Rome Travel Guide

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Poems for Everyone - A New Book Inspired by Piero della Francesca

The Rome connection here exists, but first we want to celebrate our long-time Italian friend, Dana Prescott’s new book, Feathers from the Angel’s Wing: Poems Inspired by the Paintings of Piero della Francesca

This gorgeous book was a labor of love for Dana, who lives at what must be the epicenter of the largest number of paintings in the world by this ever more-prized 15th-century, early Renaissance artist.  That location gave her the obsession (and yes, it is that) that led to the book.  As the New York Times complained a few years ago Piero ”took more commissions in Sansepolcro than anywhere else, and his greatest works remain in its vicinity — a source of great frustration for Piero obsessives outside of Europe, who must visit a series of small villages to see his frescoes and altarpieces.”  Though the Frick Museum in New York City now has acquired 4 Pieros and mounted a show in 2013 that the Times called “ravishing.”  The word applies equally to the emotion emanating from the poets Prescott has culled in this meaty book.

Madonna del Parto - is she opening her dress? pointing
to her rounded belly?  Are the angels opening or closing
the draperies?  Note the pomegranate design on the
curtain - a symbol of fertility.
The writers Prescott includes range from the established and revered (long after his death) Pier Paolo Pasolini to the American rock star/writer/poet Patti Smith.  But those two aren’t the alpha and the omega here.  Among the poems that touched me most are two that were read at a book launch in Rome in June.  Both of these poems were inspired by my favorite Piero, the Madonna del Parto (The Pregnant Madonna), which remains in Sansepolcro, where it is treasured as a good omen for pregnant women.  Moira Egan’s “Gravid,” composed of 2 9 line stanzas, each line of 9 syllables, includes the sentence:  “I said no to nature, then nature turned and said no to me.”  Contrasted with Egan’s “grief and guilt come in colors, dull red, queasy green,” is Mongolian poet G. Mend-Ooyo’s, “The Pregnant Madonna.” That poem takes us lyrically “Between the trees, grains thread their way across the fields….Each of the seeds is its own world.”  Mend-Ooyo, who grew up in a nomadic family, still has the nomad’s sense of the power of the earth. 

In her work as executive director of Civitella Ranieri, the international cultural center near Sansepolcro, Dana nurtures many translators.  Perhaps because of this background, she gives tribute to the many translators at work in her book as well, their bios given equal status with the poets.

I would be remiss in not pointing out the quality of this hardbound book – the paper, the colors, the reproductions.  It’s a beautiful gift to someone in your life. [At amazon.comPowell’s and]

St. Luke, in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome
And, finally, the Rome connection to Piero is fragmentary and lost, both literally.  There are a few heavily damaged fragments of an unfinished ceiling work in Rome’s Santa Maria Maggiore.  Piero also painted frescoes on the walls of Pope Pius II’s rooms in the Vatican.  By order of Pope Julius II, they were painted over – by Raphael.


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