Friday, January 30, 2009

Giovanni Tempesta - The Cremation of Sam McGee and Other Verses by Robert Service: An Italian Translation

Kepler's event host Bobbi Emel reports on the January 26, 2009 event:

This was probably the most unique event I've hosted, narrowly squeaking out the Irene Pepperberg event where we had African Grey parrots in the audience.

When I first saw the title of this book and event come into my email inbox a few months ago I thought, "What is going on here?" I emailed Pam, our events coordinator, and asked if Dr. Tempesta would be reciting Service's poetry in Italian. Yes, she said, but he needs someone to read it in English as well.

Pick me! Pick me!

Why? As a college student in the great state of Washington and then during my graduate years here in California, I spent seven summers in Alaska. For three summers I canned salmon at a cannery "out in the bush" and the next four summers I spent driving a tour bus for Holland America Line and giving tours from my base of Anchorage. Many people have never heard of Robert Service, "The Bard of the Yukon", but I had read and memorized several of his poems that I recited to my passengers as we made our way on a three-day trip from Valdez, Alaska, through Canada's Yukon Territory, and then down into Skagway, Alaska, one of the starting points of the Gold Rush.

Luckily for me, both Giovanni and Pam picked me to read the English version of Service's poems during the event. Giovanni Tempesta is a Stanford professor and he is a charming and kind man. Thus, I wasn't surprised when 90 people showed up to hear a somewhat obscure American poet's work read in English and Italian. (Poor floor shift leader Mack, however, was quite surprised. However, he was Mack-on-the-spot and deftly set up more and more and more chairs as people came in. Thanks again, Mack!) Giovanni and I had run through the poems once before the public reading and were set to go when the event began. Giovanni gave a short introduction and then we read first "The Spell of the Yukon" followed by "The Cremation of Sam McGee." Giovanni apologized to the audience for not being able to put a southern drawl on Sam McGee's part ("now Sam McGee was from Tennessee where the cotton blooms and blows") in Italian but it was definitely I who was overshadowed by Giovanni's dramatic reading complete with vintage Italian hand and arm gestures. We read verse by verse, trading off until we finished each poem.

The audience seemed to really enjoy it and I know that both Giovanni and I did as well. We also read a couple of poems from his own book of poetry which will be coming out sometime in May. Giovanni had printed out the poems onto sheets of paper as souvenirs for the audience.

Giovanni's former student and long-time friend Roy Borrone invited all to his cafe next door for coffee and biscotti to celebrate the event.

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