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This poem is taken from PN Review 253, Volume 46 Number 5, May - June 2020.

Poems translated by Caroline Maldonado Rocco Scotellaro
Rocco Scotellaro (1923–53) was born in Tricarico, a small town in Basilicata (previously known as Lucania) in the poor south of Italy, an area brought to the attention of the world by Carlo Levi in his book, Christ stopped at Eboli, written from his own experience of political exile and describing the deplorable conditions in the region. Lucania was then comparable to much of the developing world today: pollution and malaria were rife, peasants struggled to make a living. Scotellaro’s lyrical and compassionate poems express his love for his land and its people, his anger and sorrow at their exploitation and at the destruction of their cultural identity and history. For a while Scotellaro left the South, first to study in Rome and then in search of work and to widen his experience of the world. He engaged with the contemporary literary scene, major writers such as Calvino, Montale and Pavese, and encountered the work of foreign writers, all of which contributed to his own development as a poet. Despite starting to find literary success, he chose to return to Lucania and at the still young age of twenty-three became a Socialist mayor of Tricarico, where he established a much-needed hospital. He died of a stroke at the age of thirty. His dear friend Levi edited a first collection of his poems posthumously and it was awarded the Pellegrino and Viareggio prizes in 1954. More of his poems can be found in Rocco Scotellaro, Your call keeps us awake, co-translated by myself with Allen Prowle, (Smokestack Books 2013).

  
Prisoner

The swishing of birds through air
suddenly wakes me.
Night’s book has clapped shut
over my face.
I don’t know
where I’ve been.
The hour founders
in dark time,
it hasn’t called me.
Prisoner,
here’s your key,
free, with no revenge, alive
but like a plant
closing its leaves
at evening.


In your mouth you’ll have the taste of oranges

As our town rises at sunset
and Mount Vulture and the distant sun fall,
...


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