Ellen Bass: the best of oneself must shine like stellar dust

I have not yet read the complete work of Ellen Bass but I find her one of the most interesting contemporary authors for the writing process very engaged in themes that are not easily assimilated by the people. I refer to her non-fiction books includes Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth (HarperCollins, 1996), I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (HarperCollins, 1983), and The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Harper Collins, 1988, 2008).

In Italy these titles could horrify the public and respectable intellectuals who, of course, would like a poet socially engaged but not so evidently with uncomfortable and so delicate themes. Also for this reason I would be very happy that her poems (and also her non-fiction books) were translated into Italian.
I really think in Italy there is a need and urgency for a wider vision of poetry and literature…

Poetry gives great expressive possibilities and contains all the themes that life can contain.
This assumption finds its confirmation in the poetry of Ellen Bass whose verses manage to contain a narrative function without ever losing the specificity of the poetic language.
In particular — and especially in Indigo, what I have read — E. Bass’s poetics is made up of minutiae and attentions, of memories retraced with millimeter skill.
Some poems really touched me: for example Black coffee in which I also saw parts of my life, being a daughter of traders and having experienced serious illnesses of my parents.
I didn’t believe that my life could be poetic too. So I reflected in this author, courageous in putting herself and her biography into play, turning it into poetry.
This attention to autobiographical details made me think of a slow preparation, as if the author was about to make herself beautiful for her last years of life, those in which the best of oneself must shine like stellar dust, to resume also one of her beautiful metaphor.

I also greatly appreciate the musicality of her verses in which the long lines are diluted in shorter verses and classic incursions. Sound figures abound, especially assonances and alliterations in sweet sounds. Rhythm has a regular and musical pattern, detailed with an abundance of cleverly placed enjambements. Difficult to make all this in Italian while remaining faithful to the text and polysemic metaphors (often whole poems are themselves more extensive metaphors), sometimes impossible to render in Italian, better as in other cases like for “spur” / sperone (in Italian spur has a strong sense polysemy) in Mammogram Callback with Ultrasound.

The implicit and explicit classic references with entire verses reported in the poem are completely amazing, placed wisely to suggest and enhance the poetic sense of the text, the meaning of analogies and metaphors absolutely weighted with word complicity.

For example in “Mammogram…” the verse: More happy love! more happy, happy love! is taken from Keats’s “Ode on a Greek urn” and was not put as a sterile ornament but is central and makes all the underlying meaning of the text.

As well as that the line That’s what I need to know in Indigo that seems to evoke Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know also in Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats.

With Ellen Bass I have very evident contiguities – I cannot speak here in full – but which have brought my attention to her writing so much that I wanted to translate her… 

Ellen Bass pleasantly surprised me with her affability and simplicity that make an author a true poet. I would like to thank her for the words she spent on my translations and my quick comments, for the memories of Italy that she would shared with us, for her kindness to our requests for collaboration. I already feel I have a very strong link with her artistic sensitivity. I hope to read more of her poems soon.

Ellen Bass’ poems in Inkroci:

The Small Country
Black Coffee
Mammogram Callback with Ultrasound

Ellen Bass has published several award-winning books of poetry, including Like a Beggar, The Human Line, and Mules of Love. Her poems have frequently appeared in The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, and many other journals. She coedited the groundbreaking anthology of women’s poetry No More Masks!, and her nonfiction includes the best-selling The Courage to Heal. Among her awards are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council, three Pushcart prizes, and the Lambda Literary Award. A chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, she teaches in the MFA writing program at Pacific University.