Writing

The Book of London

4

I am always on the run. I have lived in four different places in the last four years. am tired. I moved from Livorno and my University in Florence to Oslo for a semester, then back to Tuscany again. I went to Bronxville, a small town 30 minutes away from New York City, and then back to Italy. And then I moved to London, where I stayed for one year and a half.

Now I am back to Livorno. My last days in London were hectic, as I had to pack, say goodbye to my old job, complete a one-week work experience at HHB Literary Agency and, of course, see my friends for the last time. I have been thinking about London in the last few days, right after the emotion of being home fade away. I am spending my time with my loved ones in the places that I know and love, but London keeps coming back. I have the impression that it will always be.

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The first emotion I feel when I think about London, even before nostalgia or sadness, is gratitude. I don’t think I would ever be able to express my gratitude for all the people I met in this amazing year and a half. I would like to hug all the amazing people I met, my flatmates, my friends, my professors. My classmates and friends in London always did their best to help me with my writing and my English. They read my shit and gave me feedback. They listened to my clumsy English and corrected me if I needed it. Now I am braver and I know for sure that my grasp on the language is improved, thanks to them.

Almost all of my luggage is unpacked and settled again in my room in Livorno. But there is a bag, full of notes, memories, pictures and stuff that I am afraid to open. I am afraid it may mix up with the life I have here and I am sure I’ll start crying when I open the notes I received, the presents and gifts and the love all the people I met showed to me. And then, of course, I am scared of going back to London with my mind, and fall in a blurry place. But I just can’t leave everything there, in the dusty bag. I need to take everything out and, possibly, write my book of London. Stick all the notes and pictures and memories and the songs I listened to and the stories I wrote and the films I saw and the small things of life that I am so afraid to forget when I’ll leave Livorno again. Because I will.

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I left London three weeks ago and I am still living in some strange place where I can smell toasts from Pret in the morning. Where sudden gusts of wind mess my hair up in the tube station and everything goes too fast. A weird, blurry place where people are always busy and girls go to work stumbling on high heels.
Here in Livorno, instead, the wind on my face smells like the sea, even when I am not on the shore. The buzz of the too many mopads pierces my ears constantly and the food oozes with oil and garlic and flavour. I have eaten the best Cacciucco of my life. I have spent 20 euros to eat eight different dishes at dinner – something that is simply impossible in London.
I have written a new story about London, because I miss this huge part of me so much that sometimes Livorno seems like a temporary place. Maybe tomorrow I am going to prepare my suitcase and head off to Stratford again. I will take a long walk in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and go shopping at Westfield, buy some shit at Poundland and decide what to eat for dinner while shopping at Sainsbury’s – always the same tasteless shit, I am afraid.
I will hear guys calling their pals “mates” instead of “bimbi” and I will smile when I’ll enter a pub, with the smell of ale and old carpet that is so vivid and alive to me now that it seems like I have never really left.
And when I am in this blurry place in my mind, missing London and thinking about this cheesy shit, I will think about Livorno, about the smell of jasmine in my garden, the threatening gazes of seagulls scanning the moats for some pigeons to slaughter. My hometown, with the accent that I know so well and makes me laugh everytime.
I have been living in too many places in the last 4 years and I miss them all. The world where everyone is scattered, trying to find their own path even if far away from loves ones, is a tough one.
I left a piece of my heart in London and I can’t wait to visit again.
It is not home now, but will always be anyway.

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Poetry

Obstruction #9: Home as Foreign and Familiar

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Writing about home is difficult, but writing about home as “strange” may be even more difficult. In the poem Early Swimming, the speaker seems surrounded by a place that they know well but also that they don’t see as the same anymore. In Obstruction #9, the challenge was to write about home taking this into consideration.

Form/Shape.

End words must have significance (scenic power, strong images etc).

No line features more than 14 syllables.

Content.

Good strangeness of home. Home as foreign and familiar. There is a mystery to investigate and a discovery to reveal.

Body and the City are important parts of the poem. Awareness of a body in place.

Action.

Taste.

Touch.

Home

First Draft Version

I should know what happens when I’m not there.

Someone else will walk the dog.

I should know the path, I know what you’ll see.

I know everything you need to know.

In November it’s cold, but it’s fine.

It must be good to live on the coast.

The same truck will be parked

Next to the line of black pine trees.

I can taste pepper mussels and squids

Fried with lemon, oil and beer.

I can touch the messy hair of my sister

Feel the thickness of my turtle’s shell

Under the tip of my fingers.

Still I can’t know what happens,

Because I’m not there.

What if they read my stories,

Open my drawer, put on my clothes?

What if they tidy them all up

As I get on the plane to go home?

When I set foot in my old house

I feel like I’ve never been away

Still, everything changes a bit.

I see books missing from my shelves.

When I walk the dog, he does not follow.

He wants to take other paths

Paths I’ve never gone with him.

I loosen the leash and follow.

It’s never too late to discover home.

After this class, Ron introduced the theme of the next session, about Architecture. He wanted us to send him updrafts of one or more among obstruction 6, 7, 8, 9. I was already scared, but the time was passing and we needed to have a clearer idea about what we were going to use for our final project.

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Poetry

Obstruction #6: Obsessions Stuck in History

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Session #4 started with Ron asking us what are the obsessions that ignite our writing. One of the catalysts, Richard Hugo, said that our obsessions lead us to our writing and to our vocabulary. Therefore, Ron asked us to list at least 10 obsessions or fascinations of the moment. He told us to be very specific, repeating the mantra no ideas but in things. We could not just say “love”, but say what is that we love. These are mine. They are very mundane, but it’s the truth.

  • Nature documentaries with David Attenborough
  • Italian Ravioli for £1 at Sainsbury’s
  • My relationship with my boyfriend
  • David Foster Wallace
  • My literary group back in my hometown
  • Halloween
  • My best friend was in the place of the earthquake in Italy yesterday
  • People in the tube
  • Lit magazines
  • Email check

Then he asked us to say 10 words that sound/appear a lot in our writing.

  • Eyes
  • Swallow
  • Hands
  • Look
  • Silence
  • Fuck/bloody (swear words)
  • Veins
  • Say
  • Grip
  • Knuckles

This obstruction was interesting because we did not just write down this exercises and then went straight to write the poem. After these questions, we discussed the poems about history and then Ron asked us to go back to the lists and to choose on of the 10 words we use a lot in our writing. This is the list that came out of all our chosen words:

  • Ventricle
  • Schadenfreude (a German word that expresses the feeling of pleasure at someone else’s discomfort).
  • Eviscerate
  • Insomnia
  • Treachery
  • Snapped
  • Losing (as loss)
  • Silence
  • Tenderness
  • Ethereal

 

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Then, there was the moment to write the poem, Obstruction #6. These were the guidelines:

  1. Express contradiction, contrast, conundrum, dilemma.
  2. History is alive (dates, remembered places, names, memories, lyrics, facts…).
  3. Use one or more words from the lists above. Your vocabulary should appear.
  4. Future is dreamed, feared, imagined.
  5. Reckon with one of your obsessions. This must be the seed of the piece.

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Here is the poem. It’s called Smoked Pancetta Ravioli. There are many things I don’t like in this draft. Other are important and means a lot to me, so I want to use them in my project to write other, better poems. The theme of migration is important. Other references are just a bit too cheesy and I don’t think they really fit the objective of the poem.

The last thing you may think about.

Before everything explodes.

Or falls down on you.

Yes, £1 Ravioli at Sainsbury’s.

It’s really as sad as that.

*

Policemen walk slowly around the tube station.

They carry weapons that seem

too heavy. Too difficult for them to use.

I try not to notice.

I do anyway.

*

On the 26th of October, 2016

The deep centre of Italy, somewhere

I’ve never been to

cages a big chunk of me.

*

And as I read David Foster Wallace on the tube

Surrounded by peope who look down at their own hands

My best friend is somewhere, probably tracing

lines and dots on the canvas

right at the centre of the earthquake.

*

It is really as simple as that: £1 Ravioli at Sainsbury’s.

I’ll have them for dinner. Giovanni Rana,

the best I could get. I miss Italy sometimes,

more often than I want.

*

I am okay. Policemen walk and try to smile at each other,

gripping their guns. I watch them.

A terrorist attack was avoided in Greenwich.

Thanks to special forces. Thanks.

*

But you can’t avoid everything. You can’t avoid earthquakes.

Italian media say it’s fine, no deaths.

Last earthquake, more than 200 died.

Italy were lucky this time.

A big chunk of me was lucky, this time.

*

My friend answers the phone.

She’s scared but she’s fine.

She’ll go to bed, put on her piijama, maybe

read David Foster Wallace. I will.

*

I miss her terribly as I miss

everyone. My boyfriend on the shores of Tuscany

my best friend in the greyish Helsinki

another looking over Toronto’s skyline

all scattered around like stones on the ground.

*

Migration is distance.

No one is safe.

Policemen in London’s tube screams the danger.

I could just think of the ravioli I’ll have

before everything squashes me.

*

We are far fro each other.

But this is the life we chose.

The price to pay to study, write, paint, play the flute.

We all hope our future will be our reward.

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