It should come as little surprise that, in Aurora Borealis
(La Finestra Editrice, Trento, It, 2004), Massimo Maggiari's
new book of poems, he adopts a mythic quality to his
diction. The subject is Norwegian explorer Roald Engelbert
Amundsen, after all, a figure well suited to be draped
in myth, possessing in the story of his polar adventures
an essential heroic character.
What does surprise, and pleasantly so, is how frequently
Maggiari is on the mark with his poems, wreathing even
the most day-to-day and commonplace moments in the Norwegian
explorer's exotic trek to earth's desolate poles in
an arresting mist of mythos.
Roald Engelbert Amundsen (1872-1928) was a Norwegian
explorer who commanded what is said to be the first
ship to navigate the North-West Passage (1903-1906)
and the first man to reach the South Pole in 1911. He
later flew over the North Pole in a dirigible with Italian
explorer Umberto Nobile -- in 1926 -- and in fact died
in 1928 attempting to rescue Nobile by airplane after
the Italian had crashed on the ice pack of the North
Hence, perhaps, the connection for Massimo Maggiari
-- an Italian by birth (b 1960, Genoa, It) who currently
lives in Charleston, South Carolina.
Maggiari, who teaches Italian language and literature
at the local university, and where he organizes highly
regarded festivals of Italian poetry, is a man who is
not averse to a process of exploratory courage himself.
His study of such hermetic poets as Alfonso Gatto and
Leonardo Sinisgalli, as well as his critical study of
the poetry of Arturo Onofri, is known in both the US
and Italy, as well as in South Africa. And Maggiari,
who's been publishing books of his own poetry since
1999, writing principally in Italian, has worked on
translations from such languages as Egyptian and Finnish.
In this volume -- faithfully translated by Laura Stortoni,
to my rough reckoning of Italian to English anyhow --
Maggiari attempts to answer a question posed in his
own introduction: "What are the borders of our
The author answers his own question in the introduction
-- and in his poetry -- variously. Despite the possibilities
of 21st century communication technology every land,
asserts Maggiari, is unknown to a human until he or
she -- in the psychological realm -- 'crosses it and
explores it with his gaze."
Appropriately, Aurora Borealis, a collection finished
just one year after winning the prestigious Alighiero
Chiusano poetry award from the City of Frascati, Italy,
is informed with the language of Inuit incantatory song,
yet retains a European soulfulness and spiritual potency
that captures the reader.
"Wind, you who rise/dreams from the mountains,/breathe
love and song/on the celestial bulwarks" intones
Maggiari in his poem "Amundsen's Paean." Adopting
the voice of Amundsen himself, he reverently inscribes
line after line of prayer to Nature and the Human Spirit:
"Protect my sky/my constellations/and their unborn
stars./ Defend my fjord/and the scattered tribes/of
the She-Bear's Hunters."
The flavor is decidedly Inuit, with Scandinavian undertones.
Here's another example: "Listen, brother Nuntak./Listen
to the voices of day/as they glide on blue liquid/breaking
prow and kayak./They harp on silver and wave/and pass
by near us, on our hearts."
When he transcends the historiographic, Maggiari's
language can be quite compelling, as in "The Iceberg."
Distant, distant at the horizon
the enchanted mountain arises
on the silhouettes of winged lands.
Like a sailing white moth
at the edges of the North-West passage
it surfaces on the oblique winds of the waters.
You polar ice
fountain garden immortal face mountain pine
etcher of a thousand souls
you dwelling on the five-colored dragon.
Massimo Maggiari is nothing if not a scholarly figure,
if this book is any indication -- the poems are footnoted
to the point that the reader may orient to the topic
without having to be an Edmunsen expert, eschewing the
deliberate obfuscatory elitism of some other writers
in the historic-biographical, psychological genre. Instead
we are permitted to gain a snapshot insight into the
situations and personalities of Edmunsen's story, and
then roll right into the mystic.
"The mythic theme in this book is enthralling,"
writes Jorge Marban in his postscript. "It introduces
the reader to a world of magic and beauty, and to a
quest that sympbolizes man's inspiration to conquer
his limits and ascend in unison with the spiritual forces
of the Universe."
Marban's right. Patient reading of the poems in Aurora
Borealis may, like Maggiari states it, "undertake
other types of voyages, perhaps not less dangerous,
but of an intellectual and inner nature, all recorded
in the labyrinth of the soul."
With no risk of frost bite or tingling toes. Only a
palpable tingling of the heart.