Julie Larios on Michelangelo’s Aching Back



Portrait of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra (Public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

Among the many great European artists of the Renaissance, he is thought to be have been the greatest. Who doesn’t recognize the storied ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Some of us even remember the collective gasp of horror that echoed around the world when a vandal broke the nose of the Pieta.

Children’s nonfiction buffs will remember Diane Stanley’s cleverly illustrated picture book biography of Michelangelo.

But a poet?

Courtesy of Numero Cinq, here is a wonderful piece by Julie Larios on Michelangelo, poetry, the doctoring of texts, politics, love, and translation.

She quotes translator John Frederick Nims on the pleasures of translating this body of work:

“Fun” is a word that Robert Frost often used of poetry. If it offends anyone when used in the aura of the divine Michelangelo, as Vasari called him, we could retrieve from ancient Greece the favorite motto of Valery…which he translates as pour le plaisir. I kept translating for the pleasure of it.

Fun. Worth remembering, as a criterion for work. It can put aching backs into perspective.

On Mouthfeel and Memory

A young student confessed to me recently that she’d never known how to pronounce the name of the Irish poet, W.B.Yeats. For a long time she’d been afraid to ask.

Me too. Not knowing was a part of my life. A child back in 1960’s India, I found hundreds of English words that I didn’t know how to say. When Sister Therese Curran of Loreto Delhi put a poetry anthology into my hand and said, “Read this. He’s a great poet,” I didn’t dare ask, “How do you say his name?” Later, an aunt in the know laughed at my bumbling effort and cleared up the mystery of the elusive vowels that seemed to hang so tenuously onto that opening “y.”

But that poetry. Those words. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” sang to me. It made me want to read it out loud, even though I had little context for some of it. I had no idea, for example, that wattles were distant, utilitarian relatives of the often exquisite grass mats known as “pai” in my native Tamilnadu. I cried over “The Cap and Bells” in the way that the young can anticipate love and loss without having known either. The “round green eyes and the long wavering bodies / Of the dark leopards of the moon” mystified me. Years later, The Stolen Child was revived in my soul through Loreena McKennitt’s liquid melody.

Dublin_YeatsSo it felt like an odd kind of homecoming to visit the National Library of Ireland in Dublin and see the Yeats exhibition there, to view original manuscripts and first editions, to sit in small themed rooms and learn about how time and place affect a writer, and to listen to that singsong voice intone, “I will arise and go now…”

More on Yeats 2015 here, a yearlong celebration of the poet whose work was all about sound and speech. He wrote: “I have spent my life clearing out of poetry every phrase written for the eye, and bringing all back to the syntax that is for ear alone.” His words with their “mouthfeel,” worked their way into my young heart forty years ago and have lived there ever since.

In Time for Poetry Month

Coming in April 2015 from the tireless Poetry Friday duo, Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations. The book features poems in English and Spanish by 115 poets for 150+ holidays and celebrations, including the predictable and the odd.PFAC-front-cover-Nov-30-WEB-jpeg-705x1030 Just a sample: Random Acts of Kindness Week, Children’s Book Week, World Laughter Day, National Camping Month, International Literacy Day, Global Hand Washing Day, and more!

I don’t always think of myself as a poet. Or maybe I can do that only on days when my self-confidence is higher than usual because, you know, if you think it’s presuming a lot to say you’re a writer, I’d say it takes real guts to be a poet. So I’m very happy to say that a poem of mine is going to be in this cheery anthology.  I wrote it while I was traveling in India. It gained considerable heft from my 85-year-old mother’s advice on Tamil language onomatopoeia and the possibilities of cross-linguistic wordplay.