from Snowline

Donato Mancini

copyright ©2017 by Donato Mancini

“Forty days of snow are registered in the Paris archives of 1435, the trees died and the birds …

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan? (1461 François Villon)




But where is the last yeares snow? (1653)




Tell me, if ye know; What is come of last year’s snow? (1835)




Where is fled the south wind’s snow? (1835)




But where are the snows of yester-year? (1869)




But where is the last year’s snow? (1877)




But what is become of last year’s snow? (1899)




But – where are the last year’s snows? (1900)




But where indeed is last year’s snow? (1900)




Where are the snows of yesteryear? (1900)

Notes on the Poem

Let's marvel at another example of how Donato Mancini creates simple but striking assemblages of words on the page. This excerpt from the poem "Snowline" is from Mancini's 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Same Diff. A previous rendition of the poem stood alone in its own chapbook published in 2015. In a previous Poem of the Week by Mancini - an excerpt from "Where do you feel?" - we noted the generous line spacing that is perhaps one of his signature modes of presentation, which gives a poem's lines surprising heft, weight and impact. In the notes for that poem excerpt, we commented on how the words are arranged and cascade down the page. As the effect is deployed in "Snowline", the Griffin Poetry Prize judges remarked on how Mancini's "strong design impulse" causes the words to "snow down the pages". How particularly perfect as the poem turns over and over and over again variations on the line “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” from "Ballade des dames du temps jadis" ("Ballade of Ladies of Time Gone By") is a poem by François Villon published in the late 1400s. To achieve his almost mantra-like contemplation of evolution and change over time, Mancini collected numerous translations of Villon’s line, from 1653 to 2014, and then whittled down that collection to forty. The number in the final poem echoes the "Forty days of snow" in the poem's epigraph, but could also be referencing the magical and significant number associated with legends such as the forty thieves, or with the many biblical references to "forty days and forty nights". The description of the chapbook version of "Snowline" offers more ideas about the inspiration sparking Mancini's fascinating exercise in subtle repetition and variation. We've added an updated link to these insights:
Taking a cue from Caroline Bergvall’s “Via,” but deviating from it in significant ways, snowline traces how Villon’s line has changed and yet stubbornly stayed the same over six hundred years. It is a meditative and pointedly nostalgiac book: You will grow older as you read it, and the world around you will continue to melt into air.

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