Diana Thow & Sarah Stickney translating Elisa Biagini


you'll go with
the broken plates
into the coffin and
the cups, cracked
like you, so that you
won't be the only


at sunset I sweep
to avoid you in
dream, to
take you back outside,

not dust that
clogs when
I lower the cups
of my eyes.


to wipe the time
off you again,

I inject silicone
into you
like an I.V.

to cover the space
between you and you
I place eggs under
your armpits

to keep wings
from growing.


I'll leave the
door open and your

so the fracture
gapes open and you breathe
without a corset, or
ring, or socks:

it will be the wind
that's never escaped you.

Translator Note: 

In On Translation Paul Ricoeur locates the happiness of translation in the notion of “linguistic hospitality,” when “the pleasure of dwelling in the other’s language is balanced by the pleasure of receiving the foreign word at home, in one’s own welcoming house.”

We found this happiness while translating Elisa Biagini’s gorgeous, haunting first collection of poetry, The Guest/L’Ospite. In fact, hospitality was central to our process. Not only does it appear in this collection in many forms (distorted and troubled, generous and uncomplicated), it also plays an important role in the story of our English translation. As Americans in Italy, we lived and worked within the dynamic flux of Italian hospitality—ospitare means both to host and to be hosted. When translating Biagini’s poems, the pleasure of dwelling in the other’s language felt inextricable from the pleasure of receiving the foreign word at home. But this concept was not suggested merely by location: beginning with the book’s title, and the initial invocation of an unborn child “who/drones his/story/up through my/ lungs,” these poems call attention to this dual notion of ospitare, while questioning what it means to share a space, a memory, a history, an identity, with a stranger.

Elisa Biagini, who has lived, studied and taught in the United States, writes poems with a precision and force that lend themselves to contemporary American poetics. A few of the poems from this collection are themselves composed directly in English. The direct, measured tone of Biagini’s poetry, and its emphasis on a domestic sphere place The Guest in dialogue with the work of many contemporary American poets, among them Lucille Clifton, Louise Glück, and Sharon Olds—poets Elisa Biagini translated into Italian in her anthology Nuovi Poeti Americani (Einaudi, 2006).

While translating these poems, we traveled to visit each other, in Rome and Bologna, and sat down at kitchen tables to work. To honor Biagini’s emphasis on voice, we took turns reading the poems out loud, in Italian and English. Once we met in Elisa’s sun-lit mansard facing the Mercato di San Lorenzo in Florence, and here the deeply autobiographical origins of the book emerged clearly, how of the objects (“Blankets, towels, napkins,/pillowcases, tablecloths, potholders,”) are precisely located in the poet’s own experience. Thus the reader becomes the guest in question, an outsider led through the labyrinthine pathways of an unraveling family history. The Guest asks us to be received by the foreign word in its home. We are welcomed; we belong, and yet we remain strangers. Biagini’s intensely personal poetry weaves “the screen/ the confessor’s grate,” in between guest and host, autobiography and verse, in language that mediates, illuminates, and shields.

Our selected translation of poems from L’Ospite was included in The Guest in the Wood, A selection of poems 2004-2007, published by Chelsea Editions in October 2013. The poems that we have included in this issue of Drunken Boat come from L’Ospite, but appear here in English for the first time.

Elisa Biagini

Elisa Biagini lives in Florence, Italy after having taught and studied in the U.S. for several years. Her poems have been published in several Italian and American reviews and anthologies. She has published 6 poetry collections—some bilingual—such as L’Ospite, (Einaudi, 2004), Fiato. parole per musica (2006), Nel Bosco (Einaudi, 2007) and her new collection, also by Einaudi, is forthcoming. She has translated several contemporary American poets for reviews, anthologies and complete collections (Nuovi Poeti Americani Einaudi, 2006) and she teaches Creative Writing-Poetry, Travel Writing, Literature and Art History in Italy and abroad. Along with her work as a poet, Elisa has presented several installation projects and has collaborated with musicians, artists and choreographers. www.elisabiagini.it

Sarah Stickney

Sarah Stickney earned her MFA from the University of New Hampshire. She received a Fulbright Grant for the translation of poetry in Bologna, Italy. Her collaboration with translator Diana Thow on the selected work of Italian poet Elisa Biagini was published by Chelsea Editions under the title The Guest in the Wood in October 2013. Her own poems have appeared or are forthcoming in publications such as Rhino, The Portland Review, Cold Mountain Review, and the Clackamas Literary Review among others. Currently she teaches at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD.

Diana Thow holds an MFA in literary translation from the University of Iowa. She has published her translations in Carte Italiane, Modern Poetry in Translation, Transom, and the Iowa Review. With the poet Sarah Stickney she translated The Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini (Chelsea House, 2013). In 2009 she was awarded a Fulbright grant to Italy for her work on the Italian poet Amelia Rosselli. Her co-translation with Gian Maria Annovi of Rosselli’s long poem Impromptu is forthcoming with Guernica Editions in 2014. She lives in Berkeley and is pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.