Monday, July 03, 2023


I called my old friend the Modican poet Antonio Lonardo "my poet of the bridge" because he and his wife lived near the famous Guerrieri Bridge in Modica. Long-time readers of this blog may recall that I had the privilege of translating two of Antonio's collections, Il profumo del pensiero and Alla ricerca dell'Oreb and, working with him on these, got to know him well. Sadly, Antonio, who had been ill for some time, died, aged eighty, on Friday and his funeral is taking place in Modica's lovely Duomo di San Giorgio today. 

Antonio Lonardo was born in Taurasi, Avellino (Campania) in 1943. As a young man, he did several jobs in the countryside and then went to Milan, where he worked as a school secretary. He then studied at the University of Salerno and trained to be a teacher.

Antonio started writing poetry in 1977, finding solace in it following the death of his fiancée. He met his future wife Carla in Bergamo in 1981 and they were married after thirteen months. It was because of Carla that Antonio came to Modica. He wrote of the day he met her,

Nelle premesse
di un giorno,
con il sole
alle spalle,
l’orizzonte illuminato,
il domani s’attendeva radioso.

In the words
of a single day,
with the sun
on my back,
the horizon alight with hope,
a brilliant tomorrow was promised.

( Antonio Lonardo, Quel giorno)

The couple adopted their daughter, Lilli, from Romania in 1975. At thirteen, she was illiterate but Antonio and Carla slowly and patiently taught her to read. 

Antonio was for many years a teacher of Italian literature at the Istituto di istruzione superiore "Archimede" in Modica and generations of students will remember him with affection. One of his former colleagues told me that he would often present her, and others, with a newly written poem on Monday mornings and I have often imagined what a happy start to their week that must have been!

Antonio won many prizes and certificates for his poetry, among them the Silver Medal of the President of the Republic and The Medal of the Speaker of the Senate. These were all proudly on show in his home, in a room devoted to them. In 2009, Antonio was invited to receive a prize at the Premio Internazionale di Poesia "Coluccio Salutati" awards ceremony in Buggiano (Pistoia) and I was thrilled to accept an invitation to travel there with him. (Unknown to me before the ceremony, but known to Antonio, I was to be awarded a prize too, for my translation of Il profumo del pensiero.)

Migrants and others who were voiceless or without hope found a defender in Antonio Lonardo, as can be seen in the second collection I translated for him, Alla ricerca dell'Oreb. During that journey by train and ferry to Florence (whence we would travel onwards to Buggiano by car) a passenger whose views were abhorrent to both of us entered our carriage. I (with difficulty) kept out of the argument but Antonio skilfully and calmly demolished the gentleman's assertions and today I remain as impressed, recalling that discussion, as I was in 2009.

Antonio once told me that he was sad that young people did not seem to appreciate poetry, not understanding that it can explain this very puzzling world. To the young people of Modica, then, I would say, "Read! Read your poet!"

I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to translate some of Antonio's work and he was delighted to know that people in other countries were reading it.  

When the poet and songwriter Charles Aznavour died, President Macron said,

"En France les poètes ne meurent jamais - In France, poets never die."

I am sure the same is true in Italy.

Ho scoperto l'orizzonte
dove spunta il sole:
è nei profondi occhi
di chi sorride alla vita.

Ho saziato la fame
dell'intellettuale curiosità:
è nel profondo intimo
di chi stimola lo spirito.

I have discovered the horizon
where the sun rises:
it is in the depths of the eyes
of those who smile at life.

I have satisfied the hunger
of intellectual curiosity:
it is in the innermost being
of those who move the spirit.

(Antonio Lonardo, Singolari Esperienze)


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