“I observe, I listen and… I write”: the secrets of the Sila Lifetime Achievement Award Vivian Lamarque


By John

The bright and cheerful eyes, the enchanted and placid expression as the collective imagination returns the typical figure of the grandmother, ready to welcome you with a smile, a hug, and to give you advice and fairy tales: for the little ones and their dreamy universe, for the adults, and the search to be better people in a better world. Meet and talk with Vivian Lamarque gives back an inescapable certainty. She could not have been anything but an artist, poet and writer.
In Cosenza for a master lecture on the topic, it goes without saying, “What is poetry (according to Vivian Lamarque)” and why she received the Sila ’49 Lifetime Achievement Award, one of the most historic and well-known literary awards in the Italian national scene. «The latest collection of verses published by Vivian Lamarque is entitled “Old Woman’s Love”. But her first one, published over 40 years ago, already dealt with a similar theme, that is, young woman’s love. All this proves how constant the presence of a muse can be in one of the greatest poets of her generation…». The motivation of the Sila jurors pays homage to a long career full of significant works that have made the hearts and souls of many readers vibrate. Without forgetting that Lamarque’s audience continues to include people of all age groups, from children to adolescents, thanks to her commitment as an author of original fairy tales and translator of traditional fairy tales, up to young and old, intoxicated by her poetic arts. Yes, precisely “old”, a word that the Milanese poet uses without worrying about being labelled as politically incorrect.
“Old Woman’s Love”… does the anagraphic question succeed in revolutionizing the perception of life facts even in your poems?
“For almost seventy years, in my work, life and poetry have always mirrored each other. I tried to separate them by starting to write a story of my life, but just as life stubbornly creeps into poetry, so in autobiography the verses rush in just as stubbornly.”
There are many striking features in her compositions, first of all that of simplicity. Is it a style that she has built or is it pure spontaneity?
“Just as a singer doesn’t choose whether to be a tenor or a baritone, I can’t choose my poetic voice, I have what I have, like the color of my eyes and hair. I recognize it even in my first poems, written when I was ten: ugly, sure, but I was already me, especially in my use of self-irony.”
How his verses are born…
«I am a great “watcher” and a “listener”. Often the watching begins from the windows of my house (examples in extinction, the watchers from the windows, especially in the north). Or from the train windows (even from there few watch, often they even lower the curtain to avoid reflections on the computer screens). In “L’amore da vecchia” there is an entire section of Poesie Ferroviarie and other new ones are arriving. The incipit always presents itself, when it feels like it. Then around that the poem is born that I will start correcting again after weeks or months, I even correct the books already printed».
Poetry lives on sensitivity. On the author’s personal interpretations of direct or indirect experiences of himself or others…
«I also listen to voices and dialogues a lot. After all, I spent almost all my childhood in movie theaters, even the screens are windows, I went in when it was light and left when it was dark. Back then you didn’t have to leave the theater at the end of the movie like today. I talk about all this in the introduction to the section of cinematographic poems, each one has a movie title as its title, there are 14, from the 1950s to today».
She has written several original fairy tales and translated many from the classical tradition. A boundless love for the world of fairy tales…
«In my lonely childhood, fairy tale books were my roommates, with them I ate at the table what my mother had prepared for me in the morning, when she came back from work I was already asleep. (I lost my adoptive father when I was 4, I met my biological father when I was 26). I still have almost all those books, some underlined according to my liking. After many years, fairy tales also knocked at my pen, I was already a mother of Miryam. One of the first titles is “The Little Girl Who Ate Wolves”. The last one, from a few months ago, is very dear to me, it talks about the unhappy children on the boats of the Mediterranean, but with delicacy and with a happy ending that I hope will come true one day. The title is “Story with sea, sky and fear” (Salani)».
In both society and school, it seems that poetry is increasingly relegating itself to a niche…
“Above all, teachers no longer make people study poems by heart. The little hands, The grandmothers Lucie, There were three hundred, they were young and strong, From the mossy atriums with falling holes, The disease rages, we lack bread, in the evenings in the houses “me la prova me la prova”, the children asked whoever they happened to be around, in the end, everyone at home learned the verses and never forgot them. The publisher Piero Manni has collected some beautiful ones in “Che dice la pioggiarellina di marzo” and I too in the anthology with the publisher Nicola Crocetti entitled “Bei cipressetti, cipressetti miei”. Twenty years ago, with my students, aged 15 or 16, in class we read the poems in chorus, all together. The first reading did not always move them but the repetition, several times, just like with songs, captured them. In high school I had two teachers who were in love with poetry, I already had the seed in a corner, but their passion warmed it and matured it like a sun. If the teacher doesn’t love it, the contagion can’t happen”.