When poetry and prose work together

I’ve used places I love as settings in my two previous novels, and The Broken Road is no exception. So, Venice has to be in my new novel!

Two of the characters go on an extended visit, which is cut short abruptly when tragedy threatens to intervene. One of the characters writes poetry, and I wanted some real poems – that is not ones I’d cobbled together! – to be in the novel. I asked poet, Sarah James, if she would consider writing some and was delighted when she agreed.

I knew immediately that I wanted one of the poems to be about La Donna Partigiana, a sculpture by Augustus Murer commemorating the women who contributed to the fall of Nazism in Italy.

The sculpture lies in the water just past the Giardini vaporetto stop. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was originally designed to be on a floating platform, best viewed from close up, by Venetian architect, Carlo Scarpa, But for various reasons, steel barriers have been erected round it, which for me increases its poignancy. It is seen best at low tide, sometimes becoming invisible when the water is high.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can’t see the sculpture without wanting to cry.

I told Sarah how I felt about it, and I love what she’s come up with:

La Resistenza
the sculpture for Venezia alla partigiana

No mermaid; her legs locked heavy
and useless behind her, cast
to lie alone by the Giardini.

Muscles bound in bronze, dressed
in seaweed rags. The bare soles of broad feet
made for standing steady.

Tides shiver across her green skin,
wash away the sunlight
before her flesh has time to warm.

Yet, strength shines from her lone stance,
the sculpted poise and grace
with which she holds her weight

against incessant water and skies.
There is song still in her lungs
for those with the will to hear it.

Sarah’s poem brings tears to my eyes in the same way that the sculpture does. I often think it’s inappropriate for women who fought in the resistance to be commemorated by a vulnerable figure lying at the water’s edge, overcome by tides at regular intervals. But the key to its power for me lies in Sarah’s last two lines:

There is song still in her lungs
for those with the will to hear it.


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  1. Polly says:

    Wonderful 🙂

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