Antonia Pozzi/Knees

Pozzi, Antonia. Poems. Trans. Peter Robinson. Alma Classics: Richmond, 2011.


I don’t read Italian; I’ve only read Pozzi’s poems in translation, and I’ve only read them all together in this version by Peter Robinson. I enjoyed the book very much (though Robinson sometimes uses alliteration for alliteration’s sake, ugh).


One of the things I like about these poems is the intelligent way Pozzi (and/or Robinson) writes about physical exercise. She repeatedly connects the rough-and-tumble clambering outdoorsy body to the life of the mind (and also – sometimes in the very same poems – connects sapped vital energy to the mind in a similar way). For examples of exercise multifariously imagined, you could look at Pozzi’s poems “Lying Down” or “Outskirts in April.” In “Lying Down,” swimming backstroke under bright sun is the “bland annihilation” that moves through the optic nerve to the brain; in “Outskirts in April,” the “flower beds/ where a boy you’d get breathless at football” are the takeoff point for a fond portrait of that boy as a grown man.


Pozzi often invokes active physicality through the legs and especially through knees, calves, and feet. (I’ve left out the nonhuman legs in her poetry, though there are quite a few hooves in there as well.)


In “Scent of Green,” knees and feet are central to a remembered childhood:


“Scent of green –

my lost childhood

when I’d pride myself

on my marked knees –

uselessly I’d pull

flowers, grass beside paths,

then throw them away –

they encumber my hands –”


Later she continues:


“fording streams the stone darts

the foot sinks

chill penetrates

right to the wrists – [...]”


The knees and feet of childhood are a little different in the poem “Heedlessness.”


“I remember a September afternoon

on the Montello. Me, a child still,

with a little thin plait and an itch

for crazy races up through my knees.”


The speaker’s father interrupts her play in the lines that follow these to describe the violence that happened upon the landscape. He tells her “of the war, of himself, of his soldiers.” Her (heedless) response to the information is all in the leg:


“In the shadow, the sharp and frozen grass

was grazing my calves: underground,

the roots were still perhaps sucking

up some drops of blood. But me I burned

with the desire to leap outside,

into the invading sun, to gather

a fistful of blackberries from a hedge.”


Okay. All this vicarious outdoor play has fatigued me. I’ll just point out a few more knees and stepping legs before I shut the laptop:


In “Song of my Nakedness,” (which the translator suggests was redacted by Pozzi, though it is included in the volume) the adolescent body is “unquiet,” “unripe,” and “unsure” except for the outlier “knees/ and calves and all the joints” which are “lean and firm as a thoroughbred.”


In “Certainty,” certainty is characterised as “the grass and the earth, the sense/

when one walks barefoot/ across a ploughed field.”


“Outskirts”: “I’m afraid/ of your muddy steps, dear life,/ that walk beside me, lead me”.


In “Rejoining,” while the speaker and the loved one are apart,


“But for me the earth

is just the clod I trample

and the other

trampled by you”


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