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Verso le sorgenti del Cinghio.

In a leave-taking by the poet himself, Attilio Bertolucci explains the makeup of his most recent poetry collection, Verso le sorgenti del Cinghio, which takes its title from the beloved river in his native region of Emilia. Using a metaphor from art--which comes natural to someone who for years taught art history and who had been a student of the famous art critic Roberto Longhi during his younger years at the University of Bologna--Bertolucci calls the book a triptych. Its first two sections contain poems written since 1971, whereas the third is made up of verses rediscovered and aptly called "Teneri rifiuti" (Tender Leftovers). These, the poet tells us, were found in a dusty shoe box by a worker for the Parma State Archives while rummaging in the storage room of Bertolucci's house in Rome during the 1991 Christmas holidays. The box contained poems which the poet himself had forgotten, and which he had apparently written between 1935 and 1940, a period that critics usually register as inactive, since the poet did not publish anything between 1934 and 1951.

In reading these newfound poems, what surprises one is not the difference that might be expected by verses that arch over such a long gap of time, but the very absence of such difference. It is precisely the intimate, modest, self-effacing tone of the poet's voice, pure and crystalline in its classic Virgilian candor, that emerges throughout the collection, the same tone that has become recognizable whether Bertolucci writes an impressionistic, fragmentary poem or a long narrative one.

Bertolucci began to publish his poetry in the midst of the hermetic movement, but he rejected from the outset the privilege of distance, the elitism, the mysticism of the word that the hermetic poets had claimed for themselves, opting instead for an open and overtly autobiographical stance, which is characteristic of Bertolucci in portraying his personal experience, especially that of his family life in its daily, most ordinary dimension. This retreat into the circumscribed space of his family and of his city of Parma and its surrounding countryside might appear paradoxical in a man who has also been such a strong presence in the cultural and literary life of postwar Italy. Since his move to Rome in 1951 he has been involved with radio, television, and film. This last passion of his, which goes back to his high-school years when he had Cesare Zavattini as an instructor, must have been inherited by his son, the famous movie director Bernardo Bertolucci. In the literary field also it was Attilio Bertolucci who founded the series "La Fenice" for the Guanda publishing house. He has been an editorial adviser for Garzanti and has edited both Paragone and Nuovi Argomenti.

The paradox is only a superficial one, however, for Bertolucci's real obsession is his need to preserve his private, idyllic world he feels has been shielded by fate from the ravages of time. He returns again and again to the same setting, on which he tries to instill a sense of calm, of serenity, of sweetness, through an imagery that does not altogether succeed in quieting the thin strand of anxiety that runs through it. His feeling of resignation is as strong as that of panic, as the following lines (in my own translation) from the first part of the volume indicate: "Mio cuore batti all'unisono con il tempo // che avanza verso l'inverno / non chiedere indugi // accetta il giro delle stagioni / saziati di presente" (Heart of mine that beats with time // that goes toward winter / don't ask for delays // accept the turning of seasons / feast on the present).

Rosetta Di Pace-Jordan University of Oklahoma
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Author:Pace-Jordan, Rosetta di
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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