Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Beat Goes On: Poets at Aman Canal Grande in Venice - Ferruccio Brugnaro, Jack Hirschman & Agneta Falk

Agneta Falk, Ferruccio Brugnaro, Jack Hirschman, Maria Brugnaro at Aman Canal Grande

(Venice, Italy) The Italian poet, Ferruccio Brugnaro, born in Mestre on August, 18, 1936, worked for more than 30 years at the chemical plants at Porto Marghera on the mainland outside Venice, the site of a huge oil-refining and petrochemical complex. During his employment at Porto Marghera, Brugnaro became a strong union leader and compassionate poet, expressing rage at the workers' conditions with his compelling words.

Jack Hirschman
On the other side of the world, the American poet, Jack Hirschman, born in the Bronx on December 13, 1933 to working-class parents, got his PhD in comparative literature at Indiana University. While teaching at UCLA during the Viet Nam war, he heard that "A" students were excused from the draft. He announced that all his students who were draft-eligible got a grade of "A," and was terminated from the university, thus beginning his life as a poet. He now lives in San Francisco, together with his second wife, the poet, Agneta Falk (Sweden, 1947), where he was appointed Poet Laureate in 2006.

Beat Poets at Aman Canal Grande
Jack Hirschman had encountered Ferruccio Brugnaro's work in the '80s when helping to edit an international journal of poetry, but the two didn't actually meet until January, 1993, when Hirschman was on a reading tour in Italy. They read together at Lenin Hall, then spent a week traveling around the Veneto where Brugnaro and his wife, Maria, read Hirschman's poems in Italian, and he read them in the original English.

Maria Brugnaro at Aman Canal Grande
 Hirschman said:

"I decided, during that week of happy camaraderie, and 
because I see in Ferruccio's work a resonance that harks 
back to Mayakovsky, as well as forward toward the 
necessary future of mankind, to translate his poems in a 
selection that might include his rage, his righteousness, 
his tenderness and, through all, that spine of 
lyripolitical discourse so very important for the days 

These two impressive poets are no longer young (Brugnaro is 79; Hirschman will be 82), but their hearts and passions remain strong. Together with their wives, Maria Brugnaro, a former schoolteacher, and the poignant poet Agneta Falk, they delivered a spirited evening yesterday at the Aman Canal Grande for the Slow Words readers' club, presented by Paolo Graziano and Diana Marrone, Slow Words fanzine founders and editors.

Diana Marrone and Paolo Graziano at Aman Canal Grande
I knew before I arrived that Ferruccio Brugnaro was the father of Luigi Brugnaro, Venice's extremely wealthy, conservative and controversial new mayor. But nothing had prepared me for an evening of what appeared to be real-life communists still talking the talk in the year 2015. I was stunned when I heard Ferruccio Brugnaro's poem Tutti Assolti al Processo per Le Morti al Petrolchimico (All Acquitted at the Trial for the Deaths at Petrolchemical) read first by Brugnaro in Italian, and then by Hirschman in English, written in reaction to the acquittal of those Brugnaro held responsible for the suffering of his fellow workers.

In March, 1998, here in Italy, 31 top managers of the chemical industry were put on trial for knowingly exposing their workers to harmful chemicals; 149 were dead, and over 500 were suffering from cancer. (Ironically, Felice Casson, the prosecutor who pursued the action against the chemical industry in the late '90s through 2004, was just defeated this past June by Luigi Brugnaro, the son of Ferrucio and Maria Brugnaro, in the election for the new mayor of Venice.) Ferrucio Brugnaro's poem expressed the outrage he felt when the top managers were all acquitted on the grounds that when the deaths started in the 70s, they could not have known the production's deadly impact on the workers. "Non dite, non dite che non sapevate." ("Do not say, do not say you did not know.")

Cat Bauer and Ferruccio Brugnaro
The evening was an echo of the Beat Generation at its best, when poets and writers were openly critical of society and shouted its injustices with courage and comradery. Because, of course, those chemical managers knew they were killing their own people, and did nothing to stop it.

However, I still can't get my mind wrapped around how two parents like Ferruccio and Maria Brugnaro, who seem to have fought so long and hard against corporate greed and disrespect for human life, managed to produce a son like Luigi, who grew up to yank 49 books about tolerance out of Venice's school system, and wants to dredge up the deadly heavy metal waste from the petrochemical industry that lies on the bottom of the lagoon -- the same waste that killed his father's comrades -- to make way for the controversial cruise ship industry. Sometimes I wonder if Luigi Brugnaro, who made his fortune with a temp-worker company named "Umana Holding" ("Human Holding") really understands the dark forces with whom he has made friends.

Below there is a poem by Jack Hirschman about Ferruccio Brugnaro, and below that is a poem, translated into English, from Fist of Sun by Ferruccio Brugano.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Ferruccio Brugnaro
by Jack Hirschman

When he turned
to retrieve from his car
the coat you needed
for the chill on
our passeggiata,

Ferruccio Brugnaro
changed into a young man
hurrying along the street
with a stride that was
that of another
person altogether.

His arms dangling widely,
his steps rapid, windy,
almost adolescent.
We stood in that Chioggia street
aghast watching his form
from behind.

Front face, he is a man
of gentle strength and grace,
in his sixties, and has always
reminded me of my father's
older brother,

and there's a photo he sent
to his American publisher
for use in his poetry tour
in the States next month

that has the sharp, dark lines
of one who might be an actor
in silent movies.
The darkness under the eyes.
The chtonic touch from that time
when a house was
closer to the womb.

And one was genuinely
youth and antiquity
in the same breath.

And it was visible,
dramatic, poetic and alive.

by Ferruccio Brugnaro


     We've gotten hold of

            every corner of Venice today.

     Tall red banners, slogans

                against rip-offs and Death.

     Urgent songs of

               struggle and love now rise up

     from blood and soul.

     The stones and the waters have become

                     human, warm.

     Our heart

                runs madly

                      to liberation.

           Huge joy.

     Today life raises

                       the concrete future

     of men, of all mankind,

                   in its fist of sun.

1 comment:

  1. I knew before I arrived that Ferruccio Brugnaro was the father of Luigi Brugnaro, Venice's extremely wealthy, conservative and controversial new mayor. But nothing had prepared me for an evening of what appeared to be real-life communists still talking the talk in the year 2015.