The Italianist: La poesia è un unicorno, by F. Genti

The book also serves pretty well for a general audience dipping their toes into contemporary Italian poetry, as the author provides a substantial bibliography (four pages long), containing all the references to the poems she cites throughout the book; poems which range from Italian classics such as Dante, Angiolieri, and Boccaccio, via modern classics such as Montale, Maraini, Rodari, and Rosselli, to contemporary writers such as Catalano, Gualtieri, and Lamarque.

It’s summer, it’s hot, I am in Rome. The most transient of spaces there is, Termini station. I’m running, fast, trying to catch my train – which I miss.

I am angry and hot, as I’m waiting for the next train, I go to the bathroom. As I’m drying my hands under one of those loud things that spit out warm air, I read through the wall graffiti. Phone numbers, offers of various sex acts, obscene cartoons, and among all the scribbles, this vertically beautiful couplet:

Forse la giovinezza è solo questo
perenne amare i sensi e non pentirsi

[Maybe youth is only this
perennial love of senses with no regret]

The graffiti author has not included the name of the actual author, but I know the verses are by Sandro Penna. I know that because I read and learned them several thousand times; but even if I had not read that specific poem, I would know that it is his voice, I recognise it, just like you recognise a friend’s voice as you pick up the phone.

From the afterlife, Sandro has lifted the receiver of his grey SIP telephone, the one I saw in Umano non umano, the documentary about him by Mario Schifano, and gave me a quick call, a nod, a wink.

Yes, because that’s what poetry is: a personal interview, a private conversation.

Between you and me. A phone call, with the living and with the dead.

Read the full piece at European Literature Network!

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