Negotiating the Liminal Divide: Some Italian-Australian Diasporic Poets

By | 1 September 2013

Born in Coreno Ausonio in 1939, Mariano Coreno migrated to Melbourne in 1956. He has since engaged in various occupations, never losing sight of his activities as a writer and his deep commitment to social issues. In the fifty years that he has been writing poetry, he has published eight volumes, while his work has also appeared widely in newspapers, journals and anthologies in both Australia and Italy. Coreno’s first four volumes of poetry, Gioia straziata [Anguished Joy] (Coreno 1962), Pianto d’amore [Tears of Love] (Coreno 1963), Ricordanze [Memories] (Coreno 1964), and Sotto la luna [Under the Moon] (Coreno 1965), are characterised by a Leopardian sentimental pessimism and present reflections on love, death, the meaning of life, anguish and the passing of time. These early volumes are dominated by a search for an unfindable equilibrium, a vain attempt to secure answers to the enigmas posed by life and to resolve its uncertainties.


L’alba fiorisce nella notte
svegliando i monti
svettanti nel cielo [ … ]
All’alba tutti i sogni
volano nella fantasia.
Ricomincia il fervore 
della vita,
l’assedio del dolore [ … ]
e il tempo continua
la sua strada indifferente
alla voce di chi lo prega
di fermarsi almeno
un poco, di riposare.
(Coreno 1965, 8)

Dreams Dawn flowers in the night awakening the mountains reaching up to the sky [ … ] At dawn all dreams fly into fantasy. The frenzy of life begins again, the onslaught of grief [ … ] and time continues on its way indifferent to those who plead with it to stop at least for a little while, to rest.

This sense of uncertainty is emphasised in the collection Pianto d’amore, which focuses on the concept of love, symbolised through the figure of Silvia as either a lost love or one for whom the poet is searching – who, if found, could present a possible solution to the enigmas of life. Everything in life ‘E’ tutto amaro / come voci di aborigeni / persi nel tempo’ (Is all bitter / like the voices of Aboriginals / lost in time) (Coreno 1963, 15). Yet the ever-evasive figure of Silvia represents potential hope and resolution: ‘Ascolta. Senza di te / la sera finisce qui. / Ascolta, Silvia bella …’ (Listen. Without you / the evening ends here. / Listen, beautiful Silvia …) (Coreno 1963, 24).

Pianto d’amore also marks the introduction of images with Australian referents, but it is not until Vento al Sole [Wind in the Sun] (Coreno 1968) that Australian themes and a discourse on the existential condition of the migrant become predominant. Yellow Sun (Coreno 1980) is a collection of Coreno’s English poetry (including some poems from the preceding Italian volumes rewritten in English) and is the result of the substantial encouragement given to Coreno by Judith Wright.

In his early poetry, Coreno depicted Australia as a place without illusions, since it represents spiritual marginalisation, isolation, and a life experience that is melancholic, destructive and fatal. This theme begins to take shape in ‘Emigrato’ [‘Migrant’] (Coreno 1964, 21) and is then developed in ‘Australia’ (Coreno 1968, 11), where there is some hint of the possibility of acceptance even though, in the final analysis, the diasporic condition is found to be no less anguishing than the experience of love.


giovane terra sorridente
dalle acque circondata;
mi ascolti?
Ho spezzato il mio cuore
per saperti, per conoscere
il sangue delle tue vene,
per attingere nuove rose
dai giardini della tua poesia.
Sai, questo esilio volontario
adesso è cara fusione
tra passato e presente,
tra realtà e sogno,
tra erba e polvere.
Con l’andare del tempo
qualcosa in me s’è spento
e poi è risorto a farmi luce
nel crepuscolo della sera.
si scopre a poco a poco
come le parole
di un grande amore,
Australia del mio cuore.
(Coreno 1968, 11)

Australia Australia, smiling young country surrounded by water; are you listening to me? I’ve broken my heart To know you, to know the blood in your veins, to discover new roses in the gardens of your poetry. You know, this voluntary exile of mine is now a dear blending of past and present, of reality and dream, of grass and dust. As time went on something in me went out but then re-awakened to give me light in the twilight of evening. Integration discloses a little at a time like the words of a great love, Australia of my heart.

For Coreno, forced to live far from his native land, migration represents exile. It is only in the idealised memory of a pre-emigration past that it is possible for him to find some inkling of happiness, of ‘lacrime di ricordi, / di gioia smarrita’ (the tears of memory / of lost joy) (‘Trinità dei Monti’ in Genovesi 1991, 153), even though the reality of life in the native land was one of endless suffering. The humble migrant who exchanges his ‘sudore / nella pazienza del giorno / per un futuro sicuro / … nella soggezione delle strade straniere’ (sweat / in the patience of the day / for a secure future / … among the uneasiness of foreign roads) (Coreno 1968, 16) must confront a land that cannot offer a sense of belonging or of spiritual satisfaction:

Al ritorno di scuola

Lavoro tante ore al giorno
che quando sono libero
mi sento smarrito,
incapace di muovere un dito.
mi chiamano, quasi con disprezzo,
‘nuovo australiano’
(Genovesi 1991, 145)

Returning from School I work so many hours a day that when I am free I feel lost, unable to move a finger. Yet, they call me, almost despisingly, ‘new Australian’

In contrast to the concepts expressed in Luigi Strano’s poetry, even the attempt to seek a reconciliation with the new land and its society remains unrequited. Mariano Coreno’s poetry is thus marked by an existentialist experience; there is an anguish caused by the realisation that migration has brought neither fortune nor happiness but ‘la stessa luna / e la stessa disperazione’ (the same moon / and the same desperation) (‘Sono andato All’Estero’ [‘I Went Abroad’] in Genovesi 1991, 143).

In his latest poetry, however, social issues are highlighted and elements of optimism are gradually introduced:

passano sulla loro strada
bellissime ragazze:
impossibili da afferrare
come sulle foglie
il sole che tramonta
(Coreno 2001, 14).

they go on their way these beautiful girls impossible to catch like the setting sun on the leaves as dusk advances

Although characterised by a diaspora-centered discourse, the texts produced by these first-generation Italian-Australian poets – Luigi Strano, Enoe Di Stefano, Lino Concas, Paolo Totaro, Mariano Coreno – contain a variety of themes and concepts that present an often complex mix of gravitas, poignancy, irony and humour. Migration and more general life experiences are, in many ways, seen as two interrelated aspects of the individuals’ search for the meaning of life.

For these and many other writers, the crossing to a new world and a new life was seen as an acceptable realisation of a richer and fuller life. For others, however, the long journey has not lived up to its promise – dreams did not become reality and nostalgia triggers a sense of not belonging to either the past or the present, a metaphysical wandering that cannot be fully resolved. In all cases, engagement with the liminal divide that encompasses the social realities of the diaspora offers insights into the thoughts and feelings that constitute the inner life of the migrant, the constant and ever-shifting appraisal of two different cultures in an attempt to de-mythologise and re-mythologise past and present in light of new experience.

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