Nanda Pivano

Fernanda Pivano, Spoleto, Italy, 1990 – photo:  Allen Ginsberg –  courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

It’s the anniversary today of the birth of Allen’s Italian translator and long-time dear friend, Fernanda Pivano.  For earlier postings on Allen and Fernanda – see here,  here, and here  

Allen Ginsberg and Fernanda Pivano, Paris, 1961

We’ll draw your attention in today’s post  to an intriguing and illuminating essay:

Andrea Romanzi’s. “L’Urlo di Fernando Pivano – The History of the Publication of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” in Italy”

From the abstract:

“This (essay) investigates the controversial history of Fernanda Pivano’s Italian translation of ‘Howl’, Allen Ginsberg’s manifesto of the Beat Generation. It examines the translation in the context of the existing publishing correspondence surrounding the poem in order to reveal the complex power negotiations that involved Pivano, Ginsberg, and (publisher) Mondadori, particularly regarding problems of censorship. Drawing on previously unexplored archive materials, (it) highlights how the close collaboration between author and translator influenced the mechanisms that led to the publication of the poem in Italy, and how Pivano’s hermeneutic work contributed to an unpublished collaborative commentary on Ginsberg’s poem, which has proved useful to translators working in other languages.”

Romanzi quotes City Lights editor, Nancy Peters:

“The Beat poets were published in France, Spain, Germany, Portugal, and other countries, but their books-in-translation never sold in such large numbers as in Italy. Sales of Ginsberg’s work in Italy were continually good. More copies of his books were sold in Italy than any other European country for many years, and this was principally due to Nanda Pivano’s endorsement and promotion. The translations of his books were excellent, Pivano always overseeing every detail and striving for perfection. Ginsberg had deep respect for her and was grateful for her scrupulous attention to getting the language just right. Their collaboration was an unusually close and productive one”.

and Allen’s biographer (and bibliographer) Bill Morgan:

“Nanda was very important throughout his (Ginsberg’s) entire life … she was one of the first translators of his work. He answered her questions about translations, especially American words or idioms she wasn’t familiar with … he would help her with the translation and then he would send copies of those translations to, let’s say, the German translator or the French translator … so it always started out with him looking back at what he had told ‘Nanda, and so for that reason also their correspondence and their work together is important, and I think she translated most of his earliest works for an awfully long time … in many many cases she would be the first translator of his works, and so Allen would go through the questions very carefully, answer her questions, and then keep those answers so when the French translator – for instance – would be translating the same poem, Allen would give that person the same answers, and I think it almost always started with ‘Nanda, that’s who he communicated with the most of all of the translators …he basically used his letters to her answering her questions, to answer other translators’ questions, even before they began to ask him, so she really did play quite a significant role in his translations in almost every language for that reason.”

Romanzi cites a crucial note. Allen, writing to the publishers, Mondadori, in August of 1965:

“I do not assent to any censorship of the language or the texts of my poetry – I have been in contact with Mrs Pivano all along, and I leave all negotiations on this matter in her hands, she is completely competent to speak for me…Mrs Pivano will make all decisions for me as regards the text. This is completely proper as she is the scholar and translator of the work.”

and furthermore:

“I had left judgement on these matters in the hands of Nanda Pivano, because she has worked so long, so hard, so lovingly and so carefully on the editing and translation of the text. I wish to leave the final judgement in her hands, because, after all, the book is perhaps more hers than mine or yours. She has done the difficult work.”

Pivano’s translations of Howl and Other Poems and Kaddish and Other Poems appeared  in the 1965 collection, Jukebox all’idrogeno  (Hydrogen Jukebox)

Alongside this (and to a large degree, in conjunction with this) Pivano was responsible for a host more Italian Beat Generation translations and writings – in fact, pretty much established the taste for Beat writing (counter-culture writing) in Italy.

Romanzi lists a number of them, notably the anthology Poesia degli ultimi americani, that had been published by Feltrinelli the previous year

Poesia degli ultimi americani, features her translations of Allen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Ed Sanders, Michael McClure, and Jack Kerouac.

Her involvement with Kerouac? – Like her relation to Allen, it dates from way back.

We can date it, in fact, from her momentous discovery of the Beat writers in 1957 in Paris, when she stumbled across an issue of the Evergreen Review (the legendary Evergreen Review  Volume 1, no.2 – “The San Francisco Scene”)

In 1959 she wrote the preface to  Sulla Strada, (On The Road) , and in 1960 to  I sotterranei, (The Subterraneans)

And who can forget (from 1966) this epic interview?

The publication of Kerouac’s Sulla strada and I sotterranei (and Burroughs’s La scimmia sulla schiena (Junkie) and (Naked Lunch), (all prior to Jukebox all’idrogeno) was, as  Romanzi convincingly declares and explains in this essay, “directly linked to her agency as a cultural mediator” (a position she maintained until her death (in 2009) – although, regarding her translations of Allen, there were some issues)

As Romanzi explains:

Pivano’s translations of Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ and ‘Kaddish’ were replaced in 1997 in the volume Urlo e Kaddish (Il Saggiatore) in a new translation by Luca Fontana. (and subsequently in Papà respiro addio (1997) and Poesie (2019)).  In this case, the publisher asked Pivano for permission to let Fontana edit and correct her original translations. Pivano denied it, leading to a clash between the translator and Luca Formenton, director of the publishing house.”

He goes on:

“The reason for the new translation is revealed in the correspondence between Fontana and Formenton following Pivano’s refusal – her work was considered inadequate and not up to the greatness of the poem because of its adherence to the structure and syntax of the original, its lack of rhythm, and its lack of linguistic experimentation.”

Pivano herself was well aware of, and had voiced her concerns numerous times, regarding the challenges of translation:

“..(H)ow was I to keep that rhythm with our slow… Italian-language rhythm? How was I to contract our long words into short, sometimes snapping monosyllables? How was I to work out those clicking genitive inflections built up as they were in a vertical crescendo with our unruffled extensive sequences which were built up with endless ‘of’ and ‘of the’ and heavy syntactical constructions? How was I to invent an Italian way for those sequences of nouns-used-as-adjectives to build up a running-shot image large enough to include everything, … all the ugly-beautiful ecological reality of whatever was rising up from those lines?”

Fontana’s translations are clearly the translations for these times (the translations we read now) but Pivano’s should not be dismissed or undervalued. And perhaps there is more than a little sense in the oft-proposed contention that our literary classics need to be consistently refreshed.  “Make it new”, as Ezra Pound said, make it speak fresh to us each generation.

In a multitude of engagements Fernanda Pivano certainly spoke instructively and inspiringly to hers.

Beat & Pieces: A Complete Story of the Beat Generation in the Words of Fernanda Pivano With Photographs by Allen Ginsberg

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