Negotiating the Liminal Divide: Some Italian-Australian Diasporic Poets

By | 1 September 2013

Lino Concas was born in Gonnosfanadigia on the island of Sardinia in 1930 and, after having obtained a degree in philosophy, emigrated to Melbourne in 1963. There he became a secondary-school teacher of Italian. He began writing poetry at the age of fifteen, and his subsequent production of poetic texts has placed him among the leading first-generation Italian-Australian poets. His first volume, Brandelli d’anima [Shreds of a Soul] (Concas 1965), is a collection of his early poems about love, solitude, alienation, religious vocation, the need for life and for purification.


Ho bisogno d’acqua
e piove sangue
nelle mie zolle arse.
Non basta a spegnere
la mia sete
il sudore degli uomini stanchi [ … ]
Ho bisogno d’acqua nell’Altare
ove anche tu, Signore,
sei fatto di pane e di acqua.
L’acqua può lavare il mio sangue.
Mi sento già nel covone di morte.
(Concas 1998, 28)

Drought I need water and it rains blood on my parched turf. The sweat of tired men is not enough to quench my thirst [ … ] I need water on the altar where you too, Lord, are made of bread and water. Water can wash my blood. I already feel I am in death’s sheaf.

It also introduced the theme of migration, elaborated on in his second volume of poetry, Ballata di vento [Ballard of the Wind] (Concas 1977). This collection focused on the sense of exile resulting from migration to Australia, seen as a land forever foreign, given the impossibility of assimilation. These ideas are developed in the subsequent two volumes, Uomo a metà [Half a Man] (Concas 1981) and L’altro uomo: Poesie 1981–1983 [The Other Man: Poems 1981–1983] (Concas 1988), in which the native land is revisited and reassessed not only from the point of view of an exile’s nostalgia, but from the critical perspective of the social and existential conditions that forced the poet to leave.

In terra straniera

Il canguro a fine giornata
chiuse ha le braccia
in croce dopo svelti salti
in circo aperto al sole.
Anch’io nudo mi trovo
la sera, fra le ombre,
aggrappato ad una roccia
e sale la preghiera
e il mio grido
come volo d’ali
tra sentieri smarrito
in terra straniera.
(Concas 1998, 43)

In a Foreign Land The kangaroo at the end of the day closes its arms in the shape of a cross after quick jumps in a circle open to the sun. I too find myself naked in the evening, among the shadows, clinging to a rock and my prayer and my cry rise like a flight of wings lost among paths in a foreign land.

Australia, while still a foreign land, is seen as slightly less alienating since it has begun to accept some aspects of the Italian migrant presence.

These four volumes, reprinted in the first volume of his opera omnia, Poesie Volume 1 (Concas 1998a), constitute the first phase of Concas’s poetic journey, while his subsequent poetry, published in Poesie Volume 2 (Concas 1998b), is a metaphysical investigation that explores possible points of equilibrium between Australia and his native Sardinia.

Malee, an Aboriginal word for the scrub that periodically explodes in the flames of a bushfire, is also ‘the expression of feelings … of something that burns inside [me]’ (Concas 1998b, 2]. This collection juxtaposes the contrasting realities of Sardinians and Aborigines, groups that live ‘on the fringes of the modern world’ (Concas 1998b, 2), both having been subject to invasion, dispossession, exploitation, and then forgotten. In its search for connections between places and times that appear so very different, but that can contain significant common meanings, Muggil explores the links between the ‘primitiveness’ of the Australian Aboriginal and the Sardinian shepherd whose traditions have been obliterated by modern society.

Il mio fratello aborigino

Io come te, fratello,
invoco il sole e la pioggia,
come te attingo in caverne
il mio sangue per vivere [ … ]
E come te attendo
il riapparire della notte
che mi ha generato 
col sacro fuoco
dai confini remoti,
memorie lontane del mio io
disciolto in sabbia e pietre.
(Concas 1998b, 153)

My Aboriginal Brother I, like you, my brother, invoke the sun and the rain, like you I obtain in caves my blood in order to live [ … ] And like you I await the return of the night that has generated me with sacred fire on long distant shores, distant memories of my being dissolved in sand and stone.

The comparison between Australia, which has now become the poet’s land too, and his place of origin is the macro-theme of L’Uomo del silenzio [The Man of Silence]. This collection explores the possibility of conciliation between the two worlds by juxtaposing an Australian present with a Sardinian past that is still very much alive both in memory and in the contemplation of a possible return. L’Uomo del silenzio also reappraises the physical and metaphysical rites of passage from the old land to the new; Australia’s history, society and urban landscape; and the meaning of the world of the Aboriginal cultures – which has almost disappeared, but which has left significant traces for those who desire to seek them. The merging of Australia and Sardinia is continued in the final section of the volume Cobar, an Aboriginal word meaning ‘red earth,’ which is also the name of an opal-mining settlement in the Australian outback. Christmas in Australia has now become ‘felice senza neve’ [happy without snow] (Concas 1998b, 225) because of the blending of both ‘ethnic’ and Anglo-Celtic traditions, while the landscapes of Sardinia and Australia merge in an ideal unity, a merging that is also seen to occur in some aspects of the two cultural traditions.


Privilegi i canti d’Europa
come torma
di fatiche e di speranza
e la musica di
un ballo gitano come armonia
delle tue native foreste.
Tu che nascondi
i miei crepuscoli ai sogni
e mi dai le voci
pulsanti di passione
accogli questa volontà
acerba di amare
come profetica certezza [ … ]
dove fiorisce il sangue
della mia vecchia terra.
(Concas 1998b, 150)

Melbourne You favour the songs of Europe like a multitude of hard work and hope and the music of a gypsy dance like the harmony of your native forests. You that hide my twilights in dreams and give me voices pulsating with passion welcome this willingness unripe from loving as prophetic certainty [ … ] where the blood of my old country flourishes.

Lino Concas’s poetry is the expression of an intensely lived internal life in which engagement with personal diasporic liminal space and time is an important overriding element, where the discovery of hope and love in the adopted land alleviates existential anguish, and where the Sardinian shepherd and the Australian Aboriginal meet and recognise each other in a universal bond of suffering and redemption. As Luigi Strano does for Calabria and the Australian bush, Concas has created a link between the desolate mountains of his native Sardinia and the red deserts of Australia, reaching an ideal though not uncritical fusion between the two worlds.

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