End of Season / Fine di Stagione, Clare Best
Frogmore Press, 2022 £12.00
The life of a great lake
This pamphlet’s fourteen poems, given in both the English originals and Italian translations by Franca Mancinelli and John Taylor, provide engaging depictions of life on and around Lake Maggiore, as seen from Cannero Riviera, a commune halfway up the lake’s western side. It becomes immediately obvious that Best’s writing is full of the affection which she, a regular visitor over many years, feels for the lake, the place, the inhabitants and their surroundings.
As per the title, Best shows how, each autumn, Cannero reverts from a summer resort into a place which just happens to be on the shore of an extraordinary lake: ‘There’s one last chance / to make that passeggiata / along the silver shoreline / towards the hollow trees’ (‘End of Season, Lago Maggiore’). That sense deepens when she conveys how nature regains its primacy:
Rain fell all September,
sweeping through woods in torrents.
Lake and shore drew closer.
There were more gulls and herons,
that autumn, what did they know?
Equally intriguing are Best’s observations of the people who make their living from the lake, including the poems ‘Imbarcadero’ (‘men throw ropes, / brag about their women, / last night’s catch of fish’) and the gem-like ‘Batelotto’:
He holds the secret of this lake —
he knows where flood-logs gather
after storms, reads quickening air,
predicts how far a gust will push
a tired vessel.
Chief among weather descriptions is a delightful poem devoted to ‘The Particularity of Winds’, in which the names of winds and places provide sonorous beauty for the reader’s eyes and ears. Elsewhere, Best employs that technique to create an entire list-poem, ‘Museum of Citrus’, which is simultaneously concrete (in the shape of a fruit).
The poems also encompass walks, a painter at work and the alpine backdrop ‘where mules clamber over cobbles, / stone curtain, shield against the north’ (‘The Name of a Mountain’).
The translations occupy as much space as the originals, which may leave some readers wishing the pamphlet contained more in English. Nonetheless, lake-lovers, Italophiles and readers in general will discover lots to like in its pages.