91 Years of Poetry
I normally do not write on the blog about personal stuff but one of the reasons that Waltraud and I moved to Chicago was to help out my parents with my 91 year old Nonna (Grandmother). Matilde Guerra Vanzo, my Nonna is as they say in Italian a Figura. I was not blessed with a 'traditional' Nonna of legend. My Nonna is a power even today as an older fragile woman.
As a young woman she was great beauty, a business owner, restaurantuer and activist at a time when most women were not able to do these things.A woman who lived through two world wars, seeing friends and family disappear first to the Fascists and then to the Nazis. A woman who decided at an older age to go and live in New York and did not miss a step or a moment of life she was and is always the center of all our attentions. She is a active and intelligent woman who is now unfortunately fading toward her reward and in this moment we are all reflecting.
But one of the things that we all have a benefit of being exposed to is her early education and formation in Poetry because as she can do less and less she is reciting poetry. The fact that my 91 year old grandmother, who has problems remembering if she ate dinner can quote and recite Dante, Cavalcanti, Leopardi, Catullus in Latin, Cicero in Latin and Manzoni to us as if she is reading it and also the Aeneid of Virgil shows the difference between her world and ours a world where literature mattered.
As a Child Nonna was expected to be literate and people of her generation and her class in Italy were literate. Books were a part of their lives and poetry was much beloved quoted and read. Nonna is not the type of person we would today associate with poetry or poets; but in many ways her world was better for poets a world where people loved poetry and read it regularly.
Vestone her town is one of my favorite places, where Lake Garda, the Alps and the Padana meet it is our home and a place known for painters, Garosio and Togni are from Vestone and to this day painters and poets are held in high esteem to be a poet or painter is something. The region of Italy where she is from is also the home of Cattulus, Montale and Ungaretti Sirmione which is only few kms away from Pound's favorite place.
Her world is so far from the world in which we live; in her world poetry and art were part of the fabric of tough lives. People read poetry and looked at art not to be numbed but to feel and be human- I yearn for such a world. A world where we seek out feeling and life and whether it is bad or good we experience it.
As Matilde Guerra Vanzo continues to decline I still get to hear her in perfect Italian reciting Dante a Dante imprinted on a little girl in the Alps in 1920 and feel connected to the Poet and to my history and why I am poet.