Campana To Montale: Versions From the Italian, by Kendrick Smithyman, edited by Jack Ross and Marco Sonzogni (Edizione Joker – Transference series, 2010) 244 pp., $35.00.
Translation is a loaded literary subject. The transmutation of a poem, from one language to another, is a fraught act, and the status of a translated poem seems, if possible, even more problematic. It is also clear from the outset that Kendrick Smithyman’s translations from Italian, by a New Zealand poet who did not speak Italian, are a very special case. Campana To Montale: Versions From the Italian contains 211 poems by fourteen Italian modernist poets, ranging from the troubled isolate Dino Campana to Nobel laureate Salvatore Quasimodo, rendered into English by Smithyman. These ‘versions’, as he preferred to call them, were mainly the products of his late career, and many were completed after his retirement from the University of Auckland in 1987.