mustard coloured cover with text in green and purpleBefore words become hot wax: selected poems by Franca Mancinelli, translated by John Taylor

Ledbury Poetry Festival, 2020   available as a free download

Into the woods we grow…        

John Taylor’s translations from Italian to English provide us with glimpses of Franca Mancinelli’s poetry which is both earthy and ethereal.

A tree analogy, running throughout the chapbook, explores the idea of metamorphosis. The following excerpts (which are all set on the page like justified blocks of prose) come from ‘The Little Book of Passage (2018)’. This one describes the poet shedding her tree form:

                                                         I still grow in darkness,
like a plant drinking from black soil. Getting dressed demands
losing the branches extending into sleep, their most tender leaves
open. You can suddenly feel them falling like an unexpected

Twice in this group, Franca Mancinelli expresses a reluctance to get dressed in clothes and shoes: ‘Things call out to me — get dressed,/ tie your shoes.’ The poet seems to consider the tree and its environment as her natural state of being, and the illusion being that of appearing human. Or else, morphing into a tree is escapism from reality, as there is a freedom and a sense of peace in much of this tree-verse: ‘You’re making the buds break out. The bark is / splitting apart, no longer resisting.’

One beautiful moment is when the poet suggests the woodland is inside the human:

There is a small fault line in your chest. When I hug your chest
or place my head on it there is a puff of air. It has woodsy
moistness and an earthy smell to it.

She extends this idea — of the natural environment blending through our very bodies — in her poetry from ‘Mother Dough’:

How many animals
migrate within us,
passing through our heart, halting
on the curve of a hip, among the branches
of the ribs

This image, for me, conjures ideas of movement, belonging and being at one with the world. 

John Taylor’s translations capture a wonderfully free spirit: the beauty of escapism, balanced with roots deeply embedded in rich soil — a part of something greater.

Vic Pickup