Marco Simonelli Will: 24 Sonnets
Translated by Hoyt Rogers

Cover of Mudlark No. 73 (2022)

Cover image by John Balkwill © 2022

Introduction: Marco Simonelli was born in Florence, where he lives to this day; though still in his early forties, he has already published eleven books of verse. His work has figured widely in periodicals, anthologies, and literary festivals; it has been translated into English, French, and German. Some of his titles—Good Manners (2018), Splatter Love Poems (2015), and The Lobster’s Complaint (also 2015)—reveal the mordant wit for which he is known. But this does not preclude a serious vein, poignantly felt in his most recent book, Anxious Litany: a subtle analysis of depression, the work draws on such classic authors as Tasso, Leopardi, and Pascoli.
     Far more light-heartedly, Simonelli’s Will: 24 Sonnets pays homage to Shakespeare’s sonnets, giving them a modern Tuscan twist. As he points out in his brief prologue, the English poet often makes a pun on his own nickname, “Will” (for example, in sonnets 135 and 136). The word implies many meanings, from strong determination to Elizabethan slang for the male organ, and from lustiness in general to a formal legal testament. But Simonelli underlines a connotation that would not immediately occur to an English-speaker: the ubiquitous role of “will” as an auxiliary verb in the future tense—that horizon of uncertainty which leaves us all in a state of flux. In addition to reprising many of Shakespeare’s themes, he also adopts the rhyme-scheme of the English sonnet; the only exceptions are 5 and 24, but even those conclude with the hallmark couplet. Instead of contorting his lines to the brink of the unreadable, I have rendered them in blank verse. But I should point out that Simonelli’s rhymes are ingenious, and that he employs them brilliantly in several of his other books. In transposing his sonnets, I came across only one semantic anomaly. In sonnet 16, he combines the word for “pencil” with a phrase about flowing ink. He tells me that this must be an instinctive memory of his first attempts at poetry, when as a child he wrote everything with a pencil. But he agreed that given the context, I should translate the term as “pen” for clarity’s sake.
     Like Shakespeare’s sonnets, those of Simonelli are devoted to two distinct lovers; both are male, whereas Shakespeare’s are traditionally known as the “fair youth” and the “dark lady.” The English sonneteer depicts himself as an older man, which adds the pathos of passing time to some of his most moving poems, such as 71, 72, and 73. Simonelli presents us with lovers who seem to belong to his own age-group. While the young man occupies the lion’s share of the English sequence, the Italian sonnets are split more evenly between the “somber” and “sunny” paramours. The “dark lady” only comes to the fore in the latter part of Shakespeare’s cycle, whereas the tenebrous lover occupies the first half of Simonelli’s sonnets. Number 13 serves as the “envoy” or farewell, much like Shakespeare’s dismissal of the “lovely boy” in his lopped-off sonnet 126. Both the youth and the lady bear the brunt of the anti-Petrarchist motifs current in Shakespeare’s time—a natural reaction to two and a half centuries of etherealizing the beloved, from Petrarch’s Laura to Du Bellay’s Olive to Sidney’s Stella. He shoots a few arrows at the foolish young man, but he truly empties his quiver on their shared love, the treacherous lady. Here’s another parting of ways: in Shakespeare, the poet’s two lovers become lovers in turn, much to his dismay, while Simonelli keeps his paramours separate. Perhaps because of the much shorter compass of Will—24 sonnets to Shakespeare’s 154—the nebulous “story line” of Shakespeare’s cycle is replaced by a crystal-clear progression in Simonelli’s. If Shakespeare records a slow decline from worship to disappointment, and from fondness to resentment, Simonelli traces an upward arc from frustration to fulfillment, and from discontent to conjugal bliss.
     Will opens with four sonnets that outline the poet’s routine before meeting up with his two successive boyfriends. He pursues an endless round of men, whom he imagines as reflections of himself; the sex is casual, ardent, and short-lived. Over time, his promiscuity seems to offer him little satisfaction, and he complains of sleeplessness, desperation, and a contact list of “useless names.” In sonnet 5 he admires a beautiful go-go dancer at a nightclub. Incongruously, the two become an item, and the poet feels flattered to gad about with such a handsome piece of “arm-candy.” But in the end, he dismisses the dancer as trivial and insipid: despite his good looks, there’s no depth behind his beady black eyes. Already in sonnets 12 and 13, he consigns him to the past. In the following poem, he undergoes a sudden epiphany at the supermarket, where he discovers his new idol in the delicatessen section. He observes his graceful gestures as he plies his trade, and lists all the foods he buys from him. As the clerk hands the poet his purchases in a sack, it is the poet he has “bagged.” From now on, the irresistible grocer is the poet’s passion, and his eventual partner in life.
     Now the menu is set for a smorgasbord of food metaphors, which richly garnish the remaining sonnets. Shakespeare’s plays often allude to popular dishes in Elizabethan England; yet his poems contain nothing similar, probably because sonnets were still considered a “noble” verse-form. Sonnet 75 comes closest, but it is generic “love-food” for which the poet longs. For his part, Simonelli multiplies the culinary motifs with a profusion and relish that will strike many readers as quintessentially Italian. From the beginning, the “good lover” is associated with mortadella, chicken in aspic, pancetta, cheese, and salami. Returning the favor, in sonnet 15 the lover dreams of the poet as a meal being broiled by the sun, a breaded turkey breast with potato croquettes. Should they make love on the fantasy beach, or in the actual kitchen? In 16, the lover whets his tooth on the poet’s neck while he simmers in the shower. The poet consumes the lover as a soft puree in 17, while the lover swallows the ill-tempered poet like a “poison berry.” In 19, he lays his poems like eggs, and in 22 their love-making is depicted as a feast, incessantly renewed by their gluttony. In the final sonnet, they exchange their marital vows over biscotti and tea.
     The go-go dancer’s emblem is a python he keeps in a case; like his pet serpent, the “gloomy hunk” writhes and glitters in his disco cage. But his outward beauty is only a vacuous husk, a strobe-light mirage. The fact that the grocer’s physical features are never described suggests that his inner qualities—affection, patience, and fidelity—take precedence over his appearance. The poet’s union with him is a marriage made in heaven, as the final verses of Will playfully attest. Still, Simonelli never places “spiritual virtues” above the immediacy of erotic pleasure. If anything, the wanton details that abound in the second half of his sonnet cycle are even more explicit than in the first. Like Shakespeare—and unlike their idealizing predecessors in the earlier Petrarchist canon—Simonelli revindicates the sensual verve and downright bawdiness of love.

— Hoyt Rogers

Will, come voglia, desiderio. Come il malizioso nomignolo con cui, nei suoi sonetti, Shakespeare chiamava sé stesso e il suo fair friend. Will, come un verbo al futuro che, in un’epoca in cui anche i rapporti umani sono precari, appare sempre più incerto, oscillante, basculante.

Will, like wish, desire. Like the naughty nickname Shakespeare gave to himself and his fair friend in his sonnets. Will, like a verb in the future tense—which, in an era when human relationships are also precarious, appears more and more uncertain, wobbly, wavering.


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7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24

Hoyt Rogers is a writer, translator, scholar, and internationalist. Born in North America, he has spent most of his life in Latin America and Western Europe. He was educated at Columbia, Harvard, the Sorbonne, and Oxford, where he received his doctoral degree in 1978. He has published many books; he has contributed poetry, fiction, essays, and translations to a wide variety of periodicals. To find out more about the man and his work pay a visit to his website,, and spend time there.

Copyright © Marco Simonelli, Will: 24 Sonnets in his original Italian, 2009;
and Hoyt Rogers, Will: 24 Sonnets in his English translation, 2022.

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