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Immagini del Salento


Immagini del Salento', photographs by Mary Coppola, poems by Ferdinando E. Coppola, English translations by Hilda Caffery, 2017, Lecce, Edizioni Grifo, ISBN 9788869941030, 62 pages


When you sit as still as one of Mary Coppola’s lizards and stare a bejeweled green creature in the eye— always a supremely intelligent eye—you understand the family nature of this beautifully produced book. It’s not simply that a father writes poetry, a mother translates it and a daughter embellishes it. This is an extended family. It includes bumblebees and robins, a basking snail, working spiders. No living thing is left out. Even the cruising clouds seem to be striving for birth.


Other beach-bordered regions have Miss This-or-That, what used to be called ‘bathing beauties’, now somewhat ho-hum in their—another verbal old-timer—‘pulchritude’.  Salento boasts a more startling and intricate line of Bellezza. It could have been the work of singleminded oriental craftsmen in some faraway yesterday. The very modulation of the colours stuns us now, the infinite variety of surface texture, the stances of a grace overlooked in our bland selfie-summers. Nando Coppola notes how the landscape is “refreshed” by these “darting lizards/ peeping out from the walls”. (“guizzanti lucertole occhieggianti nei muri dalle candide pietre”. p.24)) Mary Coppola does more than peep back. She joins the creatures in a trance of mutual understanding. Here magic enters. Try as you may, you can not fault her reproduction of all the details of nature. Yet these reptile marvels of a prodigious creation have, like every creature she pictures, a distinct resemblance. They are part of that extended family. You recognise in each one something that makes them part of the clan.


Perhaps only art can explain art and its mysteries. The Victorian painter, traveler and nonsense poet, Edward Lear, had a glorious period of painting exotic birds. Like Mary Coppola’s camera, his brush was faithful in every stroke. Ornithologists could not fault him. Nevertheless, his parrots and macaws, cockatoos and kingfishers were all very much his own. They were unmistakably Lear kindred. Empathy, respect and admiration made them so. Mary Coppola, for our delight, has presented us with the larger family we are all part of.

Peter Byrne


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