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Who Is He?

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To Introduce Myself

I suddenly have the urge to name others. I’d like to make a kind of list of all those – and they are many – to whom my life is linked. It would be better, maybe, more exact:

I would like to speak of the quiet vastness in the affection of my grandfather, Enea, or try to put into words the simple care of Bruna, his wife and my grandmother, I’d like to speak of the solitude of the other grandmother, proud, the mother of my father who hosted me in Cervia so I could write poetry, the good and crazy strength of my mother Giovanna, my aunt Marta, struck down at the age of 22 and fixed in my destiny ever since, the paternal and exciting charisma of don Giussani, the high expectations granted to me by Francesco Ricci, the friendship of my brother and sister, Raimondi’s skills, Vasco Rossi’s songs, I’d like say the names of all the cities I’ve seen, of the friends dispersed but not lost, and I’d like to speak, if I were capable or worthy, of my wife, of my astonishing little ones.

I started writing poetry when I was eight years old. I haven’t stopped yet. I was in Forlì, the splendid city of my birth. Splendid because of its people (the sweet ladies and the mean ones at the dairy, the half-mad bicycle mechanics, the fully mad people underneath the porticoes, the country gentlemen standing at attention, the girls) as well as for certain glimpses an outsider most likely wouldn’t be able to catch. I remember that I was sick in bed once with the mumps. It was winter, the first verse came “Ecco arriva l’inverno/ i bambini accedono il termo.” (Here the winter’s arrived/ The children light the fire). Just right.

Now my home is Bologna, a beautiful and difficult city, as authoritarian as a fat matriarch who is no longer brilliant or very invigorating, but is beautiful nonetheless. I travel a lot, sometimes quite far. If it’s “very far” I take an airplane. Otherwise I clock a lot of kilometers in the car.

A philologist or a professional critic could perhaps find echoes or correspondences in my texts. For my part, I can’t tell where I have continued to find my breath, from some dark well of free air.

Before I was twenty, some friends and I started a magazine called “clanDestino.” It’s still living, not because it’s rich in money (there’s so much poverty, as they say where I’m from, that even the mice run away with tears in their eyes) but because it’s rich in ideas and talent on the part of all those who have worked on it or are working on it now: Lauretano, Gibellini, Gerra, Ulivi, Vespignani, Casadei…

Then there are the many important writers who have participated. And thanks also to the lasting mark of dear old Giampaolo Piccari who got us off the ground.

I have never conceived of poetic work as “apart from” critical endeavors, whether in the field of literature or, more widely, in social and political matters. Being a Catholic Christian never put me in a position of discomfort vis à vis art that some would wish. For instance the ones who asked the great Flannery O’Connor how she managed, exactly, to be an artist and a Catholic in the twentieth century. She responded: The very fact that I am a Catholic makes it impossible for me to be anything but an artist.

I am a Catholic because nothing is more fascinating for the reason or the heart than this insertion of the divine in the human, than the mystery of the Incarnation. Everything human gains value by it, gains a place of importance in a destiny of good… I don’t have grand reflections on faith. Christianity doesn’t exist, wrote someone, only men touched by an event or a meeting that works in their lives a change of perspective and feeling. I am one of these men. It is neither an entitlement, nor a free pass for a nonexistent paradise on earth, nor an anti-virus; it is a grace, a gift.

So, at twenty, that is in 1984, I was still writing poetry and I liked a couple poets: Luzi for example, and Testori, and Caproni. Rimbaud, naturally. With the first two I entered into a long and beautiful relationship (with Testori it was also difficult, and it couldn’t have been otherwise). The third wrote me a short letter after having received my first chapbook (“La Frontiera delle Ginestre”) in which he compared himself to a tailor feeling the cloth and saying “it’s good.” And he paused over the text to say which ones he liked best and where he noticed defects. So I continued.

In Testori and Caproni I was taken by the sense of the extreme vibration of their voices in accordance with the extremity of life. Another great poet, Piero Bigongiari, my friends and I called “the uncle” for a long time.

Testori told me “translate Rimbaud, you won’t be able to hang on to anything.”

And so all my vainglory was definitively burned. And after the wild boy prophet, I translated Baudelaire, the enormous. With Testori and with some of his friends I discovered the theatrical tension that exists in every authentic poetry.

Ten years later, in ’96, an editor asked me for a poetic version of Salmi. Another “absurd” undertaking, humbling, and thrilling. Fundamental.

In Luzi, still, I am struck by the liveliness of his meditations, the germination of the thought with the word, the sweet, sylvan generosity with which, loading upon himself the problems of a century of poetry in great part “extraneous” to himself but dominant, he opened up in poetry –and not simply Italian poetry – a way forward unprejudiced by existential positions marked by disappointment toward reality or skepticism, or nihilism.

I have many memories of him. Like those incredibly sweet plums that he offered me and my children one day in summer when we went to see him in Pienza. Those plums and a couple of anonymous altar pieces closed in the small churches that are scattered through that place indicated to me something clear and marvelous about his poetry. He had just finished writing “Sotto Specie Umana”.

“What does the air do…” asks, at some point, Leopardi’s wandering shepherd. I only really noticed it recently. And I thought about when my little son, Bartolomeo, one day when we were in the car together climbing up a road in the Dolomites, asked me: “Dad, what’s that?” “It’s a mountain, Barti.” “And what does the mountain do?” At that point I said “What do you think it does? It’s a mountain…” Recently when I actually took note of this Leopardian verse I put it together: the questions of the youngest, the way their reason opens onto the real, their natural sense that everything is up to something here, that there is, in the end, an action in the world, that everything participates in a movement, in an event – yes, it is the same “discovery” that continues to take place in the best poetry.

“Stolen air” I believe is what Mandelstam called poetry. He had in mind – and he had it until he died in his flesh as well – the scandal of oppression. But poetry remains stolen air even in the situations that appear the most free. Because liberty is always at risk, I’m speaking of real liberty, not the kind that has to do with doing what one likes or feels like, but that energy that makes us adhere to reality, and to the promise of good it holds within it.

What a liberty of imitators and dogs it would be, in the end, to be able to do what one wishes in a menagerie in which everything is at bottom only vanity and dissipation in nothingness.

All the great poets arrive at an essential question: is the world a farce (atrocious or, for the more fortunate, sweet) or is it an adventure with a meaning? All those who do not cease being human come to this question. And poets express every way of coming to it – they remember it in memories, they laugh at it in laughter, they sing about it in song, the cry about it in tears, they are quiet about it in silence.

I don’t believe that because I’ve written some poetry and published some books that I know what the world is, or what it “does” anymore than did my grandmother Bruna who spent her life cooking for my grandfather Enea called Nino. (Speaking of which, perhaps in my mother’s father’s “double” name and in its transformation there’s a sign of my destiny. Enea is a high brow name – a name of a great traveler between earth, seas, infernos – heroic, impassioned, and merciful. But in reality everyone called my grandfather Nino – a highly typically Italian diminutive, childish and informal, a name for cafés and courtyards.)

I don’t believe that poetry is, in itself, a more authoritative or “other” form of knowing. Good poems, to the contrary, are like those hollow trunks or naturally formed stone arches that allow voices or the wind to be heard in an unusual way. And the voices and the wind are life, ideas, the pain and hope of each and all. “A unanimous cry” said good old Ungaretti, indicating as he knew well not an ideological or stylistic unanimity but a “tension,” a real “cry.”

About the nature of poetry great discoveries and acquisitions are not made. Poetry is an experience to be participated in, whether you’re Homer or whether you’re Joe Blow who, in one of New York’s huge bookstores picks up a volume of Emily Dickinson or T.S. Eliot.

The reader completes the work, said Péguy reminding us of our great responsibility. I would say that a poem is also an activity for two: there’s the one who wrote it, maybe five-thousand years ago, and there’s the one who’s reading it. It is partly because of this special and infinite collaboration that poetry always has to do with the present and refuses to be museum-ified.

It’s an experience of the secret of life: we’re inside a creation that makes us.

The poets are the ones who listen and then speak in the way in which they are spoken to inside, said the father Dante. Father, yes, because more than anyone else he understood that he was a son, understood that he belonged to his own real language, to the real writers, to real love and to the tradition of real culture, to his own living fire… “Yours am I” he said to the Muses and, therefore to that Love which moves everything and which gives to everything, for him, a voice.

Then in all these years, the writings on love of Leopardi, Augustine, Lucretius, and the prayer to “dear beauty…”, work on Péguy, the poet of event, of the anti-system, work on T.S. Eliot, Michelstaedter, Pascoli, Pasolini. And now the founding and support of the Center for Contemporary Poetry at the University of Bologna, an anthology with Franco Loi on recent Italian poetry -- demanding because it hopes to legitimize the large amount of good Italian poetry unknown or ignored by the institutions that have been deadened by lazy repetition of pre-conceived notion – Readings, happenings, large public readings in the Enel electrical centers of Italy. So many books received, bought, read --- and manuscripts and letters upon letters, discussions with Gibellini, Galaverni, Piccini, Mussapi, Loi, Doninelli, Bigongiari, with Valentino, with Francesca, with Stefano…

But, here I am, starting again with the names, like a wind, an air, an internal dictation.

Most famous publications
Poetry
  • La frontiera delle ginestre, Forum - Quinta generazione, 1985
  • O les invalides, N.c.e. 1988
  • A rialzare i capi pioventi, N.c.e - Guaraldi, 1993
  • Nel tempo delle cose cieche, N.c.e, 1995
  • Il bar del tempo, Guanda, 1999
  • Non sei morto, amore, Quaderni del battello ebbro, 2001
  • Avrebbe amato chiunque, Guanda, 2003
  • Compianto, vita, Marietti, 2003
  • Il veleno, l'arte, Marietti, 2004
  • L'acqua visitata dal fuoco, Marietti, 2005
  • Vorticosa, dipinta, Marietti, 2006
  • Apocalisse amore, Mondadori 2008
  • Le parole accese. Poesie per bambini e non. Rizzoli, 2009
  • 3, Tommaso, Paolo, Michelangelo, Marietti 2009
  • Ballo lentamente con le tue ombre. Poesie per il tango. Tracce 2009
  • Rimbambimenti, Raffaelli editore, 2011
  • Nell'arte, vivendo, Marietti editore, 2012

 

Prose and tests

  • I santi scemi, Guaraldi, 1996
  • Herman, una vita storta e santa puntata alle stelle, BUR, 2010
  • L'avvenimento della poesia, on-line, Guaraldi-Logos, 1999
  • Non una vita soltanto. Scritti da un'esperienza di poesia, Marietti, 2002
  • La parola accesa, Edizioni Di Pagina, 2006
  • Il fuoco della poesia, In viaggio nelle questioni di oggi, BUR, Rizzoli, 2008
  • Contro la letteratura, Il saggiatore, 2009
  • Nell'arte, vivendo, Marietti editore, 2012

 

Theatre

  • Giotto, l'uomo che dipinse il cielo (Compagnia Elsinor)
  • Barabba il liberato (per Flavio Bucci, Alvia Reale e Patrizia Zappa Mulas)
  • Non sei morto amore (per david Riondino e Sandro Lombardi)
  • La locanda, le stelle (per Andrea Soffiantini)
  • Compianto, vita (per Virginio Gazzolo)
  • Il veleno, l'arte (per Iaia Forte)
  • Dalle linee della mano (Teatro Biondo, Rega di Pietro Cariglio)
  • Passare delicatamente la mano. Per E. e per tutti (teatro Elsinore)

 

Antologyes

  • Ada Negri, Mia giovinezza, Rizzoli, 1996
  • T.S. Eliot, I cori da La rocca, Rizzoli, 1996
  • La sfida della ragione, Guaraldi, 1998
  • Leopardi, l'amore, Garzanti, 1999
  • Charles Péguy, Lui è qui, Rizzoli, 1999
  • Dante, Commedia, Rizzoli, 2001
  • Il pensiero dominante. Antologia della poesia italiana 1970-2000, Garzanti, 2001
  • La poesia è il tempo, Franco Mara Ricci, 2007
  • Mettere a fuoco Dio, Rizzoli 2008
  • Poeti con il nome di donna, Rizzoli 2009
  • I fiori del Male, Salerno Editrice, 2010
  • Poesie 1965-1993, Giovanni Testori, Mondadori editore, 2012
 

Appuntamenti

28 febbraio h10 - Colloqui fiorentini, Firenze
28 pom e 29 mattina - laboratorio e scuola Sezze e Priverno (Lt)
3 marzo h 17 - Bari Università incontro con G.Nunziante regista e autore, su "Raccontare l'umano"
5 marzo h 19 - workshop scrittura Camplus Bononia
6 marzo h 18 - Siena Conferenza su Eliot
7 marzo h 17,30 - master traduzione Misano, fondazione S. Pellegrino (Rimini)
8 marzo h 18 - Forlì inaugurazione del bookshop "Cartacanta"

Collaborazioni