Lago d’Orta is one of the smaller of the Italian lakes, scooped out by a retreating glacier beside the better known Lago Maggiore. The town of Orta San Giulio, perched at the end of its peninsula on the eastern shore, faces a tiny picturesque island. For the eleventh year, lake, town and island have hosted a festival of English poetry. The patron is the current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, Poetessa della Corte Inglese, as the programme rather grandly puts it. Present too is Gillian Clarke, Poeta Nazionale Gallese – national poet of Wales. The organiser is Gabriel Griffin, who resides on the island, and who has assembled a motor-launch full of poets from all corners of the world. There ought to be a collective noun for poets: a posse, a pod, a pride of poets? The weekend includes readings, an impromptu jaunt around the Sacro Monte, a Franciscan complex of chapels overlooking the town, and the kind of elevated feasting that occurs whenever hungry poets get together. There could not be a more beautiful place in which to to assemble the muses.
On opening night, at the excellent Ristorante Imbarcadero, after the raspberry-drenched panna cotta, a notice from the local police catches my eye. It informs us of the slim possibility a satellite fragment might land in il nostro paese. We are advised to stay indoors between 21.25 and 22.03 and not to approach any strange flying objects – di non raccogogliere o manipolare eventuali frammenti rinvenuti… But the stars are out, the low-slung motorboats make their way to the island, and nothing falls from the heavens except the poetry of the occasion.