Midnight in Spoleto
by Paolo Valesio
translated by Todd Portnowitz
Fomite Press : 1 January 2018 : 150 pp. : 978-1942515821
In this enchanting collection of poems—a love story and a love letter to an ancient city—the renowned scholar of Italian literature turns his gaze on Spoleto.
A curtain is drawn, a harpsichord resounds, a choir chants at midnight, a poor student paces a terrace, a valley swirls reflected in an espresso cup: in poem after poem Paolo Valesio evokes the song and solemnity of Spoleto, a hill town in Umbria and home to no more than 40,000. Home, as well, to the "Festival of Two Worlds," a summer arts festival celebrating the city's two defining realms: the church and the theater.
Drawing its title from one of the festival's main events—a series of choir performances at the ancient church of Sant'Eufemia—Midnight in Spoleto explores the unique spaces of the city and the scenes of a life there staged. "As soon as they reached Spoleto, / with twilight approaching, / before even unzipping their bags, / they went to the piazza / to find something they'd left a summer ago."
Never far from the lyrical narrative is the figure of St. Francis, the local genie, whose spirit guides and chides our raconteur. Valesio's layered visions and precise rhythms are here transported vitally into English, by the Raiziss/de Palchi-winning translator, Todd Portnowitz.