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Welcome to Italy.

Ever since they led the Western world out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance, Italy's writers and thinkers have played a leading role in world literature. Without Dante and Petrarch as models of clarity and grace, Elizabethan England might never have found its voice, nor Shakespeare been inspired to write his sonnets. The constant stream of Italian genius has continued through Tasso, Ariosto and Leopardi right up to Nobel Prize-winning poets Salvatore Quasimodo and Eugenio Montale, who graces the opening of this selection.

Yet in America the inspirational voice of Italy is too seldom heard. We're hoping to change that with this issue, edited by poet, translator and media artist Francesco Levato, one of the most dynamic and versatile Renaissance men on the literary scene today. Director of the Chicago Poetry Center, translator of leading Italian poets, in demand worldwide for his brilliant fusions of poetry, media and music, Francesco is uniquely qualified to take us into the heart of what's happening in Italian poetry today.

Although the focus of this issue is on contemporary Italian poets, we also tip our hats to Guido Cavalcanti, considered the first major poet in Italian, who was a mentor and friend to Dante. These two Florentine friends were among the founders of the revolutionary <i>dolce stil nuovo</i>, the "sweet new style" that made Italian, ever after, the preeminent language of love.

Literary Italian was well established during the Renaissance, but the land itself continued to be divided into city-states and small principalities, each with its own language or dialect. Not until the nineteeth century would the nation finally be united. One of the surprises here, as in our <i>Spain</i> issue, is the presence of many poets who still write in a local language or dialect: Anedda in Sardinian, Pasolini in Friulian, Roberti in Romanesco, Cecchinel in Venetian.

We pick up the thread of Italian literary history with Guido Gozzano, an early twentieth centuy poet who also drew inspiration from Dante and Petrarch to craft a more direct, plainspoken manner that would herald the modern <i>stil nuovo</i>.

Gozzano was reacting against the "decadent" style of Gabrielle D'Annunzio, a self-proclaimed Nietzschean Superman whose incredible career included seizing the city of Fiumara and setting up a state that would become, ironically, the model for Mussolini's Fascism. Unfortunately, Mussolini's corporate state neglected to include D'Annunzio's "tenth corporation," which consisted of poets, prophets, and Supermen.

Gozzano, rejecting Superman's posturing, chooses instead to be "the good guy Nietzsche laughed at." Also rejecting bombast for a quieter, more meditative tone was Eugenio Montale, who would live through two world wars and the transition from Fascism to democracy to become the most admired Italian poet of the twentieth century. Our two opening poems are from his first collection <i>Cuttlefish Bones</i>, which draws inspiration from the Mediterranean coastline where he grew up.

A democratic Italy has opened the way for an abundance of remarkable women poets, writing in forms ranging from classical to Caterina Davinio's <i>techno-poetry</i> on the web. We're fortunate that women can now officiate in the church of poetry, as you'll see when we receive our sprinkling of absolution from Patrizia Cavalli.

<i>Tutti perdonati</i>, and just in time, we now enter the perilous realm of political poetry, a notorious <i>Inferno</i> of artistic sins. But politics is deeply personal here, and emotional honesty brings its own redemption. Americans can hardly help being touched by Abeni's poems about September 11, or fail to recognize the peculiar malaise of the 21st century in "Wace."

And at long last, love. As befits such a classical subject, Edoardo Sanguineti's "Radiosonnet" gives a nod to Petrarch, combining classic sonnet form with avant garde content. As love shades gradually into loss, we find some of the great names of modern Italian poetry, like Ungaretti, Pascoli, and Pasolini. For Dario Belleza, a gay poet and activist, the loss took an all-too-familiar form; he died of AIDS in 1996.

Satire was always a specialty of Roman poetry, and Giorgio Roberti's aptly-named <i>A Stick in the Eye</i> takes up where Martial, Catullus and Juvenal left off, pouring some very puckery new wine into the old bottle of the sonnet. The fact that Giorgio hasn't been fried by a thunderbolt is the best proof that Jupiter and company aren't what they used to be.

The closing sequence begins with a long, lyrical flight of nostalgia: "Novoli" comes, somewhat surprisingly, from Caterina Davinio, the avant garde "techno-poet"--proving once again that in Italy there is no separating past, present and future.

In the closing poem, Rosita Copioli stands on a volcanic cliff above the sea, and recalls the ancient philosopher Heraclitus as she traces the transformation of fire into earth, water, air, and at last into spirit and song. The song is one of birth and rebirth, a never-ending Renaissance, and nowhere can we hear it better than in the poets of Italy.

<i>Dan Veach</i>

<i>Editor, Atlanta Review</i>
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Title Annotation:The poetry of ITALY
Author:Veach, Dan
Publication:Atlanta Review
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Mar 22, 2011
Words:838
Previous Article:Sta Mattina.
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