“Reading others means listening to them”

an interview with Federico Italiano

Guilt (Issue II/2019)

Mr Italiano, what does a “Grand Tour” of poetry mean to you?

In the 18th and 19th centuries, many rich aristocratic families embarked on a kind of educational journey to the most important European cities, the so-called “Grand Tour”. But we envisage our Grand Tour in a completely different way: It is a non-hierarchical and accessible journey on the trail of young poets all over Europe.

The anthology also includes poets from Turkey and Israel. How do you define Europe?

It is very inclusive and symbolic, not purely geographical or along borders dictated by the market economy. For me, Europe is rather a special kind of communication: intellectual, literary and philosophical trends converge here. And countries like Israel or Turkey are, of course, historically and culturally closely linked to Europe. The poets in this anthology belong to a poetic Europe that does not function as separate pigeonholes, but rather is in constant communication. The language of Europe is translation.

In the political context, Europe does not currently have a sense of unity. Can the poetry scene be seen as a positive example of cross-border cooperation?

Yes, poetry in Europe is in good shape. Poets read to each other, translate for each other, meet at festivals or readings and organise projects together.  By reading each other we listen to each other. This means taking time to decipher their alphabet and to understand what is behind it. I believe that political Europe would function better if that joy of exchange within the poetry scene were even stronger.

How did you select the poems in your anthology?

The idea came up over a glass of wine with Jan Wagner. We found that we both know and appreciate the Northern Irish poet Sinéad Morrissey. From her we came to speak of numerous other European poets and the idea of an anthology was born. We were both born in the 1970s and have the impression that many poets of our generation have similar experiences. We wanted to express and explore that. We have defined young poetry up to a year of birth of 1968, because this year represented a Europe-wide break. When selecting the poems, we were assisted by a group of experts from each country, consisting of older poets and translators. It is wonderful how many people have worked with us. If I were to say a hundred, it would be too few.

What themes from your generation appear in the poems?

There are an incredible number of poems about generational change, growing up, relationships within the family. This closeness that needs to be interpreted. And there are wonderful animal poems in almost every language. The fox, the turtle: animals are a recurring theme. Generally I have the impression that the concrete picture is very important, as well as the everyday, the description of seemingly unimportant things.

What were the biggest surprises for you?

In many smaller Eastern European countries like Estonia or Slovenia, the poetry scene is very diverse. But Poland is the secret land of anthology. I didn't expect the young poetry scene there to buzz like that. France, on the other hand, a country that stands for modern poetry like no other, is rather weakly represented. All in all, I am impressed by how active, future-oriented and feminine the scenes are throughout Europe. Ten years ago everyone thought that the genre of poetry would die out because there would be no more readers. But poetry is by no means dead, it is very much alive.

an interview by Gundula Haage

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