Lucio Zinna

At the beginning of the century, Sicilian dialect could be considered the unofficial language of a people and territory. For the lower classes it represented virtually the only linguistic code in use, nor was the "Sicilian tongue" perceived as diminutio: the national language remained an expression of other realities, both geographic and social: it was the language of the rich (as diabetes was regarded a disease of the rich) and of the North: of people from the "continent."
Illiteracy in Sicily reached extremes of 70.89% in the demographic census of 1901, of 56.97% the next decade, as compared to a national average that reached, respectively, 48.49% and 37.43%.1 If after the draft a recruit tended to reproduce extraneous intonations or lexemes, he might be asked not to speak tischi toschi: "talk as your mother made you." In the island, the Italian language was sermo curialis, it circulated in the courtrooms, in parliament, in the schools; it was the idiom of books and newspapers: a linguistic reality of other milieux, with which it did not always like to interact. The middle class used dialect in the home and in the clubs; the aristocrats preferred to express themselves in a mélange of Sicilian, Italian, English and above all French; some spoke either in dialect or in French, skipping Italian altogether. A rapid (and flavorful) Example of this kind of composite speech is offered by Fulco della Cerda, Duke of Verdura, who recounted his childhood in the Villa Nascemi of Palermo at the beginning of the century, in a work with the dialect title "Happy summers." His writing is studded with French expressions. Here is the description of the princess of Ganci, who came to visit the writer's grandmother, called Granmamà, her mother-in-law:

She was a delicate figure who called to mind the statuettes in blanc de Chine. She spoke, or rather stuttered, a strange mixture of Sicilian and French pronouncing the "R"s as if they were "S"s: "carissima" became "casissima" and "il parco della Favorita" "Il pascu d'a Favosita."2

The situation appears radically different after W.W. II; the impoverishment of the linguistic patrimony of dialect affects the whole peninsula and corrodes the solidity of the Sicilian dialect. The rapid erosion of dialects surprises P. P. Pasolini; regarding Buttitta's heartfelt lamentation in the poem "Lingua e dialettu" [Language and Dialect], he writes about the language "stolen" from a people:

And in the whole world around me, dialect seemed destined to become extinguished in epochs so distant as to appear abstract. It seemed that the italianization of Italy had to be founded on a wide contribution from below, dialectal and popular in nature (and not on the substitution of the pilot literary language with the managerial pilot language, as later happened). Among the other tragedies we have experienced (...) in the last few years, there has also been the tragedy of the loss of dialect (...)3

And while the phenomenon of (functional) illiteracy continues to decrease in the island, with extremes of 24.56% in the 1951 census and 16.46% in 1961 (which leave the region in fourteenth place among the rest of the regions), as compared with a national average of respectively 12.90% and 8.14%4, in letter-writing the Sicilian emigrant can express himself in the Italian language, although dialect is superimposed on it. Dated 1965-66 are the letters ad familiares from Kall by the Sicilian emigrant who represents the dramatis persona of Entromondo by Antonio Castelli, which Sciascia considered the only literary work on emigration based on "recreated documents," capable of portraying "the condition of emigrants as it was, as it is," followed by the poems of Tutti dicono Germania Germania [They All Say Germany Germany] by Stefano Vilardo. 5 This is how Castelli reconstructs the epistolary style of the Sicilian emigrant:

Dear wife I'm writing you these lines to give you my news that I'm all right so I hope this letter finds you and the children in good health. Dear Antonietta I have waited two other days thinking I would receive your letter and instead I didn't see anything and I was forced to put down these few lines; now I am letting you know that Sunday Santi. A. arrived (...)6

The existence of "parallel schools," the mass media first of all, alongside institutional schools, has hastened the compression of dialects; today, with regard to dialect literatures, syntagms such as "lost words"7 and "furtive languages"8 are being used. Meanwhile, the predictable adoption of English as future official language of the European Community could make the Italian language, due to its limited diffusion, into a European dialect, while more and more widespread becomes what is being called angliano (in France, franglais).
In 1988, Jana Vizmuller-Zocco from York University in Toronto, conducted a survey on the Sicilian dialect, from a sociolinguistic perspective, interviewing 60 poets residing in the island:

With the exception of only one poet, dialect was considered the mother tongue, and Italian became dominant once they entered the work force. Moreover, the authors either alternate dialect and Italian within the family circle or use Italian. Without exception, they do not use Sicilian with their children, with the result that, at least by the acknowledgment of a few of them, their children do not understand their poetry. Another person related that his daughter, now twenty-four, is showing great interest in all things Sicilian, including the dialect. One of the most surprising facts to emerge from some of the interviews is the poets' selection of Italian as the language of the family and consequently the inability of their children to enjoy the poetry in Sicilian dialect written by their fathers. Clearly, the rivalry between Sicilian and Italian as mother tongues does not realize itself at the level of artistic, ethical, or other types of psychological need and appreciation. Job opportunities, better standards of living and technological and other advancements seem to be embodied in Italian, and hence this is chosen as mother tongue for children.9

Still open is the question of whether the over-production of poetic texts in Sicilian dialect, which characterizes the end of this century, is an expression of a literary renaissance or whether it is entirely on this that the survival of dialect depends, in keeping with a radical formulation by Pascoli: "the language of poetry is always a dead language."10
Despite the difficulty of linkage, which the exponents of literary Sicilian life have always experienced, with the important centers of the publishing world, concentrated mainly in the North, in its Italian and dialect output the Sicilian Twenty-Century is rich with noteworthy personalities of international repute (Pirandello, Quasimodo, Vittorini, Lampedusa, Sciascia, Buttitta). Quite often, the possibility of entering the most exclusive literary circuits has meant leaving the island. The cases of Lampedusa, Piccolo, Bufalino, are exceptional and due to chance. The submerged, quality literature is considerable, full of important forgotten names: one has only to think of narrators such as Raffaele Poidomani (Carrube e cavalieri [Horse Bread and Gentlemen], 1954) or Salvatore Spinelli (Il mondo giovine [The Young World], 1958).
If this can happen for narrative and poetry in italian, one can easily assess the extent of the phenomenon with respect to the poetry in dialect, due to the limited circulation of the texts, more likely to be excluded from "the channels of national publishing and scattered among small publishers, if not local printers."11 In his History of Sicily, Ganci Battaglia underlined the need to save the poetic works, which had remained unpublished, of Saru Cannavò, from Aci Platani, who died in 1960. Recently, Domenico Ferraro has edited the complete published texts of Francesco Paolo Polizzano, from Prizzi (1857-1935), with the addition of some unpublished ones.13 A poet inspired by ideals of peace and justice, Polizzano kept in mind Mazzini's lesson on rights and duties; there is no common good if progress and morality "don't walk united."14 In his poetry there are echoes of Carducci, which the local speech dissolves into an everyday dimension, whose best results are to be found in the representation of the small Universe of Madonia.
Aside from the rediscoveries, the first decades of the century are dominated by the personalities of Martoglio, Di Giovanni, Mercadante, representative of the principal tendencies which characterize dialect poetry in the Twentieth century; they are, although no rigorous demarcations can be established, the three souls of realism: playful-popular (Martoglio); spiritualist and social (Di Giovanni); socialist and revolutionary (Mercadante).
Nino Martoglio, from Catania (1870-1921), famous playwright and comedy writer of the Sicilian theater (his works are the mainstay of dialect theater comedians), was the editor of the humorous newspaper D'Artagnan and gave life to the Compagnia del Teatro Mediterraneo. His poetic texts are collected in Centona, in which he was able to be both lyric and dramatic, excelling in lively compositions, no less than the others close to the popular spirit. Pirandello praised his spareness and maintained that Martoglio was for Sicily what Di Giacomo and Russo represent for Naples, Pascarella and Trilussa for Rome, Fucini for Tuscany, Selvatico and Barbarani for the Veneto region.15
Alessio di Giovanni (1872-1946) chose his native Valplatani as the backdrop of his poetic universe, almost to illustrate Tolstoy's maxim: "describe your village and you will be universal"; with the master of Russian narrative he shared a vocation for realism and a tendency to develop symbiotically the poles of sociability and religiosity.
Figures such as St. Francis and St. Clara move in a rural scenery: from the island's nature, with its Mediterranean elements ("air and green"), in a landscape made of vine runners, of "soft almonds," of "sky and valleys", emerges the figure of the "poor lover."16
The world of the humble is represented with intimate participation, not with a middle-class perspective or fanatical primitivism. Di Giovanni's work is popular with regard to themes from Lu fattu di Bissana [The Bissana Incident], 1900) to A lu passu di Giurgenti [At Girgenti's Pass], (1902) and Nni la dispensa di la surfara [In the Storeroom of the Sulfur Mine], 1910 but he is not naïf. A cultured poet, he appropriated the operation he had admired in Saru Platania, whose dialect poetry he had studied in his youth; he had credited him with being the first to have "elevated himself" from the humble popular inspiration: not to have abandoned that vein to elevate himself, but to have elevated the inspiration, by refining his expressive instruments and lending poignancy to the representation. That is to say: to make himself humble with the humble according to his specific nature, namely, as a poet.17 And Di Giovanni became the aedos of life in the feud and the mine. The feud, with its immobility, was alive from the end of the last century to the Fifties. Another poet, Mario Gori (1926-1970) sings of the dissolution, with the feud, of the rural civilization, while poverty continues to afflict the population (whence the persistence, in those years, of the phenomenon of emigration). In a certain sense, Gori harks back to Di Giovanni's poetry, but not as an epigone.18
Di Giovanni's work will be dealt with more extensively in the anthological section.
Vito Mercadante, from Prizzi (1873-1936), was twenty-years old during the workers' revolt of the Sicilian Fasces. He had the opportunity to observe the dire conditions of the rural underclass, in a historical period in which the number of feuds was increasing in the island and that of small owners decreasing, while the dark power of the gabelloti was expanding, at the expense of the farmers. In such a climate, Mercadante, a socialist, followed the revolutionary line of George Sorel. The poet's great-grandchild, Vito Mercadante Jr., looking through some of his great-uncle archive papers, found the following comment:

Against the evil arts of politicians. Against the diabolical work of priests. Against the indifference, or worst, of irresponsible comrades. Against weariness and defeats. Against public opinion and the press. Against regulations, customs and laws.19

The poet was in favor of the valorization of rural civilization (as it was emerging from the ethnic-anthropological studies of Vigo, Salomone-Marino, Pitrè), of popular literature and a concrete poetry, in the wake of verismo, some of whose canons were nevertheless considered misleading: the cold positivistic -scientific outlook and the "dogma" of the impersonality of the writer.
In the language of his land he sang the epic deeds of garibaldi in Lu Sissanta (1910), as an expression of the deliverance of the Sicilian people; the poem runs from the landing at Marsala until Palermo, as if to signify the author's indifference to subsequent events, which saw the betrayal of that revolution. The work appeared in the same year as Mercadante's L'omu e la terra [Man and Land], inspired by the Messina earthquake of 1908 and the masterpiece, Focu di Muncibeddu [Mongibello's Fire]: a collection characterized by fluid, limpid writing and a wide range of themes: from the absorbed contemplation of nature to the lyric representation of moments of rural life, at times festive at times tragic; from delicate sentimental broadsides to magical enchantments. Of course, there are also compositions with strong social contents, equally distributed. Mercadante can write intensely lyrical verses or become a fiery defender of derelicts. Or openly manifest his diffidence towards justice, conditioned by power and by camperi mafiosi and affirm his irreducible revulsion to any kind of abuse: "I may be killed, but will not bow my head."20
His work concludes with the poem La china, a tender and desolate celebration of unhappy love.
A different direction will be taken by the poets from Etna Francesco Guglielmino, Vincenzo De Simone from Villarosa (Enna) and Vann'Antò (Giovanni Antonio Di Giacomo) from Ibla.
Francesco Guglielmino (1872-1956), rather than re-interpreting Verismo (and yet he had been a friend of Verga, De Roberto, Brancati), went back to the romantic roots of Verismo, in a poetry aiming at inner analysis, to the consideration of man in the world, to the mystery of life and death. No ideology can redeem what Malraux called "la condition humaine": "Socialism or not, our life is a cloth weaved with pain."21
Guglielmino remains fundamentally anchored to Leopardi, with the same cosmic connotations: in the universe everything is suffering. It is not just human beings who are subject to this law; even in the fields, among stones and bushes, under the tender grass, are hidden a myriad flowers, that man tramples unawares or, if he picks them, throws them immediately away. Meanwhile, destroyer time corrodes everything: "it holds a file in its hands \ and never lets go of it."22 There are none of Foscolo's illusions or Leopardi's "Ginestra": everything is resolved in the desolation of the sciara or in the barrenness of lava; the only comfort can come from living as much as possible according to nature, in a dignified, Epicurean resignation.
Guglielmino contributed, in a historic moment in which dialect poetry was still considered an immediate instrument to let the gintuzza23 [little people] talk, in order to dispel the prejudice that it could not deal with great themes. Classical culture, which had informed his education, imbued his verses with elements of considerable formal refinement.
Vincenzo De Simone (1879-1942) emigrated very young to America; having returned to his homeland, he moved to Milan, publishing several well-received works of poetry. Mondadori published his Saggi di canzoni siciliane [Samples of Sicilian Songs], 1925. His first attempts were translations into Italian from Heine and de Heredia. This exercise allowed him to acquire considerable technical skills and as a result his verses in dialect are polished and solid. In any case, de Heredia's influence can be felt in all his poetry. Above all, De Simone's attention focuses on form: harmony and rhythm, skillful scansion of the line, refinement of the hendecasyllable, make of him a master of style and a representative of the Parnassian school in Sicilian dialect poetry.
Vann'Antò (1891-1960) does not even try to use the Sicilian of the koinè: from his first dialect collection, Voluntas tua (1926), he adopts the dialect of Ragusa and as professor of Literature in Popular Traditions at the University of Messina he carries out his research on folklore in the same area. He was a lover and philologist of the Ibla vernacular and prepared for his students, among other things, some phonetics vocalism and consonantism and morphology texts, treating the former in a diacronic dimension and providing a syncronic description of the latter; he also outlined a "Proposal for the Arrangement of Sicilian Orthography," scientifically acceptable, but which he did not adopt in his own poetry.
This attitude may seem contradictory, but it is not: the relationship between koinè and vernacular language in him parallels that between language and dialect, both practiced by the Author, in a non-conflictual duplicity of expressive register. In a "note," reported by Salvatore Pugliatti, G.A. Di Giacomo tried to clarify this relationship to himself most of all :

To me poetry is born at times Italian at times Sicilian: and every time necessarily so, I think: Sicilian, when I speak and sing of the workers and farmers of my island (...); Italian, when I speak of myself or mostly of myself, and for myself, in a certain sense as a means of solace (...)24

But the "note" is not to be taken literally; after all, it is not true that he does not talk about himself, and for himself (if in a less obvious way), in the "Sicilian poetry," as it is not true that workers and farmers are not present in his "Italian poetry." Both of them are, moreover, equally "for solace."
He does not approach the world of workers and farmers as an "intellectual," nor does he distance himself from it when he adopts the Italian linguistic code. As he was not ashamed to consider himself a man of letters, so his populism is not mannered. Michela Sacco Messineo writes:

The voice of the workers and farmers of Ragusa echoes in him in a fruitful emotional and cultural osmosis, in which the author's sentiments are represented as characters, as voices and points of view of his mother, his father, his fiancée, his friends, of the farmers and workers of his community. In this "patriarchal perspective," in feeling himself part of a civilization, lies the profound core of his inspiration (...)25

For further comments on Di Giacomo's work, see the introduction to his texts.
Giuseppe Ganci Battaglia (1901-1977) is like a bee that feeds on all the flowers, producing the dense, fragrant honey of Madonie, the native area of this poet, who lived mostly in Palermo. His poetry follows a solid (not archaic) tradition. He made his debut in 1922 with Sangu sicilianu [Sicilian Blood], followed by Amuri [Love] (1923) and La Santuzza (1927). His first organic collection, Surgiva [Fountainhead], which appeared in 1940, is initially conceived as an autobiography in verse, but the poet's universe gradually widens: from insular themes to evening songs and lunar enchantments, from mystical impulses to local color, to the meditation on the vanity of things. Seriousness and lightheartedness also characterize Il volto della vita [The Face of Life] (1958), in which "serious" and "comic" poems are arranged in different sections, to underline the twofold reality of existence.
His masterpiece is Pupu di lignu [Wooden Puppet], written in 1927 but published in 1969: a reworking in 36 cantos with protasis, in sestinas, of Collodi's Pinocchio. It is not a "translation": the poet made it his own, recreated from within in verses of admirable freshness: an insular Pinocchio who seems to have been born in Sicily, almost a homage of the "pupi" and the paladins to their Tuscan brother.
In 1927, while he was composing his Pupu, Ganci Battaglia was co-editing a periodical of dialect poetry, La Trazzera [Country Road], whose publication was allowed for merely a year by the Fascist regime, which did not look favorably on dialect literature. Decisive was the issue dedicated to the figure and work of Vito Mercadante. Ganci Battaglia's partner in running the review was Ignazio Buttitta, from Bagheria (1899), who had published his Marabedda (with Italian translation by Ganci Battaglia) through La Trazzera. Buttitta first book, Sintimentali [Sentimental], had appeared in 1925: a collection still showing echoes of traditional poetry (Pascoli, on the one hand, Zola and Verga on the other), but in which one can find the premises for Buttitta's more mature poetry. His style is already outlined, based on spoken Sicilian, with a dry musicality.
After the experience of W.W. II and the partisan struggle, in the decade 1945-55, he makes the acquaintance in Milan, introduced by the painter Renato Guttuso, a fellow townsman, with Vittorini and Quasimodo. His poetry has long since abandoned traditional dross, the adoption of free verse is definitive, and he moves between sentiment and engagement.
Buttitta's entire poetic output develops substantially between these two poles, in a period of time encompassing sixty years. To Mercadante's "school", but also Di Giovanni's (although, with respect to the latter, the poet from Bagheria has always avoided any reference) could not belong a better pupil. We will expand on it in the anthology.
His works (which are dealt with in the introduction of the anthological section) have become from their first appearance, one might say true "classics" of the island's vernacular muse.
The aftermath of the war had been characterized by a deep spirit of rebirth; in Sicily also, since 1943, when the war had virtually come to an end with the landing of the Allies. Dialect poets, in their own sphere, were not excluded from the fervor of initiatives in every area. In Palermo, they were led by Federico De Maria (1883-1954), who in his youth had taken part in the Futurist movement. Author of novels and dramas (one of which performed by the great Ermete Zacconi), but also of Barunissa di Carini (The Baroness of Carini), in dialect, with an introductory essay on Sicilian poetry and Félibrige, De Maria had just founded a Society of Writers and Artists, organizing, starting in 1944, lively afternoons of dialect poetry and folklore once a week, in the Yellow Room of the Politeama Theater.
The city still displayed the deep wounds caused by the war: a large part of it had been destroyed by the bombardments of the first three months of 1943, during which hundreds of dead were buried under the ruins and in the shelters; the serious dearth of housing and food was complicated by a steep increase in crime, with extremes which would be equaled only in the present; in politics, the separatism of Finocchiaro Aprile, Gallo, Canepa was taking root.
Around De Maria gathered the dialect poets Ugo Ammannato (1906-1959), Miano Conti (1905-1957), Nino Orsini (1908-1982), Pietro Tamburello (1910) and the very young Paolo Messina (1923).
At the end of 1945 the meetings stopped, as the Township decided to give the great hall back to the Gallery of Modern Art. Nonetheless, in that climate the groundwork was laid for a radical renewal of Sicilian dialect poetry, which would become more evident in subsequent years, characterized, according to Salvatore Di Marco's reconstruction, by the affirmation of the

literary value of the best Sicilian linguistic tradition, discovering a project of koinè that would bestow the literary dignity of language to the Sicilian
dialect.(...) In the logic of that type of choice there was also the explicit refusal of an artificial, pedantic, academic dialect, separated from the authentic roots of Sicilian culture and deaf to the genuine voice of the people. And thus there was a rejection of the idea of a kind of poetry following the worn-out linguistic models of the imitators of Giovanni Meli.(26)

In 1946 the poets of Palermo gathered around the Gruppo Alessio di Giovanni, which functioned until 1954; Ammannato, Conti, Tamburello, Orsini, Messina were joined by Gianni Varvaro (1917-1973) and, occasionally, by Buttitta and the poets from Catania Aldo Grienti (1926-1986) and Carmelo Molino (1908-1984). Grienti and Molino, in turn, had started the poetry sheet Torcia a ventu, around which gathered the group from Catania, soon to be known as Trinacrismo, whose leading spirit was Salvatore Camilleri (1921), a poet of notable interest;27 members were Salvatore Di Pietro, of Pachino (1906-1990),28 Mario Gori, Enzo D'Agata and the older Angelo Alberti, Pietro Guido Cesareo, Adamo Leandri. The two groups, moved by the same innovative spirit, had different outlooks; Camilleri notes that those from Palermo were influenced by the Parnassus-De Simone tradition that, beyond the delight in the quality of words, constituted

a more advanced stage in the field of formal renewal with respect to the Catania tradition, which meant mostly Martoglio, and therefore less forward-looking, more closely tied to prejudices.29

In the Palermo area, a considerable impulse came from Paolo Messina, who linked Sicilian dialect poetry to Symbolism and Hermeticism, while others - from Catania or Palermo were assimilating Lorca's and Neruda's lesson.
In 1947, meanwhile, after the separatist movement began to fade, the Sicilian Region was born, autonomous, with a special statute; the same year also saw the massacre of Portella della Ginestra, still obscure in some respects, which was attributed entirely to Turiddu Giuliano, a character which has remained suspended at least in part between the figure of the gentleman bandit and the defeated patriot.
In Agrigento, in the years 1950-51, Antonino Cremona (1931), who was not connected to any group, writes his poems in the Girgenti dialect; much admired for their spareness and clarity, they were published by S. Sciascia with the title Occhi antichi [Ancient Eyes], and remain a precise reference point. In the same period, the poet Nino Pino was writing in the Messina dialect.
On the whole, those years were harbingers of a singular experience, which united poets of diverse stature, culture and social condition who, as noted by Di Marco (who came in very young, bringing the voice of Neorealism)

they tackled some questions which they considered decisive for dialect poetry in Sicily (the function of dialect poetry, its relationship with society, the question of dialect and its relationship with the national language and the vernaculars), and they were able to grow together, they made an all-encompassing cultural choice regarding all the questions (...)30

In 1954 Pietro Tamburello edited Ariu di Sicilia, a newsletter that came out as a supplement to the biweekly review of dialect poetry Po' t''u cuntu, edited by Giuseppe Denaro. In his "Greeting," Tamburello pointed out how the island, despite the dominations, had remained "above all Sicilian" and how its "secret soul" was living again, with "solar Mediterranean clarity," in its poetry. With regard to the latter, the newsletter proposed to carry out "new exegesis and research," "with the explicit aim to renew tradition in the light of the latest aesthetic exigencies." valorizing the most talented poets and closing the door to scribblers.31
To that newsletter collaborated, among others, Grienti, Camilleri, Varvaro, Ammannato, Molino, Buttitta, Di Pietro. Very active was Paolo Messina, who also published a short story in dialect and an article on "Mediterranean Poetry." His poetry, essential and fluid, intensely sentimental but not romantic, refined but not Parnassian, engagé but free from the social rhetoric of the time, hermetic but communicable, extremely personal, remains one of the highest voices of the last decades.
Six issues of Ariu di Sicily came out as a supplement; a seventh one came out as a "one-time" issue on October 31, 1954, and it concluded this other interesting literary experience. During the Sixties other worthy poets followed that line: Gaetano Cannizzaro, Salvatore Consiglio, Nino Tesoriere, Santo Calì.
If Buttitta had inserted here and there dialectized morphemes of the Italian linguistic code, with the intention of making his texts more accessible extra moenia, Santo Calì (1918-1972), from Linguaglossa on the side of Mt. Etna, seems motivated by the intent of making, apparently at least, his language more cryptic: not for elitist reasons, but rather to bring it closer and closer to the voice of the voiceless, of the excluded, of the last on earth, who people his poetic universe. As did Vann'Antò with the dialect of Ragusa, he adopts the speech of Linguaglossa - an island within the island's dialect linking the epochal reality to the history of Sicily, through the ennobling thread of language, which represents its highest cultural testimony. It was, moreover, a way of developing on the literary level an aspect of the political engagement of Calì, who had been a separatist with the Canepa group before adhering to Marxism (in any case liberally interpreted); his Sicilian separatism constitutes a (subdued) leit-motiv in his poetry.
Calì carried out his commitment as a poet outside of the channels of the publishing industry (as instead had been the case with Buttitta), in a flaunted almost polemic semi-clandestineness, which nevertheless earned him the admiration of those who had the opportunity to read his work (which will be dealt with in the introduction to his texts), nor does it prevent him from being considered one of the highest expressions of Twentieth-Century Sicilian poetry.
Presently, we are witnessing a real flowering: obviously, quality does not always correspond to quantity, but the phenomenon is significant, nor can one deem small the number of poets worthy of attention, among whom are certainly Santi Bonaccorsi, Corrado Di Pietro, Carmelo Assenza, Nino Salvatore, Mario Grasso, Maria Emanuele, Umberto Miglioristi, Denzina Genchi.
In concluding this rapid review, we would like only to point out a few cases, with some of our comments (well aware that we will wrong many, for reasons of space): they are Turi Lima, in the Etna area; Salvatore Di Marco, Alfio Inserra, Giuseppe Giovanni Battaglia in the Palermo area, and Nino De Vita in the Trapani area.
Turi Lima, author of Sicilia celu e terra [Sicily Sky and Earth] (1925), a poet with a strong commitment to Sicilian culture, aims at unmasking, in verses which are very modern, fluid and vibrant, the mystifications that weigh upon the history of Sicily, and at raising his cry of love and sorrow for the island tormented and thirsting for justice, without rhetoric or victimization.
Salvatore Di Marco (1932), in his Giornale di poesia siciliana [Journal of Sicilian Poetry], discusses with dedication and competence the problems of dialect literature and, with the aid of worthy collaborators, evokes its figures and characters, while he reaches out to young and older poets alike.
His rentréee onto the scene of dialect poetry takes place in 1986 with Cantu d'amuri [Love Song], a poem (whose first inspiration goes back to 1964), modeled after the line of "a koinè of noble literariness"32: a hymn to love and its capacity to dissolve the vapors of habit; love leads the poet back onto the paths of memory, through which he reconstructs times and places, seasons and circumstances, of a personal historia, illuminates the present and transcends it. A poetic language of surprising freshness and vividness, in which the discursive cadence is enriched by a suffused lyricism and by a skillful play of metaphors. His subsequent works are, in 1988: Quaranta [Forty], a collection of poems composed between 1957 and 1969, which attest to his personal contribution to the renewal of Sicilian dialect poetry in that period; L'acchianata di l'aciddara [The Climb of the Bird-Sellers], a moving celebration of an ancient road in Palermo's ravaged historic center, in essential and poignant verses; in 1989, with Epigrafie Siciliane [Sicilian Epigraphies], the poet follows the path, not often beaten in Sicilian dialect poetry (although examples are not lacking, from Veneziano to Calì), of epigraphy; but experimentally, and more than irony or sarcasm the poet embraces lyricism, in a language as Antonino Cremona noted "gamboling from one subject to another," which does not undermine the unity of the text.33
Singular is the poem Li paroli dintra [The Words Within] (1991), of "polished lyricism," in the words of Turi Vasile34, in which the poet deals with the mystery of words and their origin; words designated not as abyss (Ungaretti's "buried port"), but rather as "reality, as man containing all of man, as historical knowledge and creation."35 For the first time a text of Sicilian dialect poetry ventures in the treatment of such a hard and absorbing theme, to demonstrate that Sicilian has all the requirements not only to deal with alleys and country roads, but also questions of philosophy of language. And what is more, in a manner not at all dry, in poetry. A kind of poetry which is not artificial.
Alfio Inserra (1935) achieves notable results in the actualization of myth, at times drawing, at times erasing the demarcation line between wisdom and madness, between real and surreal, as in Circannu Asturfu (1986) and Pilariu (1988), but also phantasmagoric popular revivals, as in U Fistinu (1986); all in a poetic language which has absorbed the fervid humors of Twentieth-Century European poetry, expressed in a personal way in quatrains of classical perfection.
Giuseppe Giovanni Battaglia (1951) from Alimusa, is tied to the vein of social poetry, with poems that display the dryness of Montale's cuttlefish bones, in a totalizing dialect. in La terra vascia [The Lowland] (1969), La piccola valle di Alì [The Small Valley of Alì] (1972), L'ordine di Viaggio [Travel Order] (1988), Battaglia is with Calì but very different from him the last representative of the line marked by Mercadante, but with the peculiarity of a driller of words. Moreover, his realism has mythical tones and hues, so much so that Raffaele Nigro has said that if Buttitta could be illustrated by Guttuso, Battaglia can be illustrated by Bruno Caruso.36
Nino De Vita (1950), from Marsala, has been working for several years on a long "novel" in Sicilian verse, of which he has published the first "chapters": 'U rui novèmbri r'u sessantarui [The Two of November '62] (1989) and Binirittèdra (Benedettina, 1991); a poet with a searching eye, he "narrates," with measured lyricism, places and figures of his childhood and adolescence, pausing on minute details and great existential dramas (Benedettina is a fifteen-year-old girl who dies during an abortion) of the micro-universe of the Stagnone area, with a detachment one might attribute to a biologist or entomologist; nevertheless the spare, quintessential words of his vocabulary betray a compassion which is as deep as it is contained, and are able to lend an epic greatness to small events, Fatticeddi [Small Events] (1992), of almost rural simplicity. An epic without the "marvelous," unless one considers in this manner living "day after day," as Quasimodo would have said. De Vita's moon has no need of hippogryphs to be reached: children look at it, crouching in a circle in the garden, and listen to one of their friends talk about it: about the whiteness, the spots in the whiteness, the light it gives, the halfmoon. And the game played by the moon as it hides among the clouds. Among them there is also a small blind boy:

And suddenly Martino
stopped me.
"It's beautiful"
he said "the moon!" 37


1cf. F. Vaccina, "L'analfabetismo in Sicilia," in: Analfabetismo e scuole sussidiarie in Sicilia, Palermo: Centro Studi Sociali I.S.A.S., 1970, pp.13-45.
2Fulco, Estati felici, Milano: Feltrinelli, 1977, p.183.
3P.P.Pasolini, Scritti corsari, Milano: Garzanti, 1975, pp.225-6.
4cf. F. Vaccina, op.cit..
5cf. L. Sciascia, Intr. to: S. Vilardo, Tutti dicono Germania Germania, Milano: Garzanti, 1975, pp.5-7.
6A. Castelli, Entromondo, Firenze: Vallecchi, 1967, p.57.
7cf. F. Brevini, Le parole perdute Dialetti e poesia del nostro secolo, Torino: Einaudi, 1990.
8cf. S. D'Amaro, "Furtive lingue I poeti dialettali dell'ultima generazione in Puglia," in: Rivista italiana di letteratura dialettale, a.I, n.1, Palermo, April-June, 1991, pp.13-6.
9J. Vizmuller-Zocco, "Sicilian dialect poetry: A sociolinguistic perspective," in: Italiana 1988, Monterey, Ca., pp. 295-6.
10G. Pascoli, Pensieri scolastici, in: Rassegna scolastica, II fasc., VI, 16, 1896.
11F. Brevini, op.cit., p.9.
12G. Ganci Battaglia, Storia di Sicilia (2), Palermo: Denaro, 1965, p.211.
13F. P. Polizzano, Ripatriata (ed. D. Ferraro), Palermo: Kefagrafica, 1990.
14ib., p.144.
15L. Pirandello, Preface to: N. Martoglio, Centona, (9), Catania: Giannotta, 1948, p.7. Pirandello's text, dated 1921, was written on the occasion of Martoglio's death.
16cf. A. Di Giovanni, Lu puviriddu amurusu, 1st ed.., Palermo: Sandron, 1907. Unpublished notes on St. Francis, dated 1923, have been published in: A. Di Giovanni e la poesia siciliana del Novecento (ed. S. Di Marco), Palermo: Centro di Cultura Siciliana "Pitrè", 1988, pp.125-129.
17cf., S. Groi, Alessio Di Giovanni, Mazara: Società Editrice Siciliana, 1948, p.92.
18cf., V .Arnone, A. Di Giovanni e la lingua siciliana, Palermo: ILA-Palma, 1987; S. Cinquerrui, M. Gori e il mondo contadino mediterraneo, Firenze Libri, 1986.
19V. Mercadante Jr., Preface to: V. Mercadante, Focu di Muncibeddu, Palermo: Sigma, 1961, p.12.
20"Preferisco morire ammazzato ma non piego la testa" (V. Mercadante, op.cit., p.145).
21F. Guglielmino, Ciuri di strata, Palermo, Sellerio, 1978. Previous editions appeared in 1922 and 1949.
22ib. ("in the world has a file / and never lets go of it").
23cf., S. Scalia, "Francesco Guglielmino," in: Operai di sogni (Acts of the Symposium on Twentieth-Century Poetry in Sicily, Randazzo, 10-12 Nov. 1984), published by the Town of Randazzo, 1985, pp.133-9.
24cf., S. Pugliatti, "Rileggere il Fante," in: Vann'Antò: Il fante alto da terra, Milan: Scheiwiller, 1975, p.VII.
25M. Sacco Messineo, "La poetica di Vann'Antò," in: Vann'Antò (Acts of the Symposium, Ragusa, 23-24, Apr. 1987), Pub. Centro Studi "Rossitto", 1988, Ragusa, p.31.26S. Di Marco, "Cronache palermitane di poesia dialettale," in: Arenaria, Palermo, a. III, 1986, n.5-6, p.73. cf. also: S. Camilleri (ed.), Manifesto della nuova poesia siciliana, Catania: Arte e Folklore di Sicilia, 1989. Ammannato published Ciumara in 1936; Conti Matri (1945) and, posthumously, Frutti di mare (1958); Orsini: Poesie (1970) and Altre poesie (1976); Tamburello: Li palori (1984). Messina selected his "Poesie siciliane" [Sicilian Poems] (1945-55)" (scattered in newspapers and periodicals of the time) in 1986 chronologically.
27Camilleri was the author of Sangu pazzu (1966), Ritornu (1966), 18 Jaròfuli (1979), Luna catanisa (1979).
28S. Di Pietro made his debut in 1936 with Acqua di l'Anapu, followed by: Alveare (1947), Muddichi di suli (1957), Tuta di villutu (1962), Diu si e fattu di ferru (1974), La tratta di li brunni (1975), Pueta e tempu (1984), Supra righi di zebra (1988).
29S. Camilleri, Intr. to: Manifesto ..., op.cit., pp.VI-VII.
30S. Di Marco, "Cronache"..., op.cit., p.75., P. Tamburello, "Salutu", in: Ariu di Sicilia, suppl. to n.6 of Po' t''u cuntu, Palermo, 3-31- 1954.
32G. Santangelo, Preface to: S. Di Marco, Cantu d'amuri, Palermo: Edizioni del Pitrè, 1986, p.12.
33A. Cremona, Preface to: S. Di Marco, Epigrafie siciliane, Palermo: ILA-Palma, 1989, p.12.
34T. Vasile, Preface to: S. Di Marco, Li palori dintra, op. cit., p.13.
36R. Nigro, Preface to: G. G. Battaglia, L'ordine di viaggio, Catania: Prova d'autore, 1988, p.9.
37"And suddenly Martino interrupted me./ The moon / is beautifuil, he said!" N. De Vitta, Fatticeddi, Trapani, Arti Grafiche Corrao, 1992, p.38.


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