Italia Panta Fantastica

Italia Panta Fantastica

With such an inviting, sociable and multi-cultural atmosphere present at the finale to a series of Italia Fantastica events held at the Italian Cultural Institute, it was only suitable that the evening was also a dedication to Mario Fortunato at the end of his pro active and successful four year term as Director of the Institute. PEN was only too happy to collaborate towards the organisation of this event; indeed, it has been a constant pleasure to work with Mario and the institute over the last four years.

The evening’s schedule included public readings of works written by the influential Italian poets and novelists of the 20 Century (Ian McEwan delved into some Italo Calvino); another prominent strand to the literary evening involved presentations by contemporary British and Italian authors of books they have recently had published where Italy has been a central theme to their writing (Anne Sebba and Michele Roberts amongst others).

Mavis Cheek offered a humorous tone to the evening with a selection of translated readings from Ovid’s bawdy perception on the art of love, Ars Amatoria; Nicholas Blincoe also amused the audience with his voracious performance of Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist.


Alan Jenkins’ superb delivery of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s evocative poem, La Pioggia nel Pineto (Rain in the Pine Forest), was my personal highlight of the evening. Jenkins subtly interweaved reading D’Annunzio’s original Italian verses with those of his own English translation. I was impressed that Jenkins had managed to maintain D’Annunzio’s careful rhythm, which was fundamental, as indeed the poem was all about the sound of the rain reflected through the onomatopeaic form.

Alessandro Barricco, however, was the unquestioned highlight of the public’s evening. The packed room of internationals listened to Barricco read an extract from his novel Seta (Silk). The soft resonance of Barricco’s voice complemented the poetic rhythm and style of his writing and entranced the audience into a captured silence. It was also a joy to discover that the musicality of his writing had not been lost in translation. The English version, recited by Barricco’s accompanied interpreter, was equally evocative in its deceptive simplicity.

The Mukka Group provided live string music interludes between readings, allowing the public to return for another glass of wine or rather to converse and/ or muse with one another on the writing they had just heard. In addition, Steve Williamson, an expressive jazz saxophonist, let the atmosphere within the audience stimulate his improvisations and subsequently created his own intense textual narratives. Indeed, the entire evening provided a feast of translation in action.

Courtesy of the Italian Bookshop there was a wide selection of books for sale, both in Italian and English, including the new and special release of Panta. Italia Fantastica. Vol.22 (published in Italian by Bompiani) an anthology of writing by British and Italian authors, all of whom have participated in the Italia Fantastica events over the past four years; a multi-cultural delight that adds a glaze to an already enticing four years. Many thanks to all involved.

Report by Alice Barnsdale

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