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Review: Days Full of Caves & Tigers, by Fabio Pusterla

Barry Cole, Ambit 210, Autumn 2012

Switzerland has - as France once had (think Mistral of Provence) - several languages: German-Swiss, French-Swiss, Italian-Swiss, Romansh, etc. A curiosity is 'Alpinist', which is what Fabio Pusterla's poetry is. Days Full of Caves and Tigers (a selection from six collections published between 1986 and 2011) has him, at times, looking down from a (naturally) great height. He is wonderfully translated, in a parallel text, by Stephen Knight (in that the poet almost sounds English). The poems are often gnomic, particularly when he is writing from his own eyrie:

...there where chance directs the gaze
appears, in clarity, a swathe of mountain, but detached
from earth, as if in flight, immense eagle
of black rock and snow, talon and wing.

But he is also a European traveller, wandering and commenting on Germany, Portugal, Italy etc. And an environmentalist; satirist of politicians (buffoons such as Berlusconi), and all-round good man (not afraid to admit his own faults).

One of the best sections, here, is his Stories of the Armadillo (from his latest collection, Heavenly Body): great flights of (non-pejorative) whimsy, irony and knowing asides. In his Notes he writes:

I began writing these purely for fun. And they would, probably, have gone no further but for the enthusiasm of the fifth-year pupil at Lugano Cassarate primary school and, above all, the encouragement o another friend, Oscar, who urged me to continue the game more seriously...

Since then, the poems have been spotted in the United States.

Difficult to give a significant or 'typical' quote, but he is all of a piece: 'Swiss, European - international'.

There is a fine introduction by Alan Brownjohn, and Arc must be congratulated on its Visible Poets series of translations (of which this is no.22). What next? How about Walid Khazendar (Palestine)?