Antonio Lotierzo

Basilicata, a region bordering with Campania (West), with Puglia (North-East) and with Calabria (South), with a population of about 610.000 people scattered in one hundred and thirty towns, until 1950 had a type of life modeled on an archaic agricultural system, only in the last twenty years updated with well-watered cultivation areas, service sector jobs and pockets of industrialization. The isolation of the small communities has perpetuated archaic customs and beliefs, linked to forms of psychological impoverishment and illiteracy.
Italo Talia has written: "The same Basilicata dialects distinguish themselves from those of Campania and Puglia by a more accentuated conservation of archaic residues: in the Potenza territory the long Norman, Swabian and Angevin dominations, have barely grazed the Latin lexical patrimony, and in the Matera territory the Greek-classical heritage is more evident than the Byzantine (Talia, 1976, p. 146). Anna M. Compagna attests that the passage from the use of Latin to the vernacular is to be dated from the first decades of the Fifteenth Century and, in fact, it can be surmised that the "lack of an intense communal life in the Kingdom during the Fourteenth Century explains the absence of local vernacular documentary texts, found in such abundance elsewhere" (Compagna, 1983, p.280). Raffaele Nigro has documented a widespread usage, beginning with the Seventeenth Century, of poetic and political texts, but also religious and scientific, written in vernacular (Nigro, 1981). In the Nineteenth Century it is the historian Giacomo Racioppi who collects, starting in 1948, the songs of Moliterno, Saponara, Spinoso and Latronico, which would later become part of the collection edited by Casetti and Imbriani (Casetti-Imbriani, 1871).
In the Positivistic Age there was a keener interest in the recording of dialect, resulting in the publication of the collections in the dialect of Matera edited by Francesco Festa (1872 and 1883) and by Molinaro del Chiaro (1882) and the one in the dialect of Potenza by the poet Pietro La Guardia.
In 1932 there is the isolated case of the drama in the dialect of Senise: A mugghiera ru miricane [The American's Wife], Naples, Unione, by Paolo De Grazia. Homologous to dialect, to its syntactical constructions and symbolic density, is the entire poetic and narrative form of Rocco Scotellaro from Tricarico (1923-1953), one of the most significant Italian poets of the Neorealstic period, whose popular elements have been underlined (cf. Grassi, 1965), but not totally charted nor reconstructed through lemmas and concordances.
Even the refined Hermetic poet Leonardo Sinisgalli from Montemurro (1908-1981) toyed with dialect, going as far as collecting a few "poems from Basilicata selected and transcribed from the indigenous dialects." See with what keenness and stylistic force he presents those texts: "Basilicata is a land of passage: we poor natives are the only travelers who throw out their bags and knapsacks under the overhangs of these desolate stations.[...] The people don't walk, they trudge, they drag themselves here and there. The great clamor is made by roosters and jackasses. The great event is the hen clucking. It is not a mystery for anyone that down here a religion was born from the silence and from an egg science. It is not surprising that Pythagoras was able to discover the laws of music and the cruel Zeno made men suspicious of the play of the senses. [...] I present to you a variety of indigenous verses. Many of these songs are familiar to my ears. Some are shouted, some are accompanied by the wail of the bagpipe or the cupo-cupo, others still are whispered sottovoce like prayers. The words I have transcribed into my language are rustic words, they are common words. They have not been dressed with lime by the Academy, they have not been milked and then boiled. Our indigenous poetry has a simple, straightforward structure. It is a comment, a summing-up. It is never empty talk. [...] I have preserved all that I could of so much adorable "idiocy" and I have naturally sought in the forms a syntactic stability rather than an easy symmetry of tones. Lately there has been a great deal of talk about the necessity of widening the bounds of culture by searching beyond traditional stylistic patterns in the broader field of spontaneous art. It is a certain symptom of a more comprehensive, more affectionate inclination towards the monuments and the neglected fragments of a humanity relegated outside of history. I too, with a new spirit and more enjoyment, have made a journey towards the origins" (Sinisgalli, Poesie lucane, 1955, 2nd ed. 1992, passim). Also in that text, Sinisgalli wrote: I still remember by heart the song that children shout at the moon:

Moon, new Moon,
I haven't seen you yet.
But now I have seen you!
I kiss Jesus Christ's foot (ib., p.9)

From the Spinosa versions (n. LXIX) we can recover the dialect test of this area:

a) Luna, Luna nova,
Nunt'avia vista ancora;
E mo' ca t'aggio visto,
E salutami a Gesù Cristo.

b) Luna, Luna nova,
Mename quat'ova.
Menamella 'nzino
Ca mme faccio 'i tagliolini. (Lotierzo, 1983)

For Sinisgalli one should at least see the Mondadori collection L'ellisse (1932-1972) (Milan, 1974), which summarizes the evolution of a poetry that started out from a Hermeticism of the Ungaretti tradition, capable of traversing archaic myths and southern primitivism, and reached, after a transfiguring relationship with dialect, more relaxed rhythms, laden with wit and epigrammatic terseness, in which Sinisgalli renders the tension between existential restlessness and the cautious trust in inquiring reason. Nevertheless, in translating dialect into italian for Italian readers, Sinisgalli was attesting that dichotomy between oral usage and the rarity of written material. In the Sixties it was Pierro who constructed a personal language in the Tursi dialect, while the folklorists (E. Cervellino, G.B. Bronzini and then N. Tommasini and E. Spera) produced collections of songs, proverbs, customs, prayers, preparing the climate that will lead to Francesco Galasso and, lastly, to Rocco Brindisi's creative outburst. Let's proceed in rapid succession.
Michele Cariati's (Melfi, born in the late Nineteenth Century) few poems appeared posthumously in 1967 in Melfi, bearing the title A calata del sole. "The themes are the most common in dialect poetry, memory, folklore, sketches" (Nigro, in Lotierzo-Nigro, 1981). In the dialect of Rionero in Vulture were published, in 1977, the realistic poems of Michele Granata, edited by Enzo Cervellino (Nigro, 1981). A similar reprint of the poems of Antonio Cautela of Melfi, with the title La sarcinedda mia [My Bundle of Wood], came out in 1977 (Civitavecchia, Tipografia Lucana) (Nigro, 1981). From Carmine Cassese's (born in Rionero in 1915, self-taught, blacksmith) unpublished poems Nigro presented some of I cunt r mammagrann [Grandmother's tales]. Nigro indicates the various myths that accompanied Cassese in his creativity: M. Granata's dialect poetry, the epic-fabulous poetry of Dantean derivation, the Communist party, the rural world. "Cassese's poetry, especially the one in Italian, is obviously full of stops and starts... But in the dialect verses, where he remembers a past filled with bitterness and misery, which is also Basilicata's past, the descriptions become concrete and pure in the simplicity of exposition..." (Nigro, 1981). Rolando Muscio (Lavello, 1939, tailor, self-taught, also a playwright) in 1955 published La fere d Lavidd [Lavello's Fair] and in 1960 (Lavidd d semp [Forever Lavello]. Nigro said of him: "Muscio is motivated by the rhetorical ideals dear to the
agricultural society and Fascism, the fatherland, the war dead, the family, at times outdone by the penchant for local color and melodrama. Missing is an ideological vision of the world, and the emigrants themselves are in turn derided (when they are depicted in a reality other than the original) and pitied" (Nigro, 1981). In the Lavello dialect are also written the poems of Carmine D'Antonio published in 1982, Lavidd' iè semb' Lavidd' [Lavello Is Always Lavello] where, in a descriptive tone, he reflects on the human types and the town's situation, both with ample borrowings from folklore and with a measure of detached irony. In 1981 Andrea Mancusi presented, in the Avigliano dialect, La matréia [The Stepmother]. To the mournful conditions following an earthquake are dedicated the poems of Cos' e fatte d'la terra mia [Things and Events of My Land] (Potenza, Olita) by Filippo Langone. In 1984 Enza Scutari published with Volonnino her poems in the dialect of the Albanians, for centuries present in groups across our region. In the dialect of Montescaglioso (Matera) Giuseppe Matarazzo published in 1984 U pais' mi [My Town] (Libreria Incontri). Still in 1984 one should mention the best collection of material for Carnevale, edited by Enzo Spera Licenzia vo', Signora (Magistero di Bari). In 1985 Domiziano Viola published Ascenne ra 'u festine [Coming Out of the Party], prefaced by F. Galasso. In 1982 had appeared the volume Canti e nenie popolari arberesche, edited by A. Bellusci, V. Piccirillo, P. Rosati, R. Cardone, E. Scutari, D. Mazzeo, L. Pandolfo, A. Pescuma, N. Scaldaferri, E. Corbo. In the Viggiano dialect Pietro Varalla, retired railwayman, published his poems, among which we note Radici delle mie radici [Roots of My Roots] (Villa d'Agri, Ars grafica, 1984), in which he depicts customs, proverbs and rituals of Viggiano. After a few acrostics, Varalla traces the cycle of life, the events after the 1980 earthquake, loneliness but also the Carnival and the crowded feast of the Black Madonna.
The review Nodi, promoted by Antonio Lo Tierzo, in the nine issues published between 1979 and 1985 published and reviewed dialect poets. In Matera, edited by Raffaele La Macchia, is published the Bollettino della Biblioteca Provinciale di Matera, which often reports on research or bibliographical references dealing with dialect literature.
Franco Noviello, a high-school principal, edited a large collection of Canti popolari della Basilicata (Bella, 1976), and for five years has been directing the review Rassegna delle tradizioni popolari (Schena, Fasano), in which one can find both essays on dialects and poems with southern themes, in addition to the compendium of the 1988 dialect poetry award. With Andrea Mancusi and Angelo Vito Stolfi, it is mainly the physician Franceso Galasso, who died in 1992, who has honored the dialect of Avigliano, gathering in 'Nda lu bèllevere [In the Belvedere] (Lavello, Finiguerra) sonnets, poems, songs and prayers, that succeed in attenuating the sentimentality with which the provincial world is often looked upon with a vision that can capture the drama and the tensions of the people of Avigliano. In this idiom, showing extensive Latin roots, are evident both Appenine and Neapolitan forms, with slight traces of the Puglia type. Domenico Chieffo, published L'acqua d' la funtanedd [The Water of the Little Fountain] (Appia 2 and then Osanna Ed., 1980) in the dialect of Venosa, a collection filled with suggestive historical memory and existential longings, whose Italian translation was edited by Rosa Miglione. In an elegiac aura, Chieffo depicted people and places of Venosa, with a poignant sense of the death of traditions and the regret for a long-lost ethics. The world of childhood resurfaces, from Maria the school custodian to the various Christams Eves, the Befana, the carnival and the bonfires of St. Joseph, with a subtle melancholy accompanied by the real harshness of living. Having noted that Chieffo's poetry has roots both in popular poetry and middle-class culture, and that it harks back to the poetry of Horace, Nigro writes that Chieffo keeps on "delving into what we have called the problems of common life, the gnawing of existence. The discovery of a changing world and the natural attachment to the past. The discovery of a consumer society in the very simplicity of children, the awareness that the rural world is about to disappear and the discovery of the selfishness and individualism characteristic of a technological civilization (Nigro, 1981).
On June 29, 1986, the mayor of Ruoti promoted a "Price for dialect poetry from Basilicata," which went to Antonio Santangelo, Gaetano Genovese, Pasquale Colucci, Lucia Sileo and Rina Bernardi (reported in Matera's Bollettino). For a concise and informed literary synthesis, Albanian poetry included, one should consult Basilicata (Brescia, La Scuola, 1987) by Tito Spinelli who, with anthological passages, places the history and geography of regional literature in an elegant and informative framework.
Michele Dilillo (Irsina, 1929), didactic director, published U p'zzcantò (Mt, Liantonio, 1987), Le belle cose quaselle (Mt, Liantonio, 1986), U' capasidd d'u ret p'a paggh' (Mt, Liantonio, 1989). Giovanni Caserta has written that "he freely adapts folktales from his town, immersing himself in a primitive culture, laden with sexual appetites, as they were being lived in a society without ideals, made brutish by poverty and ignorance. In Irsina's world, which for Dilillo becomes the symbol of human life itself, there is no love as sentimental abandon, but only bewilderment in the senses and in sex. This, in fact, is a fondness for transgression and it is transgression, that is, sin and fondness for sin, which in old age can become contrition and anguish" (Caserta, in Bollettino, 1991). Raffaele Nigro (Melfi, 1947), presently director of RAI in Bari, an established novelist, prolific essayist, many-faceted poet, has bent Melfi's dialect to markedly experimental results in Giocodoca (Schena, Fasano, 1981). The severed tongue of dialect remains a collective instrument of identity and recognition, although irony and skillful wordplay overwhelm the subject at hand. In Giocodoca Nigro employs his idiolect polemically, in order to sing how for all of us who tempt our luck is "a snake and ladders game this passing day," how "these words are like a gunshot," capable of raising philosophical questions, even with the political use of analogy. The twenty poems of Giocodoca, always graphically (un)composed, with six dialect texts of various texture, place Nigro, a keen student of popular traditions and the southern mindset, in the groove of the experimental neoavantguarde, which he has subsequently left behind, most decidedly in his narrative. Here Nigro varies and dismantles idioms, trying his hand at a variegated historical material. Both the way words are written down and the use of dialect in Nigro take on the task of signifying a damaged and almost indefensible reality, assaulted first by the ethnocide of emigration and then by corrosive consumerism. Therefore Nigro's dialect is neither memorial nor regressive, it is not a descent into a protohistorical or mythical-childlike world, but it is a living fragment, residual cry, a uniting language in the struggle for the new development of the South. In the preface, Leonardo Mancino defined these poems: "fresh, readable and passionate letters on the condition and agony of words." Protesting against the overbearance of the languages of mass-media, Nigro traverses dialect as well, experiencing a constant communication problem, the uneasiness that blocks projects and relationships, forcing the poet into the precarious role of the chance-taker (Catalano, 1986, p.72).


Canti popolari delle province meridionali, edited by A. Casetti e V . Imbriani, Turin 1871-72.
I canti popolari di Spinoso, edited by A. Lotierzo, Naples 1983.
I poeti della Basilicata, edited by A. Lotierzo e R. Nigro, Forlì, 1981 (reprint 1993).
Le rose e i terremoti. La poesia della Basilicata da Scotellaro a Nigro, edited by Catalano Ettore, Venosa 1986.
Basilicata, edited by T. Spinelli, Brescia 1986.
Dizionario dialettale della Basilicata, edited by R. Bigalke, Heidelberg 1980.
Dizionario dei dialetti di Picerno e Tito, edited by Maria T. Greco, Naples 1990.


H. Luedtke, Lucania, Pisa 1980.
R. Nigro, Basilicata tra Umanesimo e Barocco, Bari 1981.
A. Lotierzo, La parola e i frantumi, Forlì 1982.
P. Caratù, "Il Nuovo Atlante fonetico lucano", sta in: AA.VV. Lingua, dialetto e poesia popolare in Basilicata, Villa d'Agri 1985.
L. Sinisgalli, "Poesie Lucane," Civiltà delle macchine, a. III, n.2, March 1955, reprint ed. by G. Appella, Rome 1992.
G. Caserta, Storia della letteratura lucana, Venosa: Osanna, 1993.
M. De Blasi, L'italiano in Basilicata, Potenza: Il Salice, 1994.