Poetry and Poetics
Because I never did die, sepia and self
with others was jocund smashed in
I write obscure, blissful fog and without
sun the sky, floured with wearinesses
the monotonies of living by jolts
acute and low.
11 March 1995
Intent upon describing the landscape I intruded; gushed from it restless the primary scene: spinning tops, caverns, demystifying scenes. It’s a scene this one that keeps me from thinking while with a machine gun I elegantly mow you all down.
What a corvée of madmen! What an elegant gathering! What disheveled elegance! Timetables off shift and blessed inkwells.
A structure to make myself bigger. “Story of Ada”: determinism of form and drafting of the enchanted. How many tiles to design an approach for you!
Fundamental differences: before you the drafting of an assignment that embracing totality wouldn’t deny curvy individuality.
Which being made of scattered material fumbled to distinguish the true from the false, the false from the crude, the crude from the beautiful, desire from goodness! It was delirious that day that I spent twisting desire.
I being a paradise can’t get close to the eternal, burning of the skin that has no distinguishable borders.
Why beat your chest? It has a burning you can’t imagine in the dark night that dragging itself behind a donkey skin, did what couldn’t be hidden: it burned itself.
Shouts of the beautiful weapons, deserved laurel, I don’t deny deserving but: I seek some bicycle newer to desire. In any case I don’t see which broached debate could appear less difficult. And seeing you all I convinced you not to leave me behind.
Which black veil: which white rhyme: which gray shame.
The project enlightened: it was no longer a hope but a will.
I decided to express myself with majesty and furor although the words at times assumed a demeanor beyond disrespectful. Why, you asked me, and you illustrated your difficulties, objective they too though not conclusive.
I have no other candor than this imbridled fondness of mine for the majestic shadows of paradise on earth.
Paradise? But it’s furor, battle and conviction.
No—it’s my shadow, my license to freedom in action, limited by the many biological crises.
Do you want to contain yourSelves? Well then, with that cane in hand, I’ll show you oh my friends, that it wasn’t blue blood, lively, paralyzed, lighting up the many hopes but instead an easy pugnacity that displayed its mood with irreproachable composure.
Is it irreproachable? No—it’s empty and candid; black and sad, erotic in its foundations and moralistic in its debates contaminated by articulations and caskets.
Was I derisive of power? Did I count on two fingers your misanthropies, my complaints, your affection? The game, abrupt, negative – almost always solitaire– wasn’t played: it was destroyed, with a rusty pen in hand, and with white pages dedicated to tranquility.
Which black deep commitment in my menstruation!
Sheets proud with disobedience: how to wash from the cloak of grey splendor that smell of his so familiar of gasoline, of wine, of squandering of seed?
She ended up seizing the perfect moment to scare in his kingdom this grey and mustached man, of an improper will to be more than he seemed. I also ended up recounting – between one intermission and the next (intermission of love, silence of love, brochure of infanticide) – which were his piques, defects, which was his, and my, disintegration.
I didn’t see any usurper to the throne asking my forgiveness.
The situational ugliness of our migraines allows us to believe that you won’t be as you appear.
Empty green violet and red. The yellow didn’t smile at all at all, because you would violate it in vain. Green violet yellow and red, white like me. Full of gasoline. You bear the brand of an old beast and you don’t let yourself caress its teats why?
The honeymoon is almost over! – she told herself and thus learned to dust.
I wished to burn! and I served a little or a lot as combustion for others.
The priggish ones pretending to be so bright, I began to clasp in my hand this Obtuse Diary.
Passive was my passive light in my cluttered day rolled down in the trash generalizing a bit.
Paranoid burst of the wind!
However forever flying about the adults added salt, ingenuity, catastrophe, and Swiss cheese spread.
Tombs empty and curved, lips cotton-colored when you faint toward the true sky forever green and blue. All the colors strewed themselves with decisions. Color of the peaceful sky!
Whole of the yellow wholeness . . .
Translated from Italian by
Deborah Woodward & Dario De Pasquale & Roberta Antognini
In the black star of my destiny…
In the black star of my destiny
I have something that isn’t this
versifying for good ladies or knaves
or deluded spent silent stars
or the hoarse vanity of being among the first
Atop the ship’s swaying arbor
that adapted well to each wind
and returned ever quietly,
But now you’ve magnificently chosen
your luck: drawing from the draw
an imaginary kiss, all
a trail of distinctions, vague
Straight into the muddy void
never raise your voice, truly: when
pausing near your passion
you burned it.
Fallen snowflakes serve
as a wish for a lightless life, and
their dance is all a farce, because
we haven’t lit the lights.
Evil seeps below arduous
fountains, strong with its strong ambition,
like the wind it moves mouthfuls of snow.
Wisdom is rigor mortis . . . rigging
the game is safer than this squallish
state of being lost and found along the roads of
reason . . . .
The snowy sky is immobile as if warning against
a grand immobile servitude. The
snow has nearly stopped hoping.
Translated from the Italian by
The second part of Hospital Series, written some years later, is very different—to be contrasted with the first part, composed of that long, fluid song that can never again be repeated. Eighty poems, of a cautious and, I believe, extremely interior tone. A grave illness that didn’t seem definitively curable at the time exhausted me (it was Parkinson’s, diagnosed rather late, at around age 39). Such an illness would never have allowed me to work as an organist, a post offered to me by a teacher. I could read or write, and naturally, study, only at the cost of grave efforts. What’s more, to resist weakness and survive in some way creatively, I had to isolate myself and conduct a life that was systematically private, interiorized, lacking in contacts. The poems reflect this melancholic privation of life, but I believe, and hope, also a greater linguistic rigor, and a recognition with greater humility of the many cultural debts (not only toward the usual Rimbaud, Kafka, Campana, Montale), in the face of writers considered either “minor“ or surpassed (Saba, the hermetics, Mallarmé, Verlaine, Rilke, et al.). The series of poems is of the order of the “hospital“ insofar as it is also resigned to a critical retracing of one’s own steps, insofar as it is no longer bellicose in the face of rarer or more rarefied sentiments and intuitions. A.R.
from An Interview with Giacinto Spagnoletti
BAD POETRY for YOU
With quick sure strokes: I bring you my celebration, my
celebrating vain glory, in a spell cast by merchants
and an industrious offspring. The giant bridges are dwarfs
when I come down from my blessed roof, and advance, a
most assured avant-garde—(more so among the plebes, a bit
mysterious to us).
But having found you—intent on polishing asphalts—I roll out
of my bed, climb to the roof, and beat you up. Or else
I stay up there, unsure whether to bless you or to possess you, in short
promiscuously melded with the sky, that goatish as
milk, promises nothing.
And it doesn’t promise to cripple you: or to clone you, it asks
only for a rematch, and to disown you.
Maybe I’ll die, maybe I’ll leave you these
poor trifles as a memento: don’t distribute
any thoughts in the woods for the poor, but
upon the rich, bestow all my blood.
And my blood in rich rivulets refuses
to be surprised: promiscuity with the neighbours
or a woof in the woods. Clasp about
me your flowered hand, depart for
yet another case of bloodless flowering, I
have never promised, permitted, my being
the one who pines away.
But on the trail of life there’s a battle
of puppies, spectacular fan for
my condolences. Once more tie the cart
to my lips, which condescending to
speak, strangle, the blood and the vision
in an incest of smiles, promiscuity
sly blemishes. So many reasons for my
equivocal camouflage: a little womb
breathing, a voice falling silent, and the neglected
aspirin that remembers: death is a sweet
companion, retiring you from aspirations.
Dead I engage the traumatological line
to house these words: write them on
my lost grave: “this one can’t write, she dies
roosting on the basket of undigested things
her manias uncertain.”
Uncertain her expectations, and the flowers in
mourning, admonish. Bombarded by a river
of words, she argues, chooses a path, hardly
a match for her dexterities, were there any
to contribute to the great reformation of such tenacious
thoughts. She puts her right hand on the wheel
breaks it and deftly, embarks upon magnificent
In purely human terms, as if his journey
had been cut short, I told him: “don’t buttonhole
friendship,” “it’s definitive.” If journeys bear
no fruit, if they are fruitless, at least take off your shirt
so I can see your sweat.
And he answered me: “if
a whole line is straight, clear, if the whole of my
belonging is straightforward,” and I: “you’re not the only one on the
straight snaking line, for it snakes back on itself, it kisses your
hand.” And he replied: “but I head out in a huff, pointlessly
reflecting on your words.”
“They emaciate me.” —viaduct conducive to the madness
of knowing you with me, but distant, unreachable, like
the secret stabbing at the heart of things. They wither
becoming sparser, repeated endlessly, in tight garland
about your scanty brow.
I inherited the grass, things, the hammers on your
brow a tragedy turning ever grimmer.
I inherited from the grass its grim color, it cuts
the fodder in two. And it chisels, the future, before
you conform to yourself (before you saved yourself)
I fell. You fall trembling, subjugated, by your immense
And there was nothing other than fodder. Holed up I found
two of them, chiseled with the master’s touch. Trembling, trembling
troubles, little shining plates.
“And then I’m not the type to be a rancorist“ and
fleeing then she saw, ex-peasant that she was, one has
to square accounts. She flees, would like to cry, or at least
sit down for a bit, but “I’m not a rancorist” and she
keeps all the slaver in her mouth.
Strange this communion of thoughts, strange this
equal sniffing of each other, strange this sleeping pill not
pricking, overdoing it, deriving nothing from the lesson
but satisfaction. (And as she descended the stairs pricking
her eye were the words “I love you my dear
for settling everything.”)
And with everything settled, she cried, a bit desperate
in her cell, biochemical her reaction. I’m afraid
I’m little batty, she replied to the land-
lord—but what are you doing with the gun?
I’m pushing it into its hole.
And a shot fired transversally hitting
the retinal screen, then he sank softly onto the
couch, but was on the floor tiles red
Beware the medusa: white slightly livid, the Giulietta
Alfa Romeo heads past you, quarrels the golden
silence and kindles in your faith a hope of
disappointment. Without paradise we were, castrated, in the unkwon
faith in a tomorrow that doesn’t want to appear vain but shoots
buds upon your sleeping-pill-addicted head.
Bird shit on the windshield drops softly
into the interruption of your dream. Liquefied you return
to your duties, one intention less.
Two tigers in the garden: of slightly blackend copper
of glass the living room, and your new science
clings to the horizon, may you feel
the need for it.
And then the sentinel fires and flees, leaving you
undesirable upon your couch. Then escape
comes to mind, finding another scale
to counteract the weight—of your entire length
pulling you by the hair. There’s no solvent
that doesn’t bicker: stretch out, reflect, and announce
sad dawns, bashful sciences, pornographic
photographs and even, in the hop of a bird
little true things. Issuing devices you
revive, stretched out with soft drinks—you overdo yourself,
that living room letting you die, in an ill-starred
glass that punishes you.
How beautiful these poppies are. They spiritualize
the grass, which grates cheeses from them.
Rio Claro: mechanized center: flowers (with
no names) extend a helping hand. It drizzles
and saddened (if you are) extend an arm to the
wind and the sparse rain.
Then you feel deferred: they’ve whisked away
all their breasts from the giantesses! Once again extend
a helping hand to the umbrella, and extend
a frugal foot to the earth, little sneezing monstrous
dust. Don’t get caught without
an umbrella: it’s raining like hell now that you’ve smelled
the full scent of the flowers (if there were any).
Complicity’s arches by the sea, Easter
of the beautiful, arches of the cold in your
personal Noah’s Ark: a frigid engloving
body and soul: for a foal, fingertip
ineffable affirmation of boredom,
distension of the glove in the hand and
thus a ball point useful in adjusting
Which would rather be sitting there
indolently bathing, stretching coats-of-arms
from your speech, they smooth it out and
then display it to the public.
What do they display? Your incongruities
then a smack on the behind then another
little thing: his heart identifying
with wine. Lesbian smack, or good-for-nothing
then another little sadness, your
scissors, snipping, each inclination
(transparent sleepless your wetting
the cat’s head, its tail, when
its own heat drove it wild.)
I sell you my kitchen burners, then you scratch them
and sit unprepared in the desk
if I sell you the featherweight yoke of
my infirm mind, the lighter my load, the happier
I am. Undone by the rain
and by pangs incommensurable menstruation
senility drawing near, petrolific
A cry in the mouth that not even
tranquilizers can relieve
completely isolated from its fellow
thermic filth, homely virtue
of sneezing, with an extra cast on the
foot, your hunger of crystalline relaxations
limps so badly, features
of a smaller universe, a show
of necessary feelings, small
semblance. From the dead the order to
depart, dozing in the last
farewell—taking in God’s bounty with
We with a flat tire couldn’t
bridge the distance with a yell
and were swept away, unnecessary plan
toward unattainable altitudes:
with this craving for caresses, which
shall never deflate your sails
but exposes the hinges of a poverty
that sniffing at its belongings
spoke of no longer being
able to walk.
Amelia Rosselli; Hospital Series (Translated from the Italian by Deborah Woodard, Roberta Antognini, and Giuseppe Leporace) // NEW DIRECTIONS POETRY PAMPHLET #19
from Variazioni belliche / Bellicose Variations (1964)
What ails my heart which beats so suavely
& maketh hee disconsolate, ese
soundings quite steel? lle Those
scomminglings therein ’mprinted fore Ille
be harrowed so
fiercely, alle hath evanished! O shhd mine
hares rampant thru th’nerves &s thru
channels rimed ’f thisse my lymph (o life!)
not stopp, thus yes, th’I, mio
nearyng unto mortae! In alle claundors soul of mine
thou dost propose a cure, thee I imbrace, you,—
find ’at Suave Word, you, return
to the comprehended saying that makes sure love remains.
from Documento / Document (1966-1973)
blown down the stairs,
likeness that I make of each thing
that passes through my mind
as if forgiveness were always at the ready there.
To barter the cigarettes of others
for a dormer full of good books . . .
In the court and the percentages I saw
the trial extended between the lines
and I acquitted the commanding officer
because you were the usual slaughterer
of women in the labyrinth
frightened by the scream
between mountains of stone
in the horror of a bomb
like all of our best things:
politics in its chintzy sale
you bestow your assembled powers liberally
amongst the illiterate of the neighborhood
and amongst the dust you were carrying intact
in grey luggage.
this is the sea today
in waves more serene that slash
that scream & that toil of yours deliberately
vision of a gash with a gash
everything remakes itself,
& from the top & again
the fragrant lymphatic canals
in the empty shack
no one can any longer lay hands on
trading them for a metaphor.
There’s something like pain in this chamber, and
it is partly overcome: but the weight
of objects wins, their signifying
weight and loss.
There’s something like red in the tree, but it is
the orange of the lamp base
purchased in places I don’t wish to remember
because they also weigh.
Like nothing I can know of your hunger
the stylized fountains are
precise in wanting
a reversal can be settled of the destiny
of men divided by oblique noise.
General Strike 1969
lamps wholly alight and in the howl
of a calm audacious crowd
to find yourself there, acting with seriousness:
taking risks! May this apparent
childishness shatter even my own
power not to give a damn.
A deep inner God could have sufficed
my egotism did not suffice for me
the taste of riches in an otherwise
throttled revenge did not suffice
for these people. We had to
express something better: allow ourselves
this rhetoric that was a howl
of protest against undaunted
destruction in our frightened
houses. (I lost on my own that vertical
love of solitary god
revolutionizing myself in the people
removing myself from heaven.)
I try one market—then I try another
I soar over difficulties yet remain
bogged in them: it’s like saying, sure, if you want me
I’ll be like you: the same pap to your
Poetically one dodges, tries one’s best
even more ambiguous: the research of those who are well
has no end.
Ten shillings a year ensure
survival, if well ensnared,
manipulated to serve you all as if I worked.
Money situated within the minimum manageable
to comment on the situation you’ve
thrown open, on these abysses that are
a howling at the verge of death so as not to die
of starvation or discouragement: no one
wants your dirty verse: as you write
the line to Fidel, or to some other choice
to heroize your faintly traced existence.
You try other heroes, other sacrifices until
you realize they don’t want you and the revolution
doesn’t even exist, it’s all to be done, not
certainly by us. So you decide instead to separate yourself
between two that are ludicrous the first is preexistent
between two oddities to choose the less attractive one
and explain yourself thus, as if they asked you to
(and indeed these days everything’s a market). But
if everything has been and will always be a market?
If wanting the market you find yourself revolutionary
and wanting to be head revolutionary you find yourself
a market? Will willed nothing but
shifted from one channel to another, mysteriously
your honor’s will was done, to change the other
(the whole world does as you do, if it can) because
certainly what it had decided was that
(as if by chance). Hesitant you rewrite or reinscribe yourself
into the aristocracy-élite of
artistic minds: no account in the bank
but that minimum ensured predestines you
to the forging of revolutions of content
and attempts at revolution within content.
lemon hill: impeccable
loneliness! impregnate with light
am I this evening: undark
the green summer or ecstatic
the violet march
toward vendetta …
European continence, if ever it came
with a load of livestock
like the therapy of science
that was this our thinking each
day, the freedom to think.
They worried in short and stifled
vain what was never written
upon neutral sudden
or simply the ambition of one’s own
Four indivisible stanzas
four most hidden corners
dust or greyness and forgetfulness
have composed you all this ballad
(corners of my four stanzas)
does not disturb your gasping I
does not turn into forceful song.
in the nordic
palm grove of deconsecrated churches,
the city in the palm
life to carbonize
(for Pier Paolo Pasolini)
And I can transfigure you
hand you over to another
as far as that altar
of the Fatherland that you called
And there is dance and joy and wine
this evening:—for those who do not dine
in the dimmed rooms
of the Vatican.
I toiled: still engaged
in learning to live, except that
trembling all over, you came close
to show me another way.
The curtains are pulled, the violet
of the eye is round, it is not
sad, but since you were praying
I closed the door.
The maid did not come in;
she fainted; discovering you dead
she dropped off pallid.
She dropped off mad, and shocked
in the limbs, gathers
the extrems to herself.
I wished to hell this to another childhood
and not to this rocking
But the rest is silent: I hear no
sound that is not peace
as the pencil trembles on the page
And I blush as well, at such display
of a nude cadaver stunned.
Fake lukewarmth blessed the home
an a balm-cricket
sneezed in the silence
habit doing without its
Waxed, the oily intense
Situationist between one field and the other
the magnificent landscape in its exuberance
the tired word kisses
the naked feet on the marble slab.
Then it spreads amidst the ruckus
of the streets
like the stars
The color that returns from black
to the green of a famished lawn
flowers gone down mellow
pose for artists
watching me ramble mellowly
amidst the streets to white vaults.
And if posing nude for old cameramen
the governess intent
in her workaday
even the cat took on an existence
and everywhere an odor of closure
of furniture out of use.
You verify the incident
then presume to know more about it
displaying your arrogance.
Pearls hang on the fresh
neck of a Madonna depicted in fresco.
And you roll the cigarette and make
a gesture not of denial but of
Across the sky that
in its gondolas passed
far from the spring
words escaped, aghast
without amorous noise.
Punk on the street stands in for amity.
You were as one has to be
in the green null of passion spent
dropping toward the ground barely bowed
like that mountain for whom the page has no room
Introduction to “Metrical Spaces”
Having read all sorts of poetry from the time that I was very young, at times in English (classics and non), at times in French or in Italian, and having read a lot of prose (Faulkner, for example, or the poetic prose of Eliot), I asked myself how to escape from the banality of the usual free verse, which at the time seemed unhinged, lacking in historical justification, and above all, exhausted. Though I was reading and writing a lot, in reality I was studying musical composition, and intensely; already at the age of seventeen, finding myself in London, I became acquainted with the problems of modern music, and studied its various new theorizations (Bartók for the Hungarian school, and research into different notations for popular folk song, to be found in music that wasn’t “educated“ in the tempered system of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, by the usual intonations defined by Leibniz and above all by Bach). (This system seemed so rich that it is presumed to be the only one even today. In reality, systems called “dodecaphonic“ were already being formulated from the years of the Second World War forward, in Austria—systems which aimed to amplify the field of musical writing outside of the tonal or modal.)
In the writing of poetry many intuited this need, and made gestures toward long, elastic lines, alluding to a classical form that was still unkown; they did this not wishing to return to sterile neoclassical forms, nor, in fact, to the so-called free verse that had already been so exploited at the beginning of the century by the surrealists and by fashion. It was possible for all to express themselves in this vague scansion, and few knew how to use free verse as a form inherent to their discourse (Neruda; Breton; Hopkins; Whitman), and with prosaic and primarly musical elegance. The gesture toward forms of the past, this intuiting of fixed but new forms, was common to many important poets, but the poet rarely theorizes his or her form even if it is innovative; the poet instead “feels“ it, and doesn’t want to analyze it, and renews free verse aiming at intuited forms and dreamt metrics, which would nevertheless break out of every neoclassical scheme. In Garcia Lorca’s poetry, in that of Dylan Thomas and Gerard Manley Hopkins, and in many poems of the late nineteeenth century (Lautréamont) and early twentieth century (Surrealism, Imagism) the author escapes from a similar dilemma, usually simply comromising with both the classical and extreme forms of a “free“ verse, which is in the end a useful vehicle for new contents and metaphorical combinations, but weak in its monotony, and poorly distinguishable from common prose.
That my research in the field of “folk,“ or ethnomusicology, influenced the search for a stricter, more severe, and geometrically formulated versification is obvious; though I had been writing prose pieces and poems in different languages since the age of seventeen, as if testing valid new forms in every language, I did not succeed in formulating this new geometrism—even after much study of mathematics, physics, and sentence analysis—until age 28, with the opening of the first lines of the poem La libellula (1958). The problem seemed so complex that I had even established a correlation between the metrical question and problems in spatial photography, living the poem without writing it, and mentally and emotionally “filming“ each environing reality. As if writing verse were equivalent to the sensing [sentire] and thinking of an environing visual-emotional space, I practically thought in forms that were approximately cubic, with sensing following seeing in terms of energy as well.
My introductory argument to this essay, which is already in itself dense and difficult, because highly personal, and at the same time dogmatic, continues to be overly vague.
I had the chance to explain my intentions in poetic realization when I brought my first book Variazioni belliche / Bellicose Variations (1959-1963) to Pier Paolo Pasolini, already having a commitment by Vittorini and Calvino to publish 24 poems in Il Menabò No. 6. I remember that it proved impossible to clarify my intentions, especially those that had to do with meter. Pasolini asked me to write about what had encumbered me so in explaining. Returning home, frightened by the difficult task, I described in a way that was not overly technical what was impossible to specify in conversation. Realizing that many were indifferent to such a theme or problem, I condensed and lightened the explication in such a way as to render it accessible and incomprehensible at the same time: that is, I used a vocabulary that was in part musical, and avoided classical or scholastic terminology, seeking to express myself at a simple mathematical level, and at an average grammatical and musical level. I believe that none of the critics, literati, or poets comprehended that 1962 piece titled “Spazi metrici“; I included it at the end of the book when I had to correct the first proofs, as a brief afterword of mine. Years later, the problems described in the essay were highlighted by Mengaldo in his 1978 Mondadori anthology. I note that the poetry of others is often linked to the metrical system proposed there; whether consciously or not, I wouldn’t know.
I think that I have hit upon something, and I believe that the text is valid and even to be expanded upon, in the case that only a few poets comprehend it. It is not a matter of graphic “systematizations“ but of sensitizing the poet to other disciplines, among which stand those of the cinematographer, modern physics, and aerodynamics. I have personally never felt myself to break away from this same metrical system, and I hope that for the scholars of modern prosody, this text of mine can be of fundamental help in the future.
(February 4, 1993)
Metrical Spaces (1962)
Half a century after the searching start—across and between tongues—of her uncompromising poetic practice, the poet Amelia Rosselli has emerged in global literary discussions as exemplary: as both prophetic and crucially contemporary. She has come to occupy a prominent position in literary history as one of the twentieth century’s most significant and demanding poets of the Italian language and beyond, with a body of work that concretizes in its agitation the postwar era’s fallout and bequest. Her books of poetry and recently collected prose are testaments to a uniquely multiform sincerity, and to a fiendishly restless mind, synthesizing a literary tradition that stretches from the thirteenth-century dolce stil novo through Rimbaud, Campana, Kafka, Joyce, and Pasternak with the frankness of the news. The daughter of an assassinated hero of the Italian Resistance who spent her childhood and adolescence in exile between France, England, and the United States before settling in Rome, Rosselli is esteemed for the idiolect she forged to voice the aftermath of this experience while resisting both the confessional first person dominating mainstream poetry during the years of her production and the aesthetic conformities of vanguardist schools. Self-described “poeta della ricerca” (“poet of research”), she regarded poetry as a sphere of activity exceeding the narcissistic gamut of self-expression and constraint of genteel intellectualism: language in Rosselli’s handling is a site of innovation with imperative philosophical and political consequences. Never mere linguistic exercise, her writing launches explicit and implicit structural assaults on the authority of traditional poetic forms, as well as the social and cognitive forms that gave rise to them.
She has fed me senseless small change, brought me to the bank, had me counted and found the sum surplus. —“My Clothes to the Wind” (1952)
To summarize her oeuvre, then, is but “an obligatory cruelty”; in its errancies, this work draws into question the synthetic categories of postwar poetry that have been forged thus far. In the early English prose piece called “My Clothes to the Wind,” the young author describes those who would encompass her as “Biscuit-makers all, and I a crumb who’d not coagulate,” voicing an attitude of alienation from reigning forms that would persist on many fronts. Rosselli’s tumultuous upbringing in the midst and aftermath of the Second World War as a victim of Fascism fostered her estrangement from the Italian literary establishment for decades. Being linguistically and culturally heterogeneous, her writing was initially regarded as a key exception to the rule of this national literature, even in the face of acclaim by prominent poet-critics and her historical distinction as the first—and still one of few—female Italian authors included in canon-defining anthologies of twentieth-century poetry. Yet as consciousness rises regarding the fundamental reciprocity between italianità (Italianness), emigration, and immigration, her poetic output has been subject to an explosion of attention. The impulses of Rosselli’s work in and against the Italian language are best appreciated when aligned with aesthetic trends that are international, while her role in shaping the future of this particular language and its literature is best grasped if we listen for the way it articulates the Italian patria, or “fatherland,” as itself a hybrid, transnational cultural formation. Rosselli’s is arguably the poetry most vital to evolving understandings of global modernism and postmodernism to have emerged from postwar Italy, testifying to the privations and hard-won inheritance of cultures bound by colossal networks of commerce and violence. Her poetic transmutes the war into which she was born into a battle against every species of tyranny: literary, cultural, sexual, economic, and, congenitally, political.
Rosselli was born in Paris in 1930 into a prominently, ardently antitotalitarian climate—into a family living in political exile. Her paternal grandmother and namesake, Amelia Pincherle Rosselli, was a secular Jewish Venetian feminist and republican thinker from a family active in the unification of Italy; Amelia Pincherle was the celebrated author of plays, some in Venetian dialect, and of short stories, children’s literature, political and literary essays, and translations. Amelia’s mother, Marion Catherine Cave, was a brilliant English activist of the Labour Party, from a family of Quaker and distant Irish Catholic heritage and modest means. Her father, Carlo Rosselli, was an intellectual leader and eventually a martyr of the anti-Fascist Resistance. Having been convicted—in a trial he exploited to critique Mussolini’s regime—of facilitating socialist Filippo Turati’s flight from Italy, Carlo himself escaped from the penal colony on the island of Lipari in 1929; Marion, pregnant with Amelia, was briefly arrested for complicity before the family was reunited in Paris. It was from the French capital that, with his brother Nello, Carlo launched Justice and Liberty, a prominent non-Marxist resistance movement based on principles of “liberal socialism,” which included Primo Levi, Cesare Pavese, and Leone Ginzburg among its affiliates, and later became the influential if short-lived Action Party. Upon the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Carlo was among the first to mobilize an armed brigade of volunteers in the fight against Franco, articulating the importance of organizing resistance to Fascism across Europe with the rallying cry “Today in Spain, tomorrow in Italy.” Identified as prime enemies of the regime, the Rosselli brothers were brutally murdered by the French Fascist terrorist organ La Cagoule in Bagnoles-de-l’Orne, Normandy in June 1937. The news was dealt to the seven-year-old “Melina” and her younger brother Andrea by their mother as a problem of language: “Do you know what the word assassination means?” She recalled in a 1987 interview, “We answered yes.”