(© Alexander Hutchison)
first met Roberto Sanesi
in the refectory of the Irish College in Leuven in Belgium. It was 1985, and the occasion was one of the annual European Poetry Festivals though poets had been invited from as far afield as Jamaica and Surinam. I arrived rather late in the week missing the first day and a half and had only just sat down for dinner when I was hauled to my feet by the enthusiastic organiser who proceeded to loud-hail my presence to the assembled company: "Hutchkinson est là poète ecossais!" When I took my seat again, recovering from this mild (though public) embarrassment, I noticed across from me an elegantly dressed man in his fifties, who was smiling sympathetically with only the faintest hint of schadenfreude or broader mischief in his intelligent gaze.
This was Sanesi, and during the course of the meal we found many things which corresponded in our sense of humour and the scope of our interests. Grete Tartler the Roumanian poet, and Michael Hamburger and Charles Tomlinson from the United Kingdom were sitting nearby, and all were pleasant company; but Sanesi was the main binding force in that particular conversation witty, relaxed and congenial and during the course of the rest of the week we struck up a friendship which was broken only by news of his death in January of this year.
A few years later, in 1988, Tessa Ransford, founder of the Scottish Poetry Library, arranged to invite Sanesi to read at the Edinburgh International Festival. Edwin Morgan the distinguished Scottish poet also read, and I participated in the event by reading my translations into English and Scots of poems mainly from Sanesi's collections Téchne (1984) and La differenza (1988).
Being able to work closely with Sanesi in preparing those versions of his work was especially satisfying: he was always clear and quite definite in expressing his opinion; and he never appeared to be finicky or over-insistent. When he felt that the gist was there, or when he recognised that the idiom he had chosen was matched in tone and energy, he conveyed his pleasure and satisfaction straightaway. As a result, the process was both brisk yet thorough; and the same impression was conveyed when the shoe was on the other foot, so to speak, and I was able to assist him in translating my poem Inchcolm which was published in «Schema» 33/34, along with Sanesi's versions of poems by Ransford and Morgan.
View from Arthur's Seat
Sanesi obviously enjoyed the challenge of the difficult. None of the poets he translated from English Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, Eliot for example could be considered an easy option. And the depth of his scholarly interest and his knowledge of other cultures is reflected in poems such as From Samuel Palmer to George Richmond, Shoreham, August 1828.
Still, he wore his knowledge and the effort of application lightly; was entirely serious but never solemn or sententious .
When he visited Edinburgh we went for a walk up Arthur's Seat which is a hill (actually the cone of an extinct volcano) just outside the walls of the old city, and above Holyrood Palace. At one point we climbed to Salisbury Crags, a basalt outcrop just to the west of Arthur's Seat, where you can look down over the city of Edinburgh, and out over the Firth of Forth to Inchcolm and Fife and beyond.
It was a fine day; the wind blew over the tall yellow grasses like a rippling sea. It is an extraordinarily quick transition from the city to open countryside when you make that walk, and we found it exhilarating. When he returned home to Milan, Sanesi sent a snapshot of me taken on that memorable occasion stretched out, leaning on my left elbow, grinning and waving out at him from the billowing hillside. I must have taken a photograph of him with the same camera, but he didn't send that one on. I wish I had it now. I wish we had another companionable afternoon to enjoy like that again.
In any event, his friends in Scotland will not let slip their affection for him, nor their regard for his work. The courtesy and unaffected enthusiasm of Roberto Sanesi in personal matters as well as in his art made a lasting impression here.
Glasgow, Scotland February 26, 2001