Vittoriano Esposito

If the birth of dialect literature is to be placed not beyond the Sixteenth century, that is, the period in which the Florentine and Tuscan vernacular in general imposes itself as a literary language on the national level, relegating all other regional vernaculars to the rank of "dialects," namely secondary idioms and local tongues, one can easily state that the first document of dialect poetry from Abruzzi is a caudate sonnet, written by the Tailor Mariano Moreiro (L'Aquila, ? 1551) for the death of Serafino Aquilano.
From the first part of the Seventeenth Century is then a "Canzone in lingua rustica cicolana" by Giovanni Argoli (1606 1660), from Tagliacozzo, author of Idilli and of a long poem, Endimione, composed in imitation of Marino's Adonis when he was about twenty. In the same century, but with a few reservations about the dialect adopted, one can remember the collection of Sonnets by Loreto Mattei from Rieti (1623 1705), belonging to the linguistic area around L'Aquila: published posthumously in 1827, they employ a strongly realistic language, which is free of the Baroque excesses prevailing at the time.
To the Eighteenth Century belongs a singular poem entitled "Zu matrimonio azz'uso" [Ready-Made Wedding], written by Romualdo Parente from Scanno (1735-1831), in collaboration with two fellow-townsmen who have remained unknown, and published in Naples in 1765. It is a work of considerable importance, divided into two parts: the first describes, in 57 stanzas, "The wedding between Mariella and Nanno from the land of Scanno"; the second, shorter (it only has 16 stanzas), describes "La figlienza," Mariella's childbirth. The work is of great interest on the socio-linguistic level, with valid poetic results, because it trenchantly represents a whole environment and a community that takes part in an extraordinary event such as a wedding, from the preparations to the vows in church, to the procession, the banquet, the dance, the dowry, the gifts, the final farewell.
Between the end of the 18th Century and the beginning of the 19th we can situate a certain Mascetta, archpriest of Colledimacine, in the province of Chieti, to whom is attributed a short but heartbreaking text, "The Widow's Lament," anonymously set to music and inspired on the figure of a poor widow who, tormented by debts and abandoned by everybody, becomes desperate because "if the ram is missing / the dog always barks."
Also worthy of mention are the few verses left to us by Tito di Blasio, from Civitella Casanova (Pescara), who lived at the beginning of the 19th Century; and even more so is "The Peasant's Toast," by Giuseppe Paparella (18351895), from Tocco Casauria, that traces in a sharp and incisive manner the life of a poor farmer who takes part in a holiday in order to drink, among blows and curses, to everyone's health, to his friends, to the town's patron Saint. Everything is said in a plain language, taken from current popular speech.
With Fedele Romani (1855 -1910), from Colledara (Teramo), well- known teacher of Italian Literature at the University of Florence, dialect poetry from Abruzzi takes a significant step in the direction of a conscious literary dignity, even if he refuses to adopt "high-class dialect" and employs instead the "pure and primitive speech of the farmers" of his native town (cf. Li sunette de nu Colledarese, 1883) or, at any rate, the popular dialect of the city of Teramo (cf. Ddu huttave e ttre sunette, 1884).
More substantial and demanding is the work of Luigi Brigiotti (1859-1933), from Teramo, who draws on his long experience as a tax accountant for a wealth of material that reflects a reality inherent in the supposed everyday banality, which he portrays at times with irony, at times with vaguely social themes: from Nu recurde de l'Espusizione didattica (1899) to La gennasteca nova (monologue, 1903), Na chiacchiarate de gnore Paule (1904), La torre de lu Doome [The Duomo's Tower] (short poem, 1906), Nu vìcchie bandeste (monologue, 1912) and Lu panegìreche de Petrarca (no date). Just before his death, he rearranges the best of his work in the volume Strada facenne, with the acquired certainty of a dialect aiming at overcoming the variance between the "coarse" speech of the lower classes and the "clean" speech of the cultured class.
On the same level of literary invention moves Gaetano Murolo (1858-1903), born in Vasto from a Neapolitan family. Although he was forced to leave Abruzzi when still young for reasons of work, he retains firm ties with his native city and adopts its speech in a considerable output of sonnets, collected with the title Abruzzo (1886) and Ciamarèlle [Bagpipes], 1898. The two collections, edited by Tito Spinelli, have been reprinted recently in a fine volume entitled Sonetti dialettali [Dialect Sonnets], 1979, included in a series edited by Gianni Oliva for the publisher Cannarsa. Habits, customs, events, figures, but also personal sentiments in relation to changing occasions constitute the material that inspired Murolo.
Also from Vasto is Luigi Anelli (1860-1933), known mainly as a historian and playwright, author of a collection of forty sonnets, Fujj'ammesche [Mixed Leaves], 1892, in which he draws "small scenes," "slices of reality," fragments of town life, with the criteria typical of traditional sketches, nevertheless capable of showing glimpses of real drama.
Worthy of mention, among a few more names appearing between the end of the last century and the beginning of the present one, are Luigi Renzetti (1860 1931), from Lanciano, with Fiure de fratte [Hedge Flowers]; Ettore d'Orazio (1860-1931), from Villetta Barrea, author of a considerable output, from which only four sonnets have survived, with the explanatory title La disgrazia di Paulantonie o puramente U carcerate 'nnucente; Giovanni de Paulis (1861-1959), from Paganica, well known as painter and sculptor, who, in a collection of forty-one sonnets, marked by a plain and incisive style, recounts the misadventures of a poor "emigrant" farmer who "returns from Argentina"; finally, Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863-1938), the "Immaginifico," who did not disdain, all taken as he was by the cultivation of high style, to tackle a dozen dialect compositions, all tied to an occasion and playful in tone, among which we would mention the quatrains on the Pescara "parrozzo" [type of pastry] ("To Luigino D'Amiche") and the "pork sonnet" ("To Giacomino Acerbo").
Much richer and more varied is the Twentieth-Century landscape. The century opens with a small survey of Dialect Documents, prepared by Gennaro Finamore for the Rivista Abruzzese (Teramo, 1903); an important survey not only because the first of a series of antological surveys still to come until the present, but also because the well-known folklorist accompanies it with prejudicial observations that will be often discussed in the future, that is, that in "all our dialect compositions in verse it is not the poet, but the man of the people or the populace who is speaking; and for this reason one should not look to them for delicacy of sentiments or high flights of fancy." And he suggests, chancing a hasty comment, that the cause of the mediocrity of results depends on the common conviction "that the Abruzzi vernacular, too humble, was not suited to poetry."
Harking back to Finamore ten years later, Ermindo Campana, in the preface to his collection Voci d'Abruzzo (Vasto, 1914), containing selected pages by T. Bruni, F. Brigiotti, V. Ranalli, L. Anelli, A. Luciani and some of his own, notes that, with the exception of Luciani, we still have "the old prejudice" that dialect "cannot and should not go beyond certain limits," and that it is due precisely to this conviction if the work of our dialect poets shows a lack of subjective lyrics and abounds instead in satire and local color."
E. Campana is the first, in Abruzzo, to fight for this "false conviction," with the awareness that language and dialect, for the authentic poet, are "the same thing" and that, if there are "limits" at the stylistic-expressive level, they "vary naturally according to each poet, or rather they are but the limits of the artistic potential of the individual poet."
The first confirmation of this truth, as Campana himself observes, comes from the experience of Alfredo Luciani (1889-1969), from Pescosansonesco (Pescara), who with Stelle Lucenti (1913, 2nd Ed. 1921), must be considered the initiator of what could be called an Abruzzi "Stilnovo", marked by a vigorous tendency to lyric vocation, with the adoption of "a dialect that belongs to no one town and, collectively, to all the towns in Abruzzi," as Luciani underlined. The way was thus opened to what was later called a real regional koiné, a sort of "ideal and instinctive synthesis of all the phonetic and intonational nuances," into which converge in equal measure "a strong local flavor" and "a certain inten- tional verbal aristocracy." It is not by chance that Pasolini includes him in his anthology, along with De Titta and Clemente.
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, a similar course is followed by Cesare De Titta (1862-1933), relying on his own devices. Born in Sant'Eusanio del Sangro (Chieti), humanist and philologist of great learning, he went through an extraordinary experience of poetry in Italian and Latin, and comes to dialect poetry in his later years, but just the same leaving the mark of an uncommon presence: from Canzoni abruzzesi [Songs of Abruzzi] (1919) to Nuove canzoni abruzzesi (1923), to Gente d'Abruzzo [People of Abruzzi] (1923), to Terra d'ore [Golden Land] (1925), within the span of barely five years De Titta crosses all the stages one normally crosses in a lifetime. His masterpiece is undoubtedly Terra d'ore, considered by everyone "not only an artistic gem, but above all a jewel of expressive and phonetic precision," because the poet in tandem with the linguist have been able to penetrate deeply into the natural world of Abruzzi, portraying it with the inebriation of a panic adoration that vaguely recalls D'Annunzio's "carnal" effusion, but without falling into the snares of a troubled and arty sensuality of Decadent origin.
An analogous experience, even if in a rather discontinuous way, has Luigi Illuminati (1881-1962), from Atri, also a talented humanist and an expert in the art of versifying in Italian, Latin and dialect. In his style he is able of blending, in Luciani's footsteps, a local ingenuosness with an aristocratic taste for words, as attested by a few pages preserved and collected in the volume Ultima linea (1959).
Much more meaningful and more assiduously long-lasting, on similar positions, is the experience of Vittorio Clemente (1895-1975), from Bugnara (L'Aquila). Though he had already received recognition for his youthful work, Prime canzoni (1924) and La Madonna Addulerata (1925), it's in the aftermath of W.W. II that he attains wide acceptance and authoritative endorsements that establish him as one of the most active and valid figures of dialect poetry at the national level. From Sclocchitte (1948) and Acqua de magge (1952) to Tiempe de sole e fiure (1955), Canzune ad allegrie...(1960), Serenatelle abruzzesi (1965), Clemente follows a very personal path, until he attains a style all his own, which takes up and continues the cultured model of "local speech," stripping it of the artificial frills accumulated in our literary tradition, meager as it might be.
A voice of great breadth would have certainly become Umberto Postiglione (1893-1924), from Raiano (l'Aquila), if death had not taken him away so soon from life and poetry. His output is rather scant, but it contains pages that to us seem unforgettable. Among the few poems that have survived, in our judgment stand out "A na rinnele" [To a Swallow], "Ne fije spierze" [A Lost son], "A nu ruscigneuje" [To a Nightingale], suffused with a melancholy pathos, restrained yet heartbreaking.
Also worthy of being placed in the same line seems to us Cesare Fagiani (1901-1965), from Lanciano. Having made his debut with Lu done [The Gift], 1933, in collaboration with his father Alfonso, he gradually grows in self-awareness with Luna nove [New Moon], 1949, Stamme a sentì [Listen to Me], 1953, Lu pijiatore de feste [The Feast Organizer], 1965 and Fenestre aperte [Open Windows, 1966. Autobiographical confessions and ethical-social motivations combine in his inspiration, always running on the edge of popular inventiveness supported by a rather cultured style.
In the last thirty years many have continued the search for the word as inner exploration and lyric confession, essentially freed from traditional conditionings and therefore well established on avant-garde positions, so to speak, in keeping with the most advanced experiences taking place in all the regions of Italy. We regret, frankly, having to reserve only a brief mention for poets such as Walter Cianciusi (born in Cori, but resident in Collelongo), receiver of the most prestigious regional awards (from the "Teramo" to the "Pescara," to the "Francavilla" and "Lanciano"), author of two collections to be numbered among the best works of the second half of the Twentieth Century (L'ora delle cose [The Hour of Things] e Parlémene d'amore [Talk to me of Love]), respectively from 1975 and 1978; Marco Notamurzi (Scanno), who in Serena (1967) succeeds in capturing the essence of feelings and things, in a solid, spare verse; Salvatore Mampieri (Introdacqua) who, in the anguished pages of Na terre amara [Bitter Land], 1975, privileges a choral lyric, lending a voice to the joys and sorrows of his people; Luigi Monaco (born in Rome from an Abruzzi family), who in Val di contra (1976) is capable of "giving a voice to the silences of the soul," with a language totally free from bookish schemes; Tonino Merletti (Pineto), who in Allegrine (1986), even where he seems not to wander very far from local themes, is able to combine the freshness of spoken speech with the subtlety of the well-wrought text; Vittorio Monaco (Pettorano sul Gizio), who from Castagne pazze [Crazy Chestnuts], 1997 to La vie e ju viente [The Road and the Wind], 1988 and Specie de vierne, [Kind of Winter], 1989, with a language dense with evocative vibrations, is able to express man's disorientation before the erosion of our ancient values; Pietro Civitareale (Vittorito), who in a small collection, Come nu suonne [Like a Dream], 1984, displays a prodigious new voice, both strong and graceful, if devoid of "rhymes and even assonances"; Michele Ursini (Guastamerolli), who, from Gente e cose de paese [People and Things of the Town], 1975 to Lu cunforte [Comfort], 1980, is able to demonstrate how one can write new poetry without resorting to "linguistic archeology"; finally, Vito Moretti (S. Vito Chietino), the youngest of all, who from N'andica degnetà de fije [Ancient Filial Dignity], 1985 to La vuluntà e li jurne [Will and Days], 1986 and Déndre a na storie [Within a Story], 1988, follows a personal notion of "pure poetry," with a very controlled style, not far removed from a certain return to Hermeticism in recent times.
The landscape of dialect poetry from Abruzzi in the Twentieth century would be seriously lacking if, along with the tendency for the search for pure poetry, we didn't also point out other aspects and trends, minor perhaps, but not less interesting for the continuity of tradition. Throughout the whole century, for instance, there is an enduring and widening satirical-playful tendency, which finds in Modesto Della Porta (1885-1938) its master and favorite model. Born in Guardiagrele (Chieti), known as the poet-tailor, highly regarded by everyone while living and admired even by Trilussa, he presently engenders conflicting views among critics, not all of whom are convinced that he wrote real poetry. We believe, on the other hand, that his Ta-pù, lu trumbone d'accumpagnamente [Ta-pù, the Accompanying Trombone], 1933 is to be considered not only the most popular text of Abruzzi literature, but a small masterpiece of its genre as well. One should also add that the value and meaning of the book is not exhausted by its principal vein, no doubt grounded on local color, but it explores the most varied tonalities, ranging from the farcical to the ironic and elegiac, and even the dramatic. Finally, if one takes into account some of the scattered poems, of ethic-civil inspiration, one can doubtless state that Della Porta has a much more complex personality than might at first appear, which assures him a significant position in mid-century literary history. Following Modesto Della Porta's example are a numerous host of poets and versifiers of the second half of the century. We will mention only a few among the best-known: Elio Finizi (Atri), Alfonso Sardella (Teramo), Lelio Porreca (Torricella Peligna), Attilio Micozzi (Filetto), Emanuele Talone (Roccascalegna), Nicolò D'Eramo (Introdacqua), Vittorio Petrucci (Sulmona), Armando Gizzi (Cocullo), Nino Maurizi (Scoppitto), Evandro Ricci (Roccacasale), Dario e Cesidio Di Gravio (Cerchio).
Another widespread tendency is melic poetry, both monodic and choral. One should recall that, after sporadic attempts during the last century, it received a strong impetus from Evandro Marcolongo (1874-1959), from Atessa, and Luigi Dommarco (1876-1969), from Ortona, with the now famous Maggiolate ortonesi, successfully begun in 1920. Of the two, Dommarco had a more versatile personality and greater renown, in part due to the song Vola vola vola, that has traveled around the world. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry, some of which go well beyond the melodic line.
There have been really many who, throughout the century, have written for music and song, so that one can maintain that Abruzzi boasts of a canzoniere worthy of the Neapolitan one. Here are some of the names: Giulio Sigismondi (Guardiagrele), Mario Cieri (Città S. Angelo), Eduardo Di Loreto (Castelfrentano), Luigi Venturini (Tagliacozzo), Arturo Ursitti (Opi), Camillo Di Benedetto (Lanciano), Vincenzo De Luca (Ortona), Aniello Polsi (Mutignano); Giuseppe Antonelli (Nocciano), Giulio Marino (Pescara).
Another traditional vein running through the Twentieth Century is the ethic-religious, which in Abruzzi has strong and far-reaching roots, inasmuch as it dates back to the Laude that blossomed around L'Aquila in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth centuries. As an exponent of it in the last decades, we could mention P. Donatangelo Lupinetti (Castilenti), P. Antonio da Serramonacesca, don Mario Morelli (S. Gregorio), P. Natale Cavatassi (Tortoreto), Angelo Gallo (Tollo), Giuseppe Porto (Tornimparte), Angelo Semeraro (Sulmona). Among all of them, a particular mention deserves Raffaele Fraticelli (Chieti), who more than anybody else has been able to raise the Christian message to intensely poetic tones, as witnessed by several works, paramount among which are Parole de Vangele [Gospel Words], 1975 and Golgota (1983).
Civil and social themes, aimed at denunciation, protest, moral revolt against the evils and injustices caused by a culture of medieval origin as well as by the malaise typical of a consumer-oriented industrial society, have also found wide acceptance. Numerous and noteworthy are the names to be mentioned, above all: Pasquale Cianciusi (Collelongo), Giuseppe Gualtieri (Aielli), but emigrated to Detroit), Romolo Liberale (S. Benedetto dei Marsi), Luigi Susi (Trasacco), Pietro Assetta (Brecciarola), Antonino Di Donato (Chieti), Rino Panza (Introdacqua), Ercole Di Renzo (Celano).
Between civil commitment and lyric impetus are situated other poets with a significant output, who would require a lengthy treatment. A few of the most significant names: Ermando Magazzeni (Ornano Grande), with Aria fresche [Fresh Air], a really valuable work (1968, 1977); Giovanni Spitilli (Silvi Marina), with Spine fiurite [Blossoming Thorns], Fiure spinuse [Thorny Flowers] (1975, 1976), and Crucistrate (1985); Ugo Leandro Japadre (Lucolli), with Ju brunzinu [The Cow Bell], 1981, La massaria [The farm], 1984, and Quanno te nn'ice core [When the Heart Tells You], 1989; Camillo Coccione (Poggiofiorito), with Vulije di cante [Yearning to Sing], 1988; Quirino Lucarelli (Trasacco), with Ratiche de paese [Town Roots], 1987; Romolo Liberale (S. Benedetto dei Marsi), with Ce vo' ne munne gnove [We Need a New World], 1953 and Le stagioni [Seasons], 1981; Aldo Aimola (Guardiagrele), with Accante a lu fôche [Next to the Fire], 1982; Renzo Paris (Celano), with Vajjulitt' [Little Boy], 1983.
Very common, finally, is also the confessional-elegiac tendency, grounded in the regret for a world irremediably lost, with habits and customs evoked with undescribable anxiety and tenderness, with a language that adheres to realistic details while venturing into the sphere of dream and imagination. Here too we can only provide a few names: Guido Giuliante, from Pennapiedimonte, with Ro-zì (1956), L'addore de lu nide [The Smell of the Nest], 1957, La sagra dei talami (1965, 1966), Sapisce terra d'ore [If You Knew Golden Land], 1977; Francesco Brasile, from Lanciano, with Voce d'Abruzzo [Voice of Abruzzi], 1955, Maiella madre [Mother Maiella], 1958, Lu ramaiette [Wild Flowers], 1960, La mazze de lu campanile [The Bell Clapper], 1967, Lu cuncerte [The Concert], 1970; Giovanni Chiola, from Loreto Aprutino, with Gocce di guazza [Dewdrops], 1961 and Le feste arconusciute [Recognized Holidays], 1965; Mario Dell'Agata, from Penne, with Pecure e pastore [Sheep and Shepherds], 1979; Valeria e Luigia Garzarelli, di Ortona, with Nuvele e serene (1968) and L'anema siempre cante [The Soul Always Sings], 1969; Alberto Cesarii, from Chieti, with Le caveze rosce [Red Socks], 1965; Lora Lanci Fusilli, from Guastameroli, with Nû sême gne picciune [We Are Like Pigeons], 1988; and then Candida Di Santo (Lanciano), Gino Orsini and Anna Maria Maviglia (Chieti), Alfredo Postiglione (Raiano), Bice Solfaroli Camillocci (Montereale) and many others.
Beyond and above these groupings, whose objective is merely an introductory survey and not a historical overview, we must situate the five poets selected to represent the most rigorous and valuable experiences, both at the literary and more strictly poetic level, of the middle and second half of the century: Vittorio Clemente, Alessandro Dommarco, Ottaviano Giannangeli, Giuseppe Rosato and Cosimo Savastano. It is thanks to them if dialect poetry from Abruzzi, today, is not afraid of comparisons with that of other regions, as we believe the following pages will bear out.


Documenti dialettali, ediited by G. Finamore, Teramo 1903.
Voci d'Abruzzo, edited by E. Campana, Vasto 1914.
Canti della terra d'Abruzzo e Molise, edited by O. Giannangeli, Milan 1958.
Antologia dei poeti dialettali abruzzesi, edited by E. Giammarco, Pescara 1958.
Poeti marsicani. Storia antologia dalle origini ai nostri giorni, edited by V. Esposito, Avezzano 1971.
Poeti dialettali peligni, edited by O. Giannangeli, Lanciano 1959.
La poesia dialettale abruzzese dell'ultimo trentennio (1945-1975), edited by E. Giammarco, Pescara 1976.
Parnaso d'Abruzzo, edited by V. Esposito, Rome 1980.
Abruzzo, edited by G. Oliva e C. De Matteis, Brescia 1986.
Panorama della poesia abruzzese dialettale, edited by V. Esposito, Rome 1989.
Voci nuove del parnaso abruzzese, edited by V. Esposito, 1989.
Vocabolario dei vari dialetti del Sannio edited by di S. Nittoli, Bologna 1984.


G. Pischedda, Gli abruzzesi, in Il Belli, 1956.
E. Giammarco, Storia della cultura e della letteratura abruzzese, Rome 1969.
O. Giannangeli, Operatori letterari abruzzesi, Lanciano 1969.
G. Titta Rosa, "Un panorama di duemila anni", in Cinque abruzzesi e alcuni paesi d'Abruzzo, Milan 1970.
E. Giammarco, La poesia dialettale abruzzese dell'ultimo trentennio: 1945-1975.
R. Minore, in La Stampa, September 1978;
G. Oliva, Il parlar rozzo. La poesia dialettale abruzzese dell'Ottocento postunitario, in La letteratura dialettale in Italia, edited by P. Mazzamuto, Palermo 1984.
V. Esposito, Note di letteratura abruzzese, Rome 1982.
. Nuove note di letteratura abruzzese, Rome, 1991.