Dante Maffia

Before tracing the development of twentieth-century poetry in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, I was sorely tempted to examine socio-linguistic factors. This was because I found myself consulting essays, anthologies, and prefaces in which a poet could very easily be assigned to one area rather than another. It is obvious that the boundaries are blurred and interpretations are controversial, so that in the end questionable arrangements were adopted which have nevertheless not undermined the validity of the authors, at least with respect to their poetic and literary value. Spagnoletti and Vivaldi, for instance, distinguish between Venezie and Friuli 1 , and Serrao includes Gian Mario Villalta in Friuli-Venezia Giulia2. It is not a question of errors or misunderstandings, but choices made on methodological grounds, not based strictly on historical, philological, or anthropological factors.
We know for certain, in any case, that the web of the dialect universe is so thin and varied as to disorient even specialists, if they do not have a long familiarity with the syntactical, grammatical an phonic nuances of speech. It makes me think of the attitude of a street vendor at Porta Palazzo in Turin. He could not agree on the price of some articles of clothing (jeans, I believe) with some customers from Calabria and Apulia, and finally he came out: "Ehi, Neapolitans, no more subtracting." For him southerners are all Neapolitans, or even worse "Naples," but in his voice there was no sign of scorn or insult. He was just reacting in a generic way to the differences in speech. If that vendor had the task of compiling an anthology of dialect poets, more than likely he would group together in one chapter, maybe entitled Terronia, Belli and Di Giacomo, Domenico Tempio and Padula.
In any event, "The essential fact for the linguistic history of the region is provided by an extremely elusive ethnic notion: such as that of the Carni (inhabitants of the Carnia region): the Gallic population that descended from the mountains in the Vth century B.C., breaking the continuity between the Veneti from the eastern region and the Veneti from the Isonzo and Carinzia regions."3 Devoto follows the process of acculturation, exchange and contamination in all its amplifications and ramifications, but "This is not the place to raise once again the well-known question of whether Friulian is a variant of Ladin ... or a harsh, archaic Italian volgare. What counts is the singularity, or rather the uniqueness of the Friulian dialect, more than a dialect almost a language with the charm of its archaisms, its rusticity and popularity."4
It was almost natural, therefore, that over the centuries, after endless unsuccessful attempts or partial achievements (think of the nineteenth century, for example, with Percoto's stories in dialect) Friuli-Venezia Giulia would produce a group of poets with a distinct and significant voice, not bound to the dialect tradition of sentimentality and local color, of sarcasm and civil and political invective,. The ground had been prepared over a long time (there are those who go as far back as the thirteenth century to find traces of a heritage that became slowly important) 5, and it would be interesting to review the works that have appeared up to the beginning of this century, but it would be a long list of names and publications that mean little poetically. I am interested in seeing how the poetry of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, from the beginning of this century, has suddenly ceased to be a simple witness to events, regardless of writing and expression, and has become instead an important moment in Italian literature that cannot be ignored. Let me be clear, "Dialects are not enough to have a revolution and not even to return to the core of myth. They can be considered a more authentic, popular and original reality of Italian and of any other language. Like Italian, no more and no less... dialects are precious witnesses of civil and cultural history; they are imbued with the intelligence and labor, the intellectual knowledge and the cultural experiences of the people who spoke them and speak them."6 Pietro Zorutti (Lonzano del Collio 1792 - Udine 1867), who in the years of the "Strolic furlan" and in the various published volumes had profusely spread all the commonplaces of the backward and rural province, was not writing poetry. Rather, he had contaminated the smallest achievements and had made more difficult the task of those who aspired to break the circle of repeating the same words and images to find something different and new, at least outside the unbearable weight of bourgeois rhetoric and respectability.
The first to reject the quagmire of the past was Pietro Bonini, soon followed by several others, because they felt it was improper and out place to continue on a road leading backwards, to the source of nostalgia, to regret, to the reconstruction of a reality gradually annulled by history, but that dialect poets insisted on "remaking," with the intention of opposing an eternal value to the discontinuity caused by Napoleon and the "disgrace" of the French Revolution.
Celso Cescutti (pen name Argeo), from Flaibano, showed a genuine vein without excessive descriptiveness, and adopted a language that had considerable strength, as Pasolini later recognized. In 1911 he published Primavere, which precedes by a year Biagio Marin's first work, Fiuri de tapo. These are the first signs of a sensibility that will eventually engender the fundamental books by Marin himself and by Pasolini, Giacomini, Cergoly, and Giotti.
It is extremely difficult to outline in a few pages what took place in the crowded world of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the course of the entire twentieth century, also because dialect poetry has not traveled along a parallel path with Italian poetry, but has constantly interacted with it, often lending rhythms as well as linguistic and human richness to it, and often borrowing from Italian poetry all the innovations that came from French symbolism and other international experiences. This dialectic relationship has become so close and so competitive in recent times, that with the onset of neodialect poetry it is almost impossible to make distinctions between writing poetry in dialect and poetry in Italian. The reason is that dialect, overcoming the pitfalls of tradition and abandoning the attitude of self-importance and trendiness taken by poets in reprisal, in the end becomes the language of poetry, comparable to Chinese and English, Spanish and Russian. Today no one would ever think of writing a history of Italian literature starting with the preconception and the reservation that dialect poetry is second-rate reading.
The wealth of authors from Friuli-Venezia Giulia who have attained a certain prestige and critical recognition gave rise to a great deal of doubt and perplexity about what names to include in the anthology. What was the criterion that guided the selection? Perhaps my familiarity with the texts of the poets included, but also the fact that these poets, with the exception of two, represent the entire century in its complexity and in its evolution, and give the exact idea of a world that, though within the borders of Italy, never withdrew into its own identity, but was able to channel and transmit Mittel-European sensibility.
It is worthwhile to reflect on the fact that the greatest Italian narrator and the greatest Italian poet of this century are both from Trieste and that the best-seller Va dove ti porta il cuore is the work of someone from Trieste. And from Trieste as well is the best interpreter of German literature, Claudio Magris, the intellectual who more than any other has been adept at capturing universal themes in books of extraordinary power. On the one hand Sicily with the countless great authors that shape the history of Italian literature between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and on the other Venezia Giulia. Two border literatures, two experiences to compare with the experiences of the rest of Italy and Europe.
It is perhaps their border location that triggers the need to keep their identity alive and to find refuge in the tower of dialect, engendering a strong sense of their roots, so that nothing and no one would ever be able to move the axis anyplace else. This probably explains the proliferation of poets in the various dialects of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and it explains how they have been able to preserve their ethical and metaphysical convictions without bringing in maternal justifications (with the exception of Pasolini) or psychoanalytical or sociological justifications.
At this point I have to mention at least some of the poets who are not included in the anthology, but who have nevertheless shaped the history of a region that can be linguistically defined as being telluric. To give one example, the anthology edited by Roberto Damiani and Claudio Grisancich, La poesia in dialetto a Trieste 7, takes into account seventy-five poets, including Adolfo Leghissa, Vittorio Cuttio, Angelo Cecchelin, Corra, Anita Pittoni, besides, of course, Giotti, Gergoly and Grisancich.
Absent are also Franco De Gironcoli from Gorizia, Siro Angeli from Carnia, Novella Cantarutti from Spilimbergo, Bindo Chiurlo, Ugo Pellis, Lorenzoni, Nardini, Carletti, Riccardo Castellani, Tonuti Spagnol, Dino Virgili, Leo Cianton, Leonardo Zanier, Ida Vallerugo.
Many of these poets (and so many others) have usually worked in groups, around academies or associations, which is significant for a project that has always been at the root of the world of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, i.e., the need to be united in advancing a proposal for preserving the best of the ancestral world in order to offer it to future generations. Something of the old groups still remains, but forceful and commanding figures have appeared recently who have clouded the "project" and polarized attention (I am speaking of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Nico Naldini, Amedeo Giacomini, Claudio Grisancich, Nelvia Del Monte). Indirectly, they have renewed the interest in poets who, though they had received a great deal of critical attention in the past, were now being essentially ignored. Of course I am not speaking of recent years, and the reference is to Virgilio Giotti, Biagio Marin, Luigi Bartolini, and Carolus Cergoly.
There is no question of interrelation for any of these nine poets, as sometimes can happen among writers who live and work in the same region and within the same linguistic and cultural milieu. The individual poetics and individual histories seem to stem from very personal pursuits and explorations into the history of poetry in all its vastness and international correlations. Even Virgilio Giotti, who was born in 1885, does not seem to be influenced by the regional climate, though he did not belong to the ranks of novelty-seekers and of those readers who trample everything in the fury of their quest. He had clear ideas about poetry and about how to write it, and his being almost isolated did not limit him or turn him into a barren minstrel of personal objects, small places, solipsistic situations. Giotti was a poet in the full sense of the word, because he did not pursue the absolute or saw it in its relationship with people and events. For Giotti poetry meant the expression of an ideal reality, if all the elements harmonized and united in the effort of finding a new truth. But nothing should stem from psychoanalytical or intellectualized notions or from literature tout court. Giotti took from everyday life: a store sign, a window, a narrow street, a passerby, words he overheard, fragments of conversations, which he then would organize in perfect meter, with usual and unusual rhymes, with a music that did not betray the source of things. Thus his poetry, while having popular roots, instantly becomes highly refined: a landscape, a feeling, a sorrow, a joy. We are still not in the sphere of what would later be called neodialect poetry, but neither do we enter that provincial climate in which every verse was born of fading memories and picture postcards. Giotti has a strong feeling for colors (it's not a chance that he was also a painter), a healthy feeling for life, an innocent and enchanted gaze, even when sadness seem to mute his voice, the landscape of his days.
Biagio Marin likewise "defended the law that invites you to pause, to say yes to the call of life,"8 but especially in his last years lived entirely within Grado's world and gradually
reduced the concreteness of reality. It is as if he took the pulp out of everything and came up with a formula, but not a rigid one, an immaterial substance made of sky and sea, of air, infinity. One can perceive, more manifestly in the last collections, something like a murmur of algae and an ungraspable whisper, a music that whirls upon itself and yet opens towards the depths, the abyss. As time goes by, Marin pursues an ever-denser light a truth whose reach and limits are unknown.
Almost all critics have noted that in Marin's poetry history withdraws to make room for a sort of irreducible fire; it is like facing sculpted marble, words that filter the ultimate sense of existence. Yet Marin was a proud and defiant man, exuberant, egocentric, marked by suffering and sorrow, and in his pages we should be able to perceive the weight of the world's harshness. Marin swallowed everything, drank everything, absorbed everything, and then left it in his depths, not because he intended to forget what life is, but because tensions must cast every experience in light and music, if the palpable presence of a lesson is to survive.
Before turning to poetry, Carolus Cergoly devoted his attention and his work to the theater, and it seems to me that this experience shows in his poetry as well. He was also a journalist, published successful novels, and almost always tried to give credit "among Italian readers to the bookish image of cosmopolitan Trieste."9 As a dialect poet, however, he remains outside any canon, and it is difficult to interpret or place him because ideally he is linked to Giacomo Noventa and does not take into account the works of Saba and Giotti, reiterating the "presumption of living outside one's own time, but with an appearance of frivolousness that belongs to him alone; and he is misleading about the true morality of a poet who is in reality very serious."10 Being outside one's own time, however, is not similar to Biagio Marin's attitude, unconsciously prompted by metaphysical urges. Cergoly's seems a deliberate choice, political or at least social in nature; Marin's is to flow toward the moon, to lose oneself in order to reach the absolute.
I am not the only one who is convinced that Pasolini gave the best of himself in the poems written in the Friulian dialect, especially those penned at the same time as Le ceneri di Gramsci. Naturally, since Neorealism prevailed in the early fifties, he was in any case involved in it, while protesting against the coarseness of a style that he considered useless and devoid of any possibility of producing anything worthwhile. In the course of time his dynamic personality overshadowed his dialect poetry, but reading it now without the excessive noise made around the figure and comparing it to his later work in Italian, we can realize that in Casarsa's dialect the poet had been able to find the limpid milk of a season never again repeated. With the risk of shocking the fanatics and those who have made a martyr, a saint and a matchless film director, narrator and so on of Pasolini, perhaps the time has come to say out loud that the best of Pasolini's work is to be found in books such as Poesie a Casarsa, Dov'è la mia patria, Tal cour d'un frut, La meglio gioventù, Poesie dimenticate, La nuova gioventù.
Perhaps one of the reasons he worked on Poesia dialettale del Novecento and Canzoniere italiano with Dell'Arco was to show that those who wrote in dialect should not be considered poets behind the times and bound to popular traditions. He has left no statements in this regard, but what is certain is that he devoted a great deal of work to dialect, with research and writings that still today must constantly be taken into account.
Elio Bartolini, editor of classics, cinema man and well-known narrator, began writing in dialect only in 1977 with Poesie protestanti, a surprise that in a few years has become an abiding presence. Reading Bartolini is like moving through a mine field, like breathing air of tragedy at every step. He observes the mad rush of events with bewildered and sorrowful eyes, and when his gaze falls on his native town, he imbues reality with the same tragic feeling. There is also a vein of regret for a world erased or adrift, yet there is no longing for the past, the yearning to return to distant times. There is the sadness of feeling adrift and having to bow one's head before the consumption of the world and of the self.
Nico Naldini, author of excellent biographies and of a few books in Italian, has written only occasionally in dialect. A relative of Pasolini and himself from Casarsa, he made his debut in dialect in 1948. His writings always carry an air of innocence and candor which however conceals a variety of moods, an obstinate longing to find in the music of every verse the elusive heartbeat of life. Naldini's poetry does not show linguistic refinements or flourishes; it aims straight at things and things seem to wake up from a centuries-old sleep.
Claudio Grisancich painstakingly avoids intellectualizing, and from the start has distinguished himself for his harsh language, for his ability to capture reality with natural ease. One has the impression that the act of writing is for him similar to eating, conversing, breathing. His verses show no unresolved resonance, no ambiguities, they do not circle around the discourse, but take what is out there and turn it into certainty and admonition. Something of Leopardi can also be detected when he deals with the question of maturity, but nothing is left to the least fatalism or to inertia. His verses burst with vital energy, manifest the consciousness of a crisis and are a bridge toward the future.
The poet who has captured the interest of critics in recent years is Amedeo Giacomini, from Varmo, author of books of prose, essays, poetry in Italian and in dialect. The most prestigious names have always been enthusiastic (Maria Corti, Cesare Segre, Dante Isella, Franco Brevini), pointing to the expressive power of his verses, which at first showed the influence of a certain Mittel-European expressionism, and later a meditation increasingly bearing on his own condition of man and intellectual in a jagged world, torn apart and about to disintegrate.
Yet, his poetry is not maudit, there is nothing that points to eccentricity, exhibitionism, the gratuitous gesture. He lives among contrasting tensions, opposes dishonesty, dismisses residues and smoke, and for this reason his every word is incandescent, every verse is like the crack of a whip, every inflection has the irony of someone who plays with the gods and knows he can fool them.
As is always the case with poets who can enter the quick of the universe, there is a side that looks at nature in the fullness of its beauty. When faced with wonderment, Giacomini's language can create unforgettable verses, among the best of recent years, and of course I am not referring only to poetry in dialect.
Nelvia di Monte, from Pampaluna, who after her debut in Diverse lingue and Il segnale in 1996 published Cjanz da la meriche, concludes our brief dialect journey in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. She is a poet who was born seasoned, with a world of emotions and small mythologies told in pure narrative, without embellishments and without metaphorical excesses, so that the native strength of her dialect can manifest itself in everyday reality and in absence.
There is no doubt that, given more space, I would have included poets such as Leonardo Zanier, Anita Pittoni, Siro Angeli, to name a few. But the aim of this work is limited, which also explains the scant attention given to the concatenations of certain events which would have shed light on such a singular literary world. Friuli-Venezia Giulia, in any case, has too many poets, of various levels, and it was not possible to do a detailed survey of a literary output which is at least as vast as that of Sicily or Campania.


1. G. Spagnoletti-C. Vivaldi, editors, Poesia dialettale del Rinascimento a oggi, Milan: Garzanti, 1991.
2. A. Serrao, editor, Via terra, Udine: Campanotto, 1992, introduction by Luigi Reina.
3. G. Devoto-G. Giacomelli, I dialetti delle regioni d'Italia, Florence: Sansoni, 1981, p.48.
4. Poesia dialettale del Rinascimento a oggi, cit., p. 401.
5. P.P. Pasolini-M. Dell'Arco, editors, introduction to Poesia dialettale del Novecento, Parma: Guanda, 1952
6. T. De Mauro-M. Lodi, Lingua e Dialetti, Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1986, pp.13-14.
7. R. Damiani-C. Grisancich, editors, La poesia in dialetto a Trieste, Trieste: Edizioni Svevo, 1989.
8. C. Magris, "Io son un golfo," in Biagio Marin, Nel silenzio più teso, Milan: Rizzoli, 1980, p.7.
9. La poesia in dialetto a Trieste, cit., p.26.
10. Poesia dialettale del Rinascimento a oggi, cit., p.248.


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