The Italian Riveter: Italian Poetry in English by Anna Blasiak

Italian poetry, like pretty much everything else Italian, has a long history, and goes back as far as Roman times. In the Renaissance period it produced names we all learned about at school, such as Dante or Petrarch. It didn’t stop there, of course. Combine this long poetry tradition with the fact that Italy was, and still is, a vast country with strong regional dialects, and you have fertile ground for contemporary poetry.

The twentieth century was a prolific period for Italian poetry, perhaps its most prolific. Many contemporary Italian poets were also translators, but this didn’t necessarily mean they were themselves translated into other languages, especially into notoriously resistant English. There’s been a change though in our century, and now both twentieth- and twenty-first-century Italian poets are finding their way into English. Take, for example, the names of Eugenio Montale, Cesare Pavese, Giovanni Pascoli, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Mario Luzi, Giorgio Caproni, Sandro Penna, Patrizia Cavalli, Valerio Magrelli, Fabio Pusterla, Gabriele Frasca, Pierluigi Capello, Antonella Anedda, Luciano Erba, Vittorio Sereni, Franca Mancinelli, Laura Fusco and Milo De Angelis. And there are many, many more.

Working on this selection of contemporary Italian poetry translated (or in the process of being translated) into English for The Italian Riveter was an exciting journey of discovery. I am the first to admit that I didn’t know much about modern Italian poetry before I boarded this train, and I am a poet who prides myself on reading widely. What you are about to read is an incomplete and highly subjective selection, although informed by the wonderful advocates of Italian verse in this country, Cristina Viti and Stephen Watts, to whom many thanks. Together we have tried to create a fair, if personal, portrait (with sample morsels) of what is happening in Italian poetry. So we would like to invite you to join us in our imaginary festival piazza to hear some contemporary Italian poets reading their verse. Our festival guest list includes: a poet writing in dialect, Fabio Franzin; poets for whom Italian is not their first language, Ribka Sibhatu, Gëzim Hajdari; and a slam poet, Dome Bulfaro. We also have strong female representation, as well as some queer writing from Sandro Penna, and we cover poetry on topical subjects, such as immigration and the refugee crisis, from Ribka Sibhatu, or climate change, Tiziano Fratus.

Lello Voce, the poet, performer and member of Gruppo 93, when asked to draft a ‘map’ of new Italian poetry, included not only geographical divisions, but also some significant poetry movements: neo-Hermeticism, neo-Orphic poetry and the experimentalist, expressionist new avantgarde. What also struck me the most and filled me with deepest admiration are the strong influences of twentieth-century movements such as Futurism and Hermeticism, with their reduction to the basics, poetry without punctuation, concise compositions, sometimes as short as only two or three lines.

Italian poetry is going strong, that’s clear after my reading for this magazine, and I sincerely hope that more of it makes it into English. As Paulo Febbraro wrote in his article on poetry for newitalianbooks:

‘There is no doubt that, culturally speaking, Italy is a transnational phenomenon and so increasingly is its poetry. In terms of the number of countries in which Italian poetry is read and the many references made to it, today’s Italian poets fear no competition, capitalising on the innovation and deprovincialisation carried out by their predecessors.’

By Anna Blasiak


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