4 out of 4 stars
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Poetry is perhaps the most hit-and-miss type of writing. Some folks slap together some thoughts, add some line breaks to make it look like poetry and call it a day. Others are so vague and confusing that one feels like a fool for not getting it when really there's no substance to be found. Then there's truly great poetry that spins a web of metaphor, that puts every word to perfect use and creates images in the reader's mind while hiding secret meanings. The Marble Wave by Massimo Mandolini-Pesaresi had me intrigued by the name alone, ensnaring my mind and forcing me to dive in to discover just what a marble wave is.
The Marble Wave is a collection of just over 30 poems, with many of the pieces sorted into two sections: Le Regard De Thaleia ("The Look of Thaleia", according to Bing translate) and Lachrymae. Right from the beginning, before even entering either of these categories, the first poem swept me up. "Diver" is a fitting title for not only the poem but for what the reader becomes as they read this poem, diving into Massimo's deepest thoughts, with a piece that speaks of a person diving into thoughts of the past. I took my time reading through The Marble Wave, and pieces stuck with me long after I put the book down each day. Throughout the book this was for different reasons: at first it was because of the depths of meaning and the pondering they inspired, and in the second half of the book, Lachrymae, it was both the poet's words and the events the poems spoke of. Unlike the rest of the book, most of these pieces have the meanings behind them more clear as far as who or what it’s focus is. These are largely events and people I had no knowledge of, like who Rachel Corrie and Sakineh are (who was revealed through the italicized first letter of her name beginning each line of the poem).
Have you ever seen a romantic comedy where there's someone who speaks Italian or French and the ladies instantly fall in love with the language regardless of what he might be saying? Massimo's writing was much the same - despite many of the poems speaking of tragedies and sadness, the words flow like melodies. Like classic rock and oldies, where it takes years of happily singing along before discovering that "Every Breath You Take" is far more creepy than romantic, I found myself realizing that beautiful words hid pain and sorrow. Massimo does this through not only precisely chosen words, but also through concision. Verses beg for second, third and fourth readings to scour for every bit of depth, and even then I'm certain there are plenty of things I missed. Like great poetry, Massimo's pieces have all sorts of possible meanings.
I ended up doing a lot of research with these poems, which is a double edged sword. On the one hand I felt a bit like a detective figuring things out, and translating Italian poem titles often gave me an AHA moment. However, some folks may not put in the effort and lose a bit of meaning. For example, one of the poems, "Catacombs", has the subtitle “per Attilio Bellucci”. When I searched the name I found nothing aside from a few very similar names. However, the title ends with “16 ottobre 1943” in italics, and when I searched that I found a book titled October 16, 1943/Eight Jews about “the massive German roundup of Jews in Rome on the date of its title.“ (via http://undpress.nd.edu/books/P00766). This perfectly links back to the poem, and both gave me a greater appreciation for the poem and made me feel brilliant for figuring it out!
Despite not fully comprehending all the poems, I really had a fantastic time with The Marble Wave. The writing is exquisite, I learned a great deal and I never felt bored. While the majority of the writing is free verse, it never felt like plan writing; it was always clearly poetry, not just random thoughts. Massimo toys with rhyme and meter, and while I never found anything completely out of his element, the poetry was varied enough to keep things fresh. I guess that's what one should expect from a person who translates poetry, has taught at multiple universities and writes on various topics. Nonetheless, The Marble Wave brought with it a breath of fresh air, and despite the two errors I found in the PDF version I reviewed it's easily worthy of 4 out of 4 stars. Anyone who loves deep poetry will thoroughly enjoy this book.
The Marble Wave
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