Interview _ Antonella Delmestri

Antonella Delmestri was born in Trieste, Italy, where she began her education in Classical Studies before moving to Computer Science. Holder of a PhD in Information and Communication Technologies, she is author or co-author of a number of scientific publications.

In 2004 her first collection of Italian poems, Stanze dove non eri stato mai, was published by Ibiskos. In 2016 her second collection, Il respiro del drago (The breath of the dragon), including an English translation by Anne Lloyd-Williams, was published by Battello Stampatore.

Antonella has also published in Italian a short story “E questo fu solo l’inizio!” and has won various literary awards with her poems. Since 2006, she has lived in the UK, and works at the University of Oxford in medical research.

In this interview, Antonella Delmestri talks about her poetry.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

My personal experiences have entirely influenced my writing, even its very start and existence. I love T. S. Eliot’s definition of poetry:
Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.
Which authors influenced you most?

What has most influenced my writing is my classical background, especially Greek and Latin mythology. I am fascinated by the power of this psychologically evocative cultural expression, which remains significant through the ages in representing universal human emotions. Myths, archetypes and metaphors are symbolic ways of conveying deeper truths about ourselves and the world around us.

How would you describe Stanze dove non eri stato mai?

Stanze is a journey through different emotional states represented by the book's sections: "Ombre" (Shades), "Attimi" (Moments), "Sorrisi" (Smiles), "Miraggi" (Mirages) and "Catene" (Chains).

The reader is invited to discover different rooms (stanze in Italian) of a virtual house, which symbolises one's inner self and identity. This is what the book's title refers to (Rooms where you had never been in English), and is a line in one of the poems, "La vergogna" (Shame). The fact that Stanza has an additional meaning in poetry makes the title more evocative.

How did the collection come about?

I started writing poetry when I was in my early 30s and it was a complete surprise to me. One day I woke up and I just had to write.

Initially, everything I produced was in rhyme, and the rhymes were ready to come out effortlessly. It was an unsettling experience, because I was not used to it and I did not understand where it came from. Probably to give it some direction, I got into the habit of writing in the morning and editing the result later in the day. This activity of dreamy writing and file-editing went on for a few years undisturbed and solitary.

One day I heard of a publisher, Ibiskos, running a competition for poetry collections, and I began to consider sharing my writing with the outside world. I started selecting the poems that I thought might be suitable, and grouped them into sections. My collection was shortlisted in the competition and Ibiskos offered to publish it.

Antonella Delmestri's first poetry collection Stanze dove non eri stato mai was published in 2004 by Ibiskos Editrice. 
What were the easiest aspects of the work that went into the collection? And which where the most challenging?

The creation of the poems themselves was the easiest part of the work. But my writing is very deep, and I am always worried that it could be too intense for people to enjoy. I found it challenging to choose what to include in a collection, as I had to overcome this concern and try to focus on the quality of the poems instead. I asked a few trusted friends for their opinion and comments before reaching a final decision.

I received good feedback for the book. People seemed to connect with and relate to the poems, which was encouraging. Of course, the market for poetry is so small that it is difficult to have good distribution and advertising if you are not an established author, but I expected this difficulty.

In what way is your second collection similar to Stanze dove non eri stato mai? And, conversely, what sets Il respiro del drago apart from your first collection?

There are several similarities between the two collections. In both books, the poems are accessible, short, deep and sharp. Another similarity is the virtual journey offered to the reader through very different emotional atmospheres.

However, although the first collection accompanies the traveller through rooms of a symbolic house where the sequence of the passage is irrelevant, in The breath of the dragon, the exploration of human emotions follows a specific course with a higher degree of awareness. "Sparks", "Flames", "Embers" and "Smoke" track sequential stages of fire, as in a process of completion. This reflects a deeper and more mature understanding of emotions and their mechanisms.

Antonella Delmestri's second poetry collection, Il respiro del drago / The breath of the dragon (Battello Stampatore, 2016) is bilingual and includes Anne Lloyd-Williams' English translation of the poems. 

How did the bilingual edition of Il respiro del drago come about?

Il respiro del drago has been nearly ready for some time and, after several years of being overwhelmed at work, I felt I was ready to allocate again more attention and energy to my writing. When the draft was ready, I sent it to Battello Stampatore, a small publisher in Trieste who might have been interested. When I met the owner, he suggested producing an Italian/English edition, considering that English could give the poems more visibility.

One of my good friends in Oxford, Anne Lloyd-Williams, who has an interest in poetry and is an Italian speaker, was happy to collaborate on this project. The experience was fascinating for me, and it made me even more aware of the cultural differences between Italy and the UK, which are reflected in their languages' capabilities and richness.

Interestingly, after having read the English translation of Il respiro del drago, an American poet, David Olsen, expressed his interest in translating the poems of my previous book, Stanze, and we are now collaborating.

How would you describe the nature of your involvement with Journeys in Translation?

A friend of mine, who works at the Refugee Studies Centre of Oxford University, knowing my interest in poetry and humanitarian initiatives, forwarded an email regarding Journeys in Translation, which was seeking translators.

I was delighted to hear about the initiative, and to be able to contribute to an important project that will raise awareness on such a serious and current topic. Our society has become far too blind and deaf to our fellow human beings’ painful destinies. We, authors, should use our skills to help them.

I have translated into Italian nine of the 13 poems - those with which I felt confident, and which had not been previously translated into my mother tongue. Moreover, I am organizing a poetry reading in Oxford for late May for The breath of the dragon, and I am very excited about having different readers giving their voices to four of the poems from Journeys in Translation.

Which were the easiest aspects of the work you put into the initiative?

This has been my first experience of translating poetry into Italian. The easiest aspect was to get into the poems, as they were very meaningful and powerful.

What I found complicated sometimes was, how to be faithful to the original poem, while giving a poetic structure to the translation. After writing the first draft, I reviewed it several times while trying to keep an open mind, and finally I sent it to a friend for his opinion and suggestions.

"but one country" also had the extra challenge of having an earth shape, which is so visually expressive.

Antonella Delmestri's translation, into Italian of Rod Duncan's "but one country", one of the 13 poems from Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) that are being used as part of Journeys in Translation.

Editor's Note:

Journeys in Translation aims to facilitate cross- and inter-cultural conversations around the themes of home, belonging and refuge.

The project encourages people who are bilingual or multilingual to have a go at translating 13 of the 101 poems from Over Land: Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) from English into other languages and to share the translations, and reflections on the exercise on blogs, in letters and emails to family and friends, and on social media.

So far, the 13 poems that are being used as part of the project have been translated into languages that include Italian, German, Shona, Spanish, Bengali, British Sign Language, Farsi, Finnish, French, Turkish and Welsh. Currently, over 20 people from all over the world are working on the translations. More translations and more languages are on the way.

In Leicester, Journeys in Translation will culminate in an event that is going to be held on September 30 as part of Everybody's Reading 2017. During the event the original poems and translations will be read, discussed and displayed.

Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) was edited by Kathleen Bell, Emma Lee and Siobhan Logan and is being sold to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)Leicester City of Sanctuary and the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum.

Copies of the anthology are available from Five Leaves Bookshop (Nottingham).

More information on how Over Land, Over Sea came about is available here.


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