La Mezzanotte di Spoleto / Midnight in Spoleto

Paolo Valesio / Todd Portnowitz


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PAOLO VALESIO is the author, among several other works, of seventeen books of poetry and is the Giuseppe Ungaretti Professor Emeritus in Italian Literature at Columbia University. He was the founder, and coordinator for ten years, of the “Yale Poetry Group” at Yale University, and the founder and director of the journal Yale Italian Poetry, whose successor is the Italian Poetry Review—a “plurilingual journal of creativity and criticism” based in New York and in Florence, Italy—of which Valesio is the editor in chief; he is also the President of the “Centro Studi Sara Valesio” in Bologna.

For his Italian translations, TODD PORTNOWITZ  has earned fellowships from the Academy of American Poets (Raiziss/de Palchi Fellowship, 2015) and the Bread Loaf Translators Conference. His poetry, essays, and translations have appeared widely in literary reviews and journals, including Poetry, PN Review, Asymptote, Guernica, VQR, Southwest Review, Agni, Narrative Magazine and elsewhere. He lives and works in New York, where he hosts a reading series for writer-translators, Us&Them.

In this enchanting collection of poems—a love story and a love letter to an ancient city—the renowned scholar of Italian literature turns his gaze on Spoleto.

A curtain is drawn, a harpsichord resounds, a choir chants at midnight, a poor student paces a terrace, a valley swirls reflected in an espresso cup: in poem after poem Paolo Valesio evokes the song and solemnity of Spoleto, a hill town in Umbria and home to no more than 40,000. Home, as well, to the “Festival of Two Worlds,” a summer arts festival celebrating the city’s two defining realms: the church and the theater. Drawing its title from one of the festival’s main events—a series of choir performances at the ancient church of Sant’Eufemia—Midnight in Spoleto explores the unique spaces of the city and the scenes of a life there staged. As soon as they reached Spoleto, / with twilight approaching, / before even unzipping their bags, / they went to the piazza / to find something they’d left a summer ago.” Never far from the lyrical narrative is the figure of St. Francis, the local genie, whose spirit guides and chides our raconteur. Valesio’s layered visions and precise rhythms are here transported vitally into English, by the Raiziss/de Palchi-winning translator, Todd Portnowitz.