by Tiziano Fratus
  Translated by Francesco Levato

Reviewed by Paul Martinez Pompa



Creaturing is a startling new volume of poetry translated by Francesco Levato from the work of Italian poet Tiziano Fratus.  The volume is organized into three sections, each taking poems from three of Fratus’s books: Il Molosso, Il Respire della Terra, and L’uomo Radice.  Readers of Italian will appreciate the fact that each English translation is preceded by Fratus’s original poem written in Italian.

The first thing that pulls the reader into Levato’s interpretation of Fratus is the undulating imagery of prime ministers, journalists, and school children flowing alongside imagery of razed cities, Palestinian refugees, and the Piazza Fontana bombing.  It is the tension between past and present atrocities, official and unofficial narratives that makes the work so compelling. The poems never outright instruct the reader on how to feel about these scenes.  In many ways, the images speak for themselves (or, rather, their silence speaks), and they need no further editorializing from the poet.  On the surface, the historical contexts that bred violence have given way to healing, such as when a prime minister alludes to improved Chinese-Japanese relations in the poem “Image III”, but any such resolution is burdened by the memory of “rotting mouths” and a “decapitated body” that will not disappear so easily.  

Many of the book’s poems come as an unapologetic barrage on the senses.  The line length and syntax structure allow little opportunity to breathe, and, consequently, such form helps to suffocate the subjects onto which the poems point their interrogational light.  Moreover, Levato’s translation allows for moments of elaboration on Fratus’s political insights.  For example, in “scent of the waiting room”, a poem that relays the experience of a woman abused by a an ex-lover, conventional wisdom is undercut as Levato makes a clever line break after the word “just”:

the doctor tries telling her that the most important thing is
waiting, time heals, and it isn’t just
a saying…

The double meaning brought about in this kind of enjambment brings the poem, which appears in the book’s second section, in line with one of the books overall arguments: time is not just.  Time alone fails to bring justice when it is not accompanied by the appropriate social action. 

The book’s title, Creaturing, begets further irony as we come to see humanity itself as a kind of creature that engages in all sorts of vile behavior while actual animals, by contrast, are rendered as potentially noble beings.  A poem like “the wolf of trana” speaks to how man’s cruelty, in the form of a bullet, has “[injected] itself under the skin of the world”.  This poem demonstrates yet another intriguing result of the Fratus-Levato collaboration as Levato’s translation allows for a man to become the appropriately de-humanized pronoun “it” while the wolf is signified as “he”.   Ultimately, however, man and animal are conflated to drive home yet another take on human nature.  By the time we get to a poem like “The Red Fox” in the book’s final section, we can’t help reading the literal subject as an extended metaphor for humanity’s destructive cravings in which “some chicken / is found dead and eaten” and where “in a meter of snow, the bodies of the dead” will come to haunt us once spring melts away the lies we use to cover up unpleasant truths from our past.