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Lost Between

Writings on Displacement
Liz McManus & Federica Sgaggio (eds)
New Island


From the Foreword

When the two of us first met, back in 2010 at the lush Writers' Centre in Dublin, it became clear very quickly that our initial friendship was about to expand and develop into a collaboration. We spent hours discussing the many cultural and traditional values shared by Ireland and Italy, including the love of storytelling.

Those early exchanges continued and, in 201 1. the board of the Irish Writers' Centre hosted a 'Cultural Conversation between dozens of Italian and Irish readers and writers. The event was a resounding success and showed us that there was an appetite for closer literary ties between our two countries. There was also an opportunity to showcase the talents both of established and emerging writers in each of our countries; something that went to the very core of our philosophy. We were fortunate, too. to have the support and enthusiasm of the Italian Cultural Institute, in the form of the then director, Angela Tangianu, and of Sincad Mae Aodha of the Ireland Literature Exchange.

And so, in 2012, seven established and emerging Irish writers travelled, with the financial assistance of Culture Ireland, to Nogarole Rocca/Verona. We were hosted there by the Italian writers' group, onoma, who had organised well-attended public events in a variety of locations. As in Dublin, audiences were keen to attend and to listen to writers reading their work in their mother tongue — and then to enjoy the experience of hearing that work translated into their own.

In 2013, it was the turn of the Italian writers — both emerging and established — to visit Dublin. For this second edition of the Italo-lrish Literature Exchange, we were honoured to have among us the internationally renowned Dacia Maraini. The public theatre of the Botanic Gardens was filled to capacity on that occasion and set the tone for yet another group of writers to meet and share their work with each other and with new audiences, this time in 2014 and, once again, in Italy.

Seven Irish writers met with their Italian counterparts in the mediaeval village of Sant'Agata de' Goti, close to Naples, and the cultural and writerly exchanges continued, with all concerned forming new links at both personal and institutional levels.

All writing is an act of translation — the translation of experience into words, into image and metaphor. The fifteen writers whose work forms this anthology take 'Displacement' as their theme. Their writing is a rich mix of poetry and prose, their approaches as diverse as the writers themselves. Their stories and poems are moving, insightful, and sometimes startling. The observations we find there are frequently offbeat, slyly humorous, and the joy of playing with language is everywhere evident.

'Displacement' is something familiar to both the Irish and Italians: emigration is a leitmotif of both of our histories. Both countries are recent democracies whose struggles for independence have had a profound effect on the shaping of their identities. Both nations have also traditionally emphasised the importance of family. Indeed, the sense of displacement within the family per­meates many of these pieces, where family members are connected by their disconnectedness.

We see meditations on mortality — and writing — including William Wall's 'Grace's Day', where the enor­mous grief caused by the death of a child is experienced 'as a piece of fiction, less credible in fact because it had no internal order, no structuring principle'. In Giulio Mozzi's 'The Ship', the narrator reflects on how caring for his dying mother taught him that 'nothing disgusts me. I didn't know that before'.

Everywhere in this anthology we hear the authenticity of the writers' voices, voices that both give life to, and are given life by, the power of the imagination. Afric McGlinchey in 'Ghost of the Fisher Cat' speaks of the 'topography of our imaginations' that requires 'attention, a certain leap of your own/ to jump out of one world and into another'. Such a leap — where the boundaries between universes blur and shift, and the writer's use of language is our means of transport — is the focus of Fabio Violas Amanita', where the narrator travels a road 'built of milk and marble' and where a village rests on an outcrop of rock, clinging there 'like the membrane between the toes of a webbed foot'.

The experience of alienation is also explored in these pieces — the sense human beings have of being disconnected from themselves and from others. The main character in Nuala Ni Chonchuir's slyly humorous 'Donor' is incapable of anything other than fleeting, sentimental attachments, and yet he reflects that a woman he meets has 'an ozone-sized hole in her psyche'. He may have a similar problem himself — but, as ever, lack of self-awareness can often go hand-in-hand with feelings of alienation. Similarly, in Gaja Cenciarelli's 'Bounded in a Nutshell', a doctor feels completely detached from her surroundings and from herself. She cannot even bear to touch her own body. A colleague observes that 'a woman like her would be out of place anywhere'. And in 'Calamities' by Ivano Porpora, the main character is rootless, aimless, stumbling from one self-induced crisis to the next. A stone shatters his window and he realises that, unlike him, the stone is 'perfect ... for the task assigned to it, after billions of years of being sanded down by water and the abrasions of wind'.