Melchioretto's long poem 'Walnut', subtitled 'A Manifesto', which comes early
in her debut collection The End of Limbo, is a meditation on the relationship between the nut, the
tree, the forest, the wardrobe, the poet, and the reader of the poem which is
also an invitation to step into a flexible and extensive inner space:
wardrobe's doors are like wings which open
to a room
beyond a room
and the wardrobe's
mirror always holds
the image of
the person opening it.
There is a generosity of spirit evident throughout the collection (dedicated
'to love itself') that makes this more than just a statement of intent -
these are engaging poems that often address the reader in the direct manner
of a storyteller. My first impression, especially reading the several poems which come out of family
history and experience, was of being told a darkly compelling fairy-tale from
the inside and for the first time. Of her 'Bohemian granny:
disappearing into her large hand as we walked
maize field to escape the rural gossip,
to watch the lizards. Her
hundred-year-deep imprints, large enough for both of us.
Born into a German-speaking Italian family based in Switzerland,
Melchioretto's linguistic roots are wide and deep:
Shall I name
the walnut and the wardrobe
mother's mother tongue
or with my
first language which is the second language I learned
or shall I
call it walnut the way you call it but with my accent?
There is a particular freshness in her use of English - a language she has
chosen or been chosen by as few writers have. Playing freely with idioms one
might have thought exhausted she can release their metaphorical content anew,
rescuing them from cliche. See, for example, what she does with 'the last
straw' in 'The Silk Road', or the phrase 'silence is a virtue' in 'The
The specific family history Melchioretto writes out of is both personal and
typical of her (and my) generation - parents scarred by the experience of
war, children obscurely aware of the damage. Several very moving poems record
the impact on the daughter of the father's depression, intuitively understood
as a survival mechanism:
wore a thin coat of lead under his skin.
He cried on
occasions, percolated tears from behind
retina. The crying gene was
built in like an oil pump,
for cooling his worn system
I looked into
his cloudy face, a taste of metal on my tongue.
(from 'The Tear Percolator')
Melchioretto is a maker of complex, multi-layered prints as well as a writer,
and she as it were echo-sounds out her own personal space in each poem, using
the resources of a highly visual imagination - in one, 'it is a long
hallway'; in another 'the desperate island'. There's the inside of 'The Suitcase'
and 'The Normal Head'; and things fit inside each other in surreal ways -
'The grand piano is in the pockets of my mother's apron'. Poems are entitled,
for example, 'Finding Myself in a Pair of Fisheyes', 'The Mississippi Flows
Through Our Living Room', 'Full Void', 'From the Intestines of a Mystical
Dog' and 'In the Devil's Pockets'. The emotional dramas of the poems are
inseparable from these places; everything has to happen somewhere after all,
but in this collection that is as likely to be in a painting by Breughel,
Picasso or Mondrian, or in a circle of Dante's Hell, or a room of ice or
amber, as in a contemporary hotel room or apartment.
Melchioretto's title poem 'The End of Limbo', which responds to the decision
of the Catholic Church to abolish this particular posthumous state in 2005,
is both funny and outraged - the geography of the imagination is undeniable,
she seems to insist, and such a papal decree will result in chaos.
Conversely, she is fascinated by disappearances - of David Rodinsky from his
room in Spitalfields, of Persephone into the underworld, of a lover who falls
'into the gap between too far and too close for comfort', and another for
whom, after a bad night in a 'Twin Room', 'The morning opens like a trapdoor
as the night seals shut.'
Unsurprisingly perhaps, as Melchioretto is a poet who can even find a strong
image in which to hymn her own silence (in 'The Virtue'), a sheer delight in
invention and discovery permeates this collection, and is the keynote of most
of the poems, even those that deal with dark material. But there are
exceptions: 'Omission' is a moving but uncharacteristically unadorned account
of her father's change of name from Fortunato (fortunate) to simply Nato
(born) after surviving World War 2. And 'The Girl with the Shoe Fetish',
which threatens a rejecting lover with castration while the speaker seeks
liberation as a cormorant, is terrifying to an extent that far exceeds any
pleasure to be had from its considerable inventiveness.
In a late poem in the collection, 'Absence of Absence', Melchioretto writes
'There is no absence, only unclaimed space'. She is a poet with an artist's
eye for space, who finds it pretty much everywhere, and knows how to lay
claim to it with a passion. This is a collection that will enable you to see
into places you didn't know exist.
© Meredith Andrea 2007