This is Piazzale Loreto…

This is the spot where Mussolini was strung up at the end of the second world war. This is also Piazza Quindici Martiri where the bodies of fifteen ordinary Milanese civilians, killed by the fascists in retaliation for partisan activity, had been put on public display as a warning by Il Duce’s henchmen one year before.

I came here to read a poem (in The Swan bar just across the road). It was always going to be a quiet affair. A far cry from the large and impressive auditorium at MUDEC on Saturday and the historic Teatro Filodrammatici tonight. I had just posted a picture on social media of the bar in Piazzale Loreto when an Italian friend pointed out the significance of the location.

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I had begun to feel a little sorry for myself, sat in an unfriendly bar by what is now a huge traffic roundabout. I had begun to think that no one really understood what I did, that no one really cared whether I did it or not before my friend explained the story of the Martyrs of Piazzale Loreto.

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It may be glib to say that reading or writing poetry is an action against fascism (it depends of course on what kind of poetry you happen to be reading or writing). It may also be simplistic to suggest that if poetry’s purpose is to make you think a little differently, then a poem can be a weapon against tyranny.

The cars honked and horned around Piazzale Loreto and the locals took aperitivo in the Swan bar on Piazza Quindici Martiri. This was freedom. And I came here to read a poem.

Festival Internazionale di Poesia di Milano

We performed ‘My Name Is Swan’ with a live slideshow compiled by filmmaker Adam Carr as part of Festival Internazionale di Poesia di Milano at MUDEC. We’ll be taking this event on tour after the film premiere at the East End Film Festival on 25th June.

We’re doing a reading and Q&A at Teatro Filodrammatici tomorrow night, Tues 16 May at 7:15 pm. Details here…

The Importance of Being Elsewhere

The first time Chelsea won the league I wasn’t there. I really wasn’t there, most of us weren’t. The second time (within living memory) I wasn’t there either. I was on stage at a festival in Italy. After the show, I went backstage and found that someone had nicked my Chelsea towel from the dressing room. Yer, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I had a dressing room.

The last time we won it I was on an artists’ residency in France writing a screenplay. While Chelsea achieved yet another success I was off, scratching away, twisting in the wind, missing out on another had-to-be-there moment. But absence is the essence of poetry, loss and not belonging where it finds itself, elsewhere its station and its standing.

Poetry is the art form that isn’t there. It lacks the universality of music, the physicality of image making. If it points at anything it is beyond, away, not here. So as Chelsea fans fought in the stands when their team won the league again last night, where was I? Well, you never saw me. I wasn’t there, right?

[Jan Noble will be performing tonight at Festival Internazionale di Poesia di Milano, MUDEC, Via Tortona, 56, 20144 Milano, 13 maggio, 19:20 h]

Some Italian facts about swans…

  • The last known ‘breeding pair’ of Italian swans were spotted on Lake Como in 1974. Their union had been blessed by the church in 1969. It was later discovered that both swans were in fact male. The church declined to comment.
  • It is believed the poet Dante once fell in love and proposed to a swan. Swans feature in much of his poetry: “When at last the swan returns to Italy / so shall be the soul of Lombardy restored.”
  • Mussolini is said to have ruptured a testicle after being attacked by a swan on the banks of the Po. Alpine partisans in WWII carried the insignia of the swan and two orbs on their berets.
  • A violent faction of the Juventus Ultras known as ‘Brigata del Cigno’ or ‘The Swan Brigade’ attend matches dressed in black and white swan feather costumes. They intimidate rival supporters by waving their arms about a lot and hissing.
  • Jan Noble will be performing his poetic monologue “My Name Is Swan” at three venues in Milan. Saturday, 13 May at 19:20h at the Festival Internazionale di Poesia di Milano, MUDEC, Via Tortona, 56, 20144 Milano. On Monday 15th May at 19:30h he will give a private reading at The Swan, Piazzale Loreto, 9, 20100 Milano. On Tuesday night, 16 May at 19:15h he will perform at the spectacular Teatro Filodrammatici , Via Filodrammatici, 1, 20121 Milano.