A collection of poetry to be read at dusk, when the golden glow of sunset is still projecting its indigo undertones towards the eastern darkness, is being launched this month by media personality Giordano Durante, under the monosyllabic title ‘West’.
The author says this being the first book he publishes, he went for poetry rather than novel or philosophical treatise (still on his to-do list) because he has been jotting down impressions and thoughts in a free poetic form for quite a while during the pauses of his busy lifestyle, juggling the daily running of an online news outlet and a young family, and he felt it was time he published them organically.
“West is the title of the longest and most ambitious poem in the collection,” Giordano explains, “and it suits the crepuscular mood with which the book is imbued. There is a sense of longing, ageing and autumnal regret like the sunset described in my westbound promenade parallel to Oxford Street in the title poem.” The book’s common themes are pessimism, cynicism and sometimes misanthropy, as noted by fellow writer M.G. Sanchez in his back-page review, but these are presented as a realistic reflection on life’s vicissitudes.
Like sunset is the most poetic time of the day and tragedy makes the most fertile ground for literary masterpieces, according to Giordano, there’s always a shaft of light piercing the darkness, if one reads between the lines to locate the compassionate wink beyond the judgmental snub, and one appreciates his ‘delight in the minor pleasures and absurdities of life’.
West is also the direction where the good wind of Giordano’s upbringing blew from: “I spent a good part of my childhood in my parents’ home perched on a hill with a view to the east towards the sea, and the humid levanter wind coming from it, and the countryside to the west. When the westerly blew, it brought not only crisp end-of-summer days, but also the refreshing scent of the fields.”
The lingering sticky easterly (the ‘grey fluff’) is the protagonist of one of his best poems, simply titled ‘Levante’. There’s a sense of static oppression in the thick grayness of the mist that the orange lights and the bass horns struggle to stab, while ‘filling’ it instead as it lingers over the ‘veiled bay’ towered by ‘disembodied structures’ of a ‘city shedding its parts’, most of all issuing ‘beads of sweat’ on the eyelids of the ‘waking wives’ of ‘showered’ bin men, whose image of restful fragrant sleep is in sharp contrast with the unmentioned but yet looming stench of fuel-drenched ‘airless morning’.
A contemporary philosopher named after the Nolan excommunicated monk Giordano Bruno, on whose pyre the entire Renaissance was consumed to ashes in 1600, our local Giordano delivers a variegated sampling of his poetic licence in forty-two (a subconscious nod to Douglas Adams’s famous answer to the meaning of life, perhaps?) poems of various lengths. They are organised in four sections, albeit not named after the cardinal points, but after the places he’s lived: Gibraltar: that could actually be identified with the west of the ancient world, Andalusia: the south of Europe with its vivid colours and rituals, Britain: the north with its steely skies and steel trains, and a myriad of places, not only geographical, that constitute a sort of exotic east to his Proustian memory. The poems spark from experiences that the author has treasured enough to deem them worthy of elaboration, transferring, or hoping to transfer, to the readers, any emotion stirred in him.
One may wonder how a rationalistic and self-professed atheist is able to indulge in the emotional labour of love that poetry is, furthermore weaving the profound religiosity that permeates most of his Spanish section: well, both philosophy and poetry are actually two facets of the same research into the human condition, Giordano says, the first pivoting on systematic arguments to demonstrate given hypotheses, the latter banking on flourished language, flights of fancy and acoustic aesthetics to suggest rather than impose an emotion rather than a thought.
These poems are in free verse, enjoying the occasional rhyme, alliteration and enjambment, and indeed in English, although Giordano has considered, but not put pen to paper for it yet, writing in Yanito to better express local topics (“Yanito is a fluid vernacular that I sense as too connected to everyday life – I feel it would be artificial to elevate it to a poetic tone”). He muses about even taking the plunge into an epic poem, bathed in bathos, of course.
‘Alameda Interlude’ is a metrically unconventional ode to the botanical gardens as silent witness to his personal circle of life, alongside with the plants’ and the immortality of the history there retold; ‘Main Street’, a title that cannot miss in any Gibraltarian anthology, retraces the steps of a blind person along the busy thoroughfare, guided only by noises and smells; ‘Howl’ is the memento to the dark period in our history that many want to see whitewashed, the ‘smuggling’ early Nineties. “It’s an episode of our history that marked an entire generation and, although I was in my early teens at the time, it affected me too, and I believe it should be remembered.”
Landmarks become the physical reference to meditate on the three stages of life and the related stages of solitude that comes with them: ‘Boulevard’ is about getting drunk with teenage friends at the bastions that once overlooked the bay from Cathedral Square; ‘Mahogany’ touches upon the theme of feeling lonely in the crowd within the heritage-rich settings of the Garrison Library where a lively reception is being held, and the introvert struggles to keep up with the mindless mingling; ‘Bishop Canilla House’ is about a generation’s mentality dying down taking its traditions with, forever lost to their descendants busy treading the boards of a fast-evolving society. ‘Ghost Train’ is a melancholic poem dedicated to the ‘Carnie’ who passed away last year, and whom many Gibraltarians remember for his dancing in female clothes, broom in hand, on the roof of the fairground train: after a somehow merciless description of his attire and behaviour on the job and behind the scenes, Giordano asks if he did dream of this as a lifelong career and he concludes that ‘perhaps it’s a job like any other: ‘make-up, stretching, yellow clips on like a city clerk cycling to work’, so lamenting the transient quality of life compared to a train ride ending in quick duck before choo-chooing into the tunnel.
While most of his UK-inspired poems focus on journeys, whether on foot or by train, the Spanish section is mainly devoted to religion as the catalysing agent of intergenerational gelling. “The ritual is all-important here and even an atheist like me cannot remain unaffected by its significance, fascination and emotional power.” ‘Folklore’ is about the rehearsals for a Semana Santa procession in Cordoba that a foreigner mistakes for the circus, as well as the contrast (and similarities) between the nature of the ‘unchaste club’ and the ‘mock float’ with the ‘blessed Virgin just a pile of bricks’ in the dead of the night.
In ‘Margins’, the margins of a second-hand philosophy book become the metaphor for the strife of a retired miner who lives at the margins of society, while ‘Tribute’ is just that: a chunk of prose to bring to the fore the destitute who live and die anonymously. ‘Foetal Dream’ is about life before life, already with a sceptical slant on what is waiting at the end of that tunnel – hence, it is no coincidence that the front cover of Giordano’s book should feature the concrete underpass that affords access to the Alameda Gardens from Boyd’s Street.
‘West’ is available at local bookshops priced £8.