An MIT translator specializing in the work of an Italian poet once called the "czar of the blush" has received the 2004 Raiziss/de Palchi Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets for an English edition of his selected poems.
Ann Snodgrass, a poet and essayist in her own right, began translating Vittorio Sereni, a postwar Italian poet, 12 years ago. She has been with the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies since 1998.
A sense of scrupulous conscientiousness in Sereni's work prompted the "czar" reference. He was a "poet of rigorous moral interrogation whose work shows how the pressure from historical events somehow brands personal memory," Snodgrass said.
Sereni's life (1913-1983) spanned devastating events in European and Italian history, including two world wars, and he spent two years as a prisoner of war in Algeria. A poet, teacher and editor, Sereni was a leader in the "linea lombarda" movement, which promoted restoring a sense of dignity to the daily, among other things. His books include "Diario d'Algeria" (1947) and "Stella Variabile" (Wandering Star) (1981).
"There is a clear sense of trajectory between his first and final books toward a more questioning approach. He became increasingly concerned with fluctuations and distortions of memory," said Snodgrass.
She is quick to point out that memory, as Sereni plumbs it, means more than emotions recalled in tranquility. It has moral implications, which might not be transferable to the American environment.
"What's at stake historically is very dif-ferent. In the United States, distortions of memory may be less problematic. Americans believe in self-creation, in inventing and re-inventing their own narratives. For Sereni, there's an obligation to memory; it's about identifying the particular character of a historical moment. Memory is access to history," Snodgrass said.
The actual work of translating the "fierce intimacy of Sereni's private voice" from Italian to English, Snodgrass said, "gave way to the inclusiveness of his language. His poems possess a roving worldliness; their humanity is universal."
Snodgrass has received awards from the Fulbright Foundation, the PEN American Center and the Massachusetts Arts Lottery, among many others. Her poems and translations have appeared in the New Republic, Paris Review, Partisan Review, Poetry, Grand Street, Harvard Review and American Poetry Review, among other national magazines.
"Portal," a book of Snodgrass' poems, was published in 2002 and "The Hippopotamus," her translations of the early poems of Luciano Erba, appeared in 2003. Her book of critical essays, "Knowing Noise: The English Poems of Amelia Rosselli," appeared in 2001.
The Raiziss/de Palchi prize comes from the Raiziss/de Palchi Translation Awards Fund, which was established by a bequest to the New York Community Trust by Sonia Raiziss Giop. The fellowship will provide Snodgrass with $20,000 and a six-week residency at the American Academy in Rome.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 30, 2005 (download PDF).