John Butcher and Mario Moroni, eds. From Eugenio Montale to Amelia Rosselli: Italian Poetry in the Sixties and Seventies.
First of all, it must be said that what this book does not do (and does not want to do) is present a unified overview of Italian poetry during the two decades specified in its title. Made up, rather, of papers originally delivered at a conference held at the Institute of Romance Studies in London in 2001, this is a collection of studies on aspects of the poetry and poets of the period. Their authors are from Britain and North America, Italy and Switzerland, and include both well-known scholars and others at the beginnings of their careers.
The twelve critical essays in the volume (many of which are quite short, running only ten pages or so in the printed version) are grouped in two major sections. The first section treats themes and approaches common to much of the poetry of the period in general, while the essays in the second consider individual poets in a more monographic fashion. The volume begins very effectively with Niva Lorenzini's "Corporalita e crudelta nella poesia degli anni sessanta." In it this well-known critic considers the experimental poetry of the period--especially that of Antonio Porta, but with mention as well of Alfredo Giuliani, Edoardo Sanguineti, and Amelia Rosselli--in relation to the thought of the French theorists Antonin Artaud and Georges Bataille. In the poetic texts she examines, Lorenzini sees a calculated and disturbing disorder whose poetic project is to bring something new and unfamiliar into view. This goal is achieved, she says, through texts that function "attraverso parole-oggetto che si illuminano istantaneamente, al baglior di un flash, e restano subito dopo immobili, frammenti discontinui che non entrano in un montaggio consequenziale" (7). For her, the poems create a strobe light effect meant to illuminate the unknown.
Lorenzini's article is followed by Laura McLoughlin's "La citta come dinamismo nella poesia sperimentale italiana." After considering the modern city as a locus and subject for poetry, this scholar analyzes at some length a poem from Nanni Balestrini's Ma noi facciamone un'altra and some lines as well from Elio Pagliarini's "La ragazza Carla." For McLoughlin, these texts are examples of a textual disorder that reflects a human and topographic confusion intrinsic to modern urban experience. The city has become the site of both work and amusement, industry and culture, loneliness and a mandatory and sometimes terrifying encounter with both too many others and the other. Given its overdetermined nature, the metropolis can even--the case for Balestrini and Pagliarini--serve as "il luogo di una contestazione probabilmente senza fine che coinvolge la fisionomia della vita umana ed il suo rapporto con il cosmo" (13). For the poets McLoughlin examines, there is also a relationship between the physical nature of the city and certain formal aspects of their poetry. "Il dinamismo della citta," she believes, "trova corrispondenza in un uguale dinamismo del verso e la topografia di strade cittadine che si intersecano si riflette in poesie fatte di versi intrecciati, spesso di difficile interpretazione" (13). While this conclusion may seem somewhat schematic, the entire article puts forward a persuasive case for readings of the experimental poetry of the period, especially that with urban settings.
Florian Mussgnug is less interested in the interplay of themes and form than are the authors of the two previous essays. His "Between Novissimi and Nuovo Romanzo: Literary Genre Categories in the Works of the Gruppo 63" focuses instead on the impact of the experimental verse and theoretical writings of the period not only on received notions of genre but also on the "linguistic and conceptual structuring devices underlying processes of perception and communication" (28). In his philosophically oriented essay, Mussgnug also warns about the too easy embrace of purportedly revolutionary "distortions of existent forms of discourse [that] do not challenge wider social contexts and underlying power relations" but instead "leave everything as it is" (36) in the social sphere, a charge that has frequently been leveled against the experimentalists.
Mario Moroni's "Italian Poetry in the 1970s: An Overview," written by one of the two editors of the volume, is an excellent general introduction to the poetry of this decade. In his review of the literary production of the time, Moroni identifies a new antagonism both to existing language conventions and to social practices in such areas as politics and sexuality. The "estranged witnesses" writing during these difficult years, he points out, were not only testifying to the nature of the political and social turmoil in which they were immersed, they were also struggling to liberate a new vision of both reality and the poetic self.
The fifth and last essay in this group, John P. Welle's "The Cinema of History: Film in Italian Poetry of the 1960s and 1970s," is carefully anchored in history, in this case the history of both the cinema and poetry. In his clearly written and solidly researched account, Welle documents the presence and importance of cinematic imagery for the poetic imagination of the twenty-year period. In his review of film images that have been taken up into the poetry written in the 1960s and 1970s, he mentions such writers as Franco Fortini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Edoardo Sanguineti, and Andrea Zanzotto, with notes as well to Antonio Porta, Nelo Risi, Giovanni Giudici, and Amelia Rosselli. Welle's essay reminds us that the years just preceding the decades treated in this volume were in many ways the golden age of Italian and European cinema. His essay makes clear how pervasive the cinematic images of such directors as, for example, Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, and Jean-Luc Godard were for those writing poetry during the time and how ingrained these images have become in the Italian and European imagination.
The second section of the book begins with two essays, those by John Butcher and Stefano Giovannuzzi, devoted to the poetry of Vittorio Sereni. In "Eugenio Montale and Vittorio Sereni: From Gli strumenti umani to Satura," Butcher identifies an intertextual flux that moves first from Montale to Sereni and then in the reverse direction--a clear indication of how many of the preoccupations of the era were shared by these two otherwise in many ways very different poets. In "La condizione postuma della poesia: Sereni fra Gli strumenti umani e Stella variabile," Giovannuzzi finds echoes of the work of both Montale and Attilio Bertolucci in Sereni's poetry. In his meaty and well-informed essay, this critic goes on to spotlight the existential and poetic dilemmas that lie at the tormented heart of Sereni's anything but intellectually serene experience and writing.
The three essays that follow treat the poetry of Giorgio Caproni, Franco Fortini, and Giorgio Orelli. In them Alessandro Montani, Erminia Passannanti, and Pietro De Marchi consider poetry that is less experimental and thus more immediately accessible than that so far examined. The writing of these three more readerly authors is analyzed in essays that identify some of these poets' abiding obsessions. In "Storia ed eternita: Il muro della terra di Giorgio Caproni," Montani examines the idea of the wall as a psychic as well as physical obstruction in this 1975 volume by the Ligurian writer. In her "Franco Fortini traduttore di Bertold Brecht," Passannanti presents a close reading of this poet's "Traducendo Brecht" which is concerned with moral as well as poetic issues. In the course of her thorough and intelligent analysis of this well-known poem, she provides her reader with valuable comments on the ethical as well as the linguistic and cultural implications not just of Fortini's translation of his German counterpart but of translation in general. De Marchi, for his part, in his study of intertextual elements in Giorgio Orelli's L'ora del tempo and Sinopie also provides a close reading of texts by this Ticinese poet. That with these verses we have abandoned the city as described by McLoughlin for the less intimidating and fresher air of the Alps is a reminder that during the period from 1968 until the end of the years of lead the experimentalists were only some of the voices--certainly the noisiest and most innovative but not necessarily the most enduring ones--that were being raised in Italian poetry. De Marchi has published extensively on Orelli, and his authoritative consideration of intertextual elements in his writing provides valuable insights into the Swiss writer's poetic workshop.
The two essays on Zanzotto that follow adopt two different critical strategies in approaching this dauntingly difficult but extremely important twentieth-century poet. In his "Le IX Ecloghe di Zanzotto, tra le 'parentesi innumeri' di un'ininterrotta poesia," Francesco Carbognin reproduces in his own critical discourse the richness and complexity of the poetry he is explicating, what he calls "una ricca quanto accidentata vicenda poetica che cresce per concentriche circolarita e improvvisi sprofondamenti, attivata da una dinamica che tende, da questo punto di vista, a escludere qualsiasi superamento dialettico, nel momento in cui ogni nuova opera si pone come precipitato di sperimentate e sedimentate acquisizioni testuali, co-implicandone gli assunti noetici-espressivi e ri-assumendoli in se" (147). Rossana Dedola, by contrast, provides a more simply expressed overview of Zanzotto. In her "L'ardente rumore della Belta di Andrea Zanzotto," she helpfully quotes as much from Zanzotto's prose as she does from his poetry in a lucid exposition of this writer's poetic practice and his preoccupation with a poetic goddess who is not exactly a muse but rather "la dea del sorgere del sole, della luce e del giorno [...] al tempo stesso la dea della notte e della morte" (177). This is, then, a figure of both death and eternal renewal, one central to the imagination of this poet of nature, hyper-nature, and existence in a complex century.
The last two essays of the book deal with two emblematic figures of the turbulent seventies: Pier Paolo Pasolini and Amelia Rosselli, both of whom put their own lives and private suffering on the line and into the lines of the poetry they penned in those years. In "Pier Paolo Pasolini's Last Years," Francesca Cadel defends this very public intellectual from the charges of political nostalgia and conservatism that were leveled at him toward the end of his life. Reading his pronouncements just before 1975 more against the grain than has always been the case, she demonstrates that Pasolini's revolutionary flame continued to shine brightly up until the moment when it was brutally snuffed along with his life. In Daniela La Penna's "L'autocitazione nell'opera di Amelia Rosselli. Il caso di Serie ospedaliera" critical emphasis falls once again on intertextual issues, this time in a single poet's oeuvre. Through her consideration of the terms and phrases that recur throughout this poet's work, La Penna is able to provide valuable documentation of some of this writer's more worrisome obsessions.
The volume concludes with two deft and valuable interviews that John Butcher conducted with the poets Giovanni Giudici and Edoardo Sanguineti.
As these perforce reductive comments about its content indicate, Butcher and Moroni's collection contains analyses of work not only by the experimental writers who have tended to define the poetic practices of the 60's and 70's in most histories of literature, but also by such more traditional poets as Caproni, Fortini, and Orelli, and the fierce individualists Pasolini and Rosselli, neither of whom fit very comfortably into anyone else's agendas. In the volume there is a great deal of attention paid to issues of intertextuality--to Montale in Sereni and Sereni in Montale, Brecht in Fortini, Baudelaire in Caproni, film in the poetry of just about everyone, Rosselli somewhat solipsistically in her own work. These are all indications, perhaps, that poetic language is always a collective creation, no matter how quirky and iconoclastic those writing it in a particular period may be.
The Ohio State University
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2007|
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