Richard Cavell, Cultural Memory, Canadian Literature

CULTURAL MEMORY Review by Richard Cavell, UBC. Canadian Literature 128 (1991) pp 148 149.

ANTONINO MAZZA, The Way I Remember It, with music written and performed by Aldo Mazza, and with their parents Domenico and Angela. Trans-Verse Productions, $11.95

(record or cassette).

IN ITS EDITORIAL on the death of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Tel Quel wrote that this was more than just Italy’s loss, for ‘we are all Italian intellectuals’ in the sense that so much of our cultural history has been written there. Antonino Mazza—who has produced exceptional translations of Pasolini, the first to be done in Canada — is concerned with this paradoxical universality of a particular history. In this he echoes Pasolini’s concern with the cultural past as evidenced by the personal present. So keenly did Pasolini feel this that we find him lamenting, in La Divina mimesis, the disappearance of certain physical types, for with them vanished an entire history. This is, admittedly, a populist history based on an oral tradition — hence the great importance Pasolini attached to dialect forms — and so it is fitting that Mazza should address this theme in a recording which mixes his own lyrics with the music of his brother Aldo.

The cover of the album, The Way I Remember It, reproduces, on the front, a photograph of Antonino and Aldo taken when they were very young, together with their mother. Along the left edge a photo of an office tower extends over the back cover, and is superimposed on a picture of Antonino as a child, seated in a pedal car. Here, in visual terms, are his themes, as announced on the album cover, which speaks of the swallowing up of difference experienced by those who emigrate to such homogenizing cultures as our own — what Pasolini referred to as ‘anthropological genocide.’ The album proposes a rediscovery of ethnicity to counteract this levelling effect, and commemorates Mazza’s own discovery of his father’s ability (unknown to him before) to accompany with the tambourine a recitation from his vast storehouse of Calabrian dialect poems in the altercatio mode, a mode which extends back to Theocritus and Virgil.

That recitation is reproduced in the album and is its center, the (re)discovery of the father who is absent from the photo on the cover. Antonino’s words flow out of this poem and Aldo’s music takes us back into it, although the distinction is undermined both by the musicality of Antonino’s words and the resistance to sonority of Aldo’s electronic compositions (and in that use of technology we hear at once the alienating factors of which the album cover speaks and of their recuperation into cultural memory).

The first poem speaks of the “cosmic ear” which contained the house into which Antonino was born, of the “nightingale” which was between his mother’s lips, of waiting for his father to return from the sea, and of a dream which contains the word which contains the house. Mazza’s talents are most fully revealed in their lyric mode, as in this poem. Yet, paradoxically, he declaims his poetry, sacrificing an aural lyricism for the declarative formality of the oral tradition, a sacrifice which is redeemed by the music.

In addition to “Our House is in a Cosmic Ear,” the album contains other lyrics, such as “Fuoco”; “Viaggio,” a poem of journeying (“home so soon after so long”) ; “Muscoli” and “In the Threshold” on the immigrant experience; an elegy (“Giovannina”);”Release the Sun,” a poem about poetry (“Poetry is about learning about sailing a boat / in the rain / in the rain and one acre of light”) ; and an epigram called “Doors”: “Places we go through / to come from.”

But the heart of the album remains that wonderful calabrese poem recited by Domenico Mazza, “Si si vera poeta.” A series of riddles with solutions, it contains the other poems on the disc, just as its percussive accompaniment contains Aldo’s music. “Tell me,” asks the poet, “who does its journeying with no feet”; “who sends you greetings from afar”; “who while breaking remains intact.” “The ship,” he replies; “the letter”; “the sea.” While listening to this album I remembered when Antonino and I were students in Toronto, and the conversations about Calvino and Eco, but I also remembered my grandfather who, like the Mazza family from Calabria, never alluded to the past, and who was never heard to speak a word of dialect. “My house is your house, take it.” Thank you, Tonino.

RICHARD CAVELL, UBC

http://blogs.ubc.ca/cavell/

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