books:

Come fiori di mandorlo, o più lontano (كزهر اللوز أو أبعد ), trans. by Chirine Haidar, Milano, Epoché, 2010
Meno rose (ورد أقل), trans. by Gianroberto Scarcia and Francesca Rambaldi, Venezia, Cafoscarina, 1997
Perche hai lasciato il cavallo alla sua solitudine? (لماذا تركت الحصان وحيدا) trans. by Lucy Ladikoff Guasto; Genova, San Marco dei Giustiniani, c2001
Il letto della straniera (سرير الغريبة) trans. by Chirine Haidar, Milano, Epoché, 2009
La mia ferita è lampada ad olio (collection of poems), trans. by Francesca M. Corrao; De Angelis Editore, Avellino, 2006;
Murale (جدارية), trans. by Fawzi Al Delmi; Epoché, Milano, 2005.

Non-fiction:

Una memoria per l’oblio (ذاكرة للنسيان ), trans. by L. Girolamo with E. Bartuli, Roma, Jouvence, 1997
Oltre l’ultimo cielo: la Palestina come metafora (collection of different essays on Palestine), trans. by G. Amaducci, E. Bartuli, M. Nadotti; Milano, Epoché, 2007.

In the following months, a trilogy of Darwish works (only prose) is due to be published by Feltrinelli publishing house. The trilogy has been edited by Elisabetta Bartuli and translated by Ramona Ciucani and will include a new translation of Una memoria per l’oblio, as well as translations of In presenza dell’assenza (في حضرة الغياب ) and Diario di ordinaria tristezza (وميات الحزن العادي ).

AL: That’s good to hear, as those are all soul-shaking books. Are some of his poems available online in Italian?

CC: Yes, there are many: if you google “Darwish + poesie” you will find a good number of his poems translated in Italian available to read/share.

AL: Have you heard interest from any publishers after putting together this event?

CC: I have, but cannot tell you anything more. 🙂

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