Arcobaleno Rainbow by Sara Elena Rossetti

Reviewed by Rachel Stirling

Arcobaleno Rainbow is a dual-language poetry compilation, written in Italian and translated into English by the same poet. Sara Elena Rossetti divides her poems by colour, using the rainbow as inspiration, and has also chosen to use black and white as themes. The effect is bright, modern and pleasing to the eye. She assigns thoughts, feelings and images to each colour, and we’re used to this idea: green for jealousy or envy, red for passion, etc, but she steps outside the boundary of traditional Italian and English thought and assigns each colour her own label, her own title. So, for example, although we might leap in recognition at:

‘Rosso – fonemi intrinsi di passione’

‘Red – passion soaked phonemes’

We might find it more difficult to relate to:

‘Arrancione – pistilli tra le palpebre dei sogni.’

‘Orange – pistils  through the eyelids of dreams.’

Any considered reading of the work would benefit from a deeper understanding of the meanings associated with each colour in the Italian language: while we might see green as expressing envy or unpreparedness, the poet chooses to use green to represent the verdant countryside and, by extension, home, finally settling on the idea of loss of home.

The colours are important because they loosely gather the poems into groups or tribes of thought, and also because they directly oppose another theme running through the work, the idea of transparency. People, ideas, emotions, belongings, and God are described as ‘trasparente’. The poet is careful not to assign a value judgement to this transparence but returns repeatedly to the idea that to possess the fullness of colour is perhaps a happier situation, closer to human grasp, than the attempt to possess the ineffable. We see the unseen through the example of the seen, the solid, our colourful reality. (None of the poems in this work use colour as a synonym for race. The themes are universal).

Rossetti’s writing is concise, and demonstrates precision of thought beneath the layers of metaphor and allusion. The presence of work in two languages by the same author is also illuminating. The poems are lovingly translated into modern English, and I found the word choices fascinating. An Italian song of repetition and rounded vowel sounds is suddenly clipped into taut, spare Anglo-saxon which somehow drives the emotional intensity of the work home; not that there aren’t losses. There are several beautiful lines and scurries of verse which, through no fault of the poet, are lost in translation. Dual-language compilations so often call on us to re-evaluate our relationship with sound.

Rossetti explores soul and substance through the metaphor of colour, and touches finally on the matter of worth. We are challenged, with the rainbow laid out before us, to consider belonging in all its depth, colour and difficulty.

nei punti interrogativi
mi investighi con i tuoi perché:
sai come fare, tu
un po’ far male, tu.

Scratching me
with question marks
you dig into me with your whys
you know how to do it, you know
how to hurt a bit, you.

She doesn’t shy away from the substantial and the solid, or from the emotionally problematic. The mental image that comes across to me is that of a washing line in morning sunshine. Each item of clothing here is a thought, pinned and placed, all the colours fluttering and buffeted by the wind, by the transparent. Before it stands the poet, pointing. Look at this! Do you see?

This is bright, engaging work, with hidden depths and darknesses, much in the same way that we can see the Rainbow and know that, somewhere, there has been a storm.