Elisa Biagini and Gregory Conti, curated by Mihaela Moscaliuc

Elisa Biagini and Gregory Conti, curated by Mihaela Moscaliuc
December 27, 2022 Biagini Elisa

Translation Portfolio: Elisa Biagini and Gregory Conti, curated by Mihaela Moscaliuc


Elisa Biagini and Gregory Conti in conversation with Mihaela Moscaliuc

On Filaments by Elisa Biagini, translated by Gregory Conti, forthcoming from Rutgers University Press

Mihaela Moscaliuc: Elisa, would you say a few words about the origins of Filaments (its ‘seeds’) and the germination process? Did you know where you would end up when you set out on this ‘project’? Were Nikola Tesla and Mary Shelley destined to cohabitate in this collection from the beginning?


Elisa Biagini: Mary Shelley and Nikola Tesla have always fascinated me and while I was doing more research on them I was also writing about my grandmother, the midwife who escorted me into the world and who, in her old age, I observed as she was losing memory and language. And then a lightbulb lit up: I saw the “light,” the electric thread of life and death that bound these three figures to each other and to me.


Moscaliuc: In its basic definition, a filament is a thread or thin flexible threadlike object. What other understandings of filament are at work in the collection?


Biagini: I think of the filament of a lightbulb, of the thin threads that bind our lives into complicated tapestries, of our DNA . . . but I’m sure there are other hidden threads!


Moscaliuc: Greg, I’m always curious about the various forms of collaboration between translators and authors. I worked with a poet who felt that in translation the work was no longer hers, so she was reluctant to provide direction or even clarification, and I also worked with a poet who was very hands-on and deeply involved. Were you consulting/collaborating with Elisa in the process of translating Filaments? Would you say a few words about the process?

Conti: Actually, Elisa and I have collaborated before, on the Emily Dickinson section of The Plant of Dreaming (Xenos Books, Chelsea Editions 2017). I am fascinated by the vividness and compressed images that she creates and by the complexity of the emotion(s) that her poems express. For Filaments I was also intrigued by the theme of electricity that runs throughout the collection.

Moscaliuc: Elisa is a poet of extraordinary precision and inventiveness. I am awed by how the ordinary and the unseen are transformed and recreated through her metaphorical thinking and play.  What were some of the challenges in translating Filaments? Could you give a specific example of such challenge and how it was addressed or resolved?


Conti: I should say that I did not and generally do not, though I probably should, take notes on my thinking during the translation, but as I remember it, many of the challenges involved coming to an understanding of how I saw the image created by the words and then trying to figure out how I would express that image in my words. An example from Alternating Current: 1) Il cielo è un livido mentre  raccolgo i pezzi per il tuo ritorno. What to do with  “livido”? On the one hand, “un livido” is pretty straightforwardly “a bruise” but to me “bruise” seems more appropriate to a medical record or a legal document than the language people use in describing the sky or the condition of skin after a trauma. And it’s one syllable rather than three. What would I have said as a kid? “Black and blue.” The rhythm was right and so was the image, “black and blue” is not a mere description of color but the description of what happens to skin when you get hurt. Rather than use “bruise” to stimulate the image of the colors, I could use the colors to stimulate the thought of a bruise and keep the language colloquial.

Moscaliuc: Elisa, would you say a few words about your own work as a translator? You have translated Alicia Ostriker, Sharon Olds, and Lucile Clifton, among others. I heard you mention that you thought of these works in translation as recreations. Would you comment briefly on this?  Do you ever translate your own work?

Biagini: I started translating when I came back to live in Florence after getting my Ph.D. and teaching in the United States. I felt I had a duty to introduce Italian readers to the fundamental voices I had come to know thanks to my maestra Alicia Ostriker, at Rutgers. When translating, I always tried to keep at bay my own poet’s voice and I hope I succeeded . . . since I am not sure, however, I prefer to call them recreations!

Moscaliuc: Elisa, do you ever translate your own work?

Biagini: I have translated my own poems in the past and I sometimes still do but I have the good fortune to be able to count on excellent translators, sensitive and competent, first among them Gregory Conti, whom I happily rely on and from whom each time I learn new things about my work.

(Elisa Biagini’s answers were translated by Gregory Conti.)


















from Filaments, forthcoming from Rutgers University Press


Mary Wollstonecraft died after giving birth to Mary Shelley.

                                                                        Why not re-generate who generated you?

Alternating Current (from Mary Shelley’s diary)


                                                                                    “A thinking woman sleeps with monsters”

  Adrienne Rich

                                                                                 “I collected the instruments of life around me”

                                                                                                                               Mary Shelley

A lightning bolt, a contraction. Bullet-like rain has been battering us for days, the treetops converge too

many electrons here. Your memory fumes, engulfs like fog to windows.


At the table for hours; there is a sort of tremor of plates around my wrist, my sleeve is a curtain for the blood. Outside, the color is winter unleashed. You come back, between clouds and turf.


It is dark like inside of a crater as you rise up, a shadow from my throat, and on the threshold of my lip
you acquire weight; fall onto the center of the page, open up.



You took life from the dense confusion, in the gray layers of not-remembering you. The black hole of imagining you. I trace your profile in the dust on the table, darkness in light.



Waiting until now in the socket of the pulled tooth, today you heave like a heated iceberg, set off on the journey through the room crammed with the obstacles of your silence.



The winds and the voices, wasps in a jar: the others crowd around but I want ear and table uncluttered for our encounter.



We are birds fleeing the cold by heading north where the wind carries away saliva and syllables. We’ve made it here, to this glass numbed by breath.



I’ve seen frogs, tissue, a head come back to life: where is the electric tongue that gives voice and gaze to your melancholy flesh?



In this white darkness I have gathered dirt in my pockets, electrons under my fingernails. You grow larger, embrace the roots at my ears.



To be here is to step on our own shadows. Even if far off I see the lava under the clods of earth: it has the color of cloud that reflects the gaze, of a knife between two pages.



There is a crater of a voice climbing up my heel but in this darkness there is no distance. The waiting has the odor of a trial.



Nighttime, my right ear is dry, my foot tapping in a dream: you come over to me and smooth the wrinkles in my forehead. And in the morning, I put back on every past footprint.



My head on the pillow: the cracked leaning out from the void into the darkness, from the darkness to my mouth. My lips still black. And the lines of your hand on my foot.



My eye listens to the morning fingernail and in this nest of nerves the wind that wakes me is the color of a rhubarb stalk. Slow is putting one foot in front of the other.



At night, in the forest of neurons, it resounds like solar flares on the surface of the sun. My synapses sizzle as they wear thin.



Now they are so thin that they allow me a seeing as silent as a bone, a finding you in the cold glass of the mirror.



Water stairs descended without touching, leaves counted without seeing the trees: glasses cleaned with carbon paper, words shaken off my sleeves.



The sky is black and blue as I gather up the pieces for your return, shipment to a foreign country. Your breath has been kept in a vase, in expectation.



Time starts from the first neuron, the flip of the switch: I am your axon, on our embrace it is snowing myelin. Cells in swarms.



Your breath cut, knotted and resewn: the light shines through you and you drink in all the oxygen, in one sip.
This sunset has the color of cooling lava. The earth is melded with shadows.



I listen to you, your breathing is heavy. You’re reliving the shocks of your coming back to life. One ear on the word and one on the silence.



From the blurry threshold you come closer, you, up to now without a world. The shadows are useless, the light a space without walls.



What vowel rises up to my mind when I graze the tendon, the bone of your finger, the snow on the windowsill? The path is made of husks. Fire, bread, milk.



There are words left in the fire. The sutures are braille, ice the distance between my memory and your breath.






Mary Wollstoncraft muore dopo aver partorito Mary Shelley.

 Perché non ri-generare chi ti ha generato?



Corrente alternata (dal diario di Mary Shelley)


“A thinking woman sleeps with monsters”

“Una donna che pensa dorme con i mostri”

  Adrienne Rich

 “I collected the instruments of life around me”

 “Ho raccolto gli strumenti della vita intorno a me”

                                                         Mary Shelley



Un fulmine, una contrazione. Pioggia come pallottole ci tempesta da giorni, le punte degli alberi convergono qui troppi elettroni. La tua memoria fuma, ingolfa come nebbia ai vetri.

Al tavolo da ore: c’è come un vibrare di piatti all’altezza del polso, la manica è una tenda per il sangue. Fuori, il colore è di inverno sguinzagliato. Ritorni, tra nuvola e suolo.

È buio come dentro un cratere mentre sali, ombra dalla trachea, e alla soglia del labbro prendi peso: cadi nel centro del foglio, ti apri.

Hai preso vita dal denso confondersi, nei grigi strati del non-ricordarti. Il buco nero dell’immaginarti. Ti traccio il profilo sulla polvere del tavolo, di buio in luce.

Finora in attesa nell’alveo del dente rimosso, oggi ti spacchi come iceberg riscaldato, inizi il viaggio nella stanza fitta con gli ostacoli del tuo silenzio.

I venti e le voci, vespe in un barattolo: gli altri ci si accalcano intorno ma io voglio orecchio e tavolo sgombri, per il nostro incontro.

Siamo uccelli che fuggono il freddo andando a nord dove il vento porta via saliva e sillabe. Giunti qui, a questo vetro intorpidito dal respiro.

Ho visto rane, tessuti, una testa tornare alla vita: dove è la lingua elettrica che dà voce e sguardo alla tua carne malinconica?

In questa bianca oscurità ho raccolto terra nelle tasche, elettroni sotto le unghie. Cresci di dimensione, abbracci le radici alle mie orecchie.

Essere qui è calpestare le nostre stesse ombre. Anche se lontana vedo la lava sotto la zolla: ha il colore di nube che rimanda lo sguardo, di un coltello tra due pagine.

C’è il cratere di una voce che risale il calcagno ma in questa oscurità non c’è distanza. L’attesa ha l’odore di un processo.

Nottetempo, l’orecchio destro asciutto, il piede che batte in sogno: ti avvicini e mi spiani le rughe alla fronte. Ed io al mattino ricalzo ogni impronta passata.

La testa sul cuscino: lo sporgersi incrinato dal vuoto al buio, dal buio alla bocca. Le labbra che restano nere. E le linee della tua mano sul mio piede.

Il mio occhio ascolta l’unghia del mattino e in questo nido di nervi il vento che mi sveglia è color gambo di rabarbaro. Lento è il mettere un piede avanti all’altro.

Di notte, nella foresta di neuroni, risuona come i brillamenti sul sole. Le sinapsi sfrigolano mentre si assottigliano.

Adesso sono così magre che mi permettono un vedere silenzioso come un osso, un ritrovarti nello specchio freddo.

Scalini d’acqua scesi non toccandoci, foglie contate senza vedere l’albero: puliti gli occhiali con la carta carbone, scrollate le parole dalle maniche.


Il cielo è un livido mentre  raccolgo i pezzi per il tuo ritorno, spedizione in un paese straniero. Il tuo respiro era tenuto in un vaso, in attesa.

Il tempo parte dal primo neurone, lo scatto dell’interruttore: sono il tuo assone, sul nostro abbraccio nevica  mielina. Cellule in sciami.

Il tuo respiro tagliato, annodato e ricucito: la luce ti attraversa e tu ne bevi tutto l’ossigeno, in un sorso. Questo tramonto ha il colore della lava che si fredda. La terra è impastata di ombre.

Ti ascolto, hai il respiro pesante. Rivivi le scosse del tuo tornare in vita. Un orecchio alla parola e uno al silenzio.

Dalla soglia sfuocata ti avvicini, tu, finora priva di mondo. Le ombre sono inutili, la luce uno spazio senza mura.

Quale vocale mi sale alla mente quando ti sfioro il tendine, l’osso del dito, la neve sul davanzale? Il sentiero è fatto di gusci. Fuoco, pane, latte.

Ci sono parole rimaste nel fuoco. Le suture sono braille, ghiaccio la distanza tra la mia memoria e il tuo respiro.

Elisa Biagini has published several poetry collections, including L’Ospite (Einaudi, 2004), Fiato. parole per musica (D’If, 2006), Nel Bosco (Einaudi, 2007), The guest in the wood (Chelsea Editions, 2013), which won “2014 Best Translated Book Award,”  Da una crepa (Einaudi, 2014),  The Plant of Dreaming ( Xenos Books, 2017), “Depuis une fissure” (Cadastre8zero, 2018), which won Prix Nunc 2018, and Filamenti (Einaudi, 2020)/Filaments (Le Taillis Pré, 2022).  Her poems have been translated into fifteen languages and she has translated several contemporary American poets for reviews, anthologies and complete collections (Nuovi Poeti Americani, Einaudi, 2006). She teaches Writing at NYU-Florence. www.elisabiagini.it