In 1965, when I was twenty, I bought a book of poetry called ‘North from Sicily”:
Poems in Italy (1961-64), by Alan Ross. I was attracted to the book by its rustic- looking cover ; and had never heard of the author before, although I later discovered that he had become the editor of London Magazine in 1961.
In the Acknowledgements page, I saw that some of these poems had appeared in Encounter, The New Statesman, Spectator, Twentieth Century and London Magazine.The poems had a punchy, fresh thoroughly contemporary feel. I had never read anything quite like them before : they felt risky and risque. I was a naive, under-travelled girl – usual for those times – and these poems delivered Mediterranean warmth and sensuality into my life.
The closest I had come to experiencing the flavours, colour and vibrancy of this world before was by reading Elizabeth David’s French Country Cooking from cover to cover!
I’d also spent a week in the Costa del Sol, courtesy of Freddie Laker airlines. But Italy sounded gloriously louche and exotic in these lines from Beach Routines:
‘From rocks they dive like advertisements/ Or gods, and surfacing, shake oiled heads
The colour of olives, and the sea like grapes’.
Now, when I read these poems, from the perspective of having visited and even worked, briefly, in parts of Italy, I understand and savour these poems better. As, in these lines from Symptoms of Withdrawal :
‘Passegiata, and hot Romans hurrying to pasta,/ Piazza di Spagna littered with tourists’.
The mundane mixed in with beauty and romance.