Renato Martinoni

He is the dean of Ticinese dialect poets. Originally from Val Colla (Canton Ticino), born in Willisau, German Switzerland, in 1918 - therefore the son of immigrants - he lives in Lugano. He has authored works of narrative, plays, and six books of Italian poetry, but his work has moved progressively towards dialect, with very good results. Made of quick and sudden glances, filled with antinomies and symbols, Canonica's long experience continues to be balanced on the fragile brink between being and non-being, life and death, play and pain, youth and old age, fairy tale and disenchantment, temptation and weariness, amid reflections on existence and an increasingly disenchanted look at the present.
So To vì. A vigh ("You see, I see"), his third collection, takes a pensive and insisted look at the meaning and brevity of existence. And R imbiugh (the "lymph" that courses through a plant) alludes to a process of interiorization and probing into the deepest layers of being, the fears, the afflictions, the pain, the violence, the sickness, the folly of man.
There is a reality that appears in the background: it's the valley and its mysteries, the city and its ills. In short, Eden and Hades. But nature, except for its symbolic signs, is often empty, silent. What dominates is always first of all the uncertainty, the fragility of things, the sense of the ephemeral, the awareness of man's limits. At any rate, the author warns us, the most appropriate interpretive key is not that of naturalism, because Canonica's reality, behind the most superficial layer, is fragmented, reduced to occasionally hallucinatory shreds, to the search for the deepest connections, to the timeless truths of existence, to rapid and sudden glances, to the glimmer of memories. Perhaps this is also why it does not eschew symbolic images, and it ends in pessimism, bitter awareness of the futility of life.
But what is striking first of all are the formal properties. Canonica's poetic language is a constant mixture of daily life and sectorialization, rusticity and idiolect. It breathes different registers and languages, at times it mixes - in an inexhaustible refinement of style (which is an introjection into the archetypes of his own being) - Italian (or French, or the rügin, the ancient and obscure jargon of the smiths of Valcolla) and dialect: "and already this linguistic choice," writes Franco Brevini, "links his experience to that of neodialect poets who have opted for peripheral varieties."
The linguist Ottavio Lurati has observed that Canonica's dialect is not that of everyday life; it is archaic, difficult to master, it is (as Giovanni Orelli suggests) a Ur-language. It intensely exploits formal experimentation, the search for phonic word play, sonorous phantoms (especially in Gherengh gherangh, which transcribes the apparently asemantic language, but not at all devoid of profound meaning, of the stuttering and emotions of childhood). In short, Canonica's dialect poetry is suckled with a mother's milk (and one cannot help but think of Zanzotto's "Eve's drop of milk"), it aims at probing sedimented material and uncovering clots of memory now transformed into myth.

Na medaia de finte argente, Lugano: Cantonetto, 1959
Gherengh garangh, preface by Remo Beretta, Bellinzona: Casagrande, 1979
I ligolèghi, Lugano: Cantonetto, 1981
To vì. A vigh, introduction by Ottavio Lurati, Lugano: Cantonetto, 1986
R imbiugh, preface by Giovannì Orelli, Bellinzona: Casagrande, 1994
I predé e i nosance, preface by Flavio Medici, Balerna: Edizioni Ulivo, 1997.

R[emo] B [eretta], [Preface] in Canonica, gherengh garangh, cit., pp. 7-10
F. Brevini, Le parole perdute, cit., pp. 381-82
G. Orelli, Preface, in Canonica, R imbiugh, cit., pp. 7-9
F. Grignola, Le radici ostinate, cit., p. 95
R. Martinoni, "Ugo Canonica," in Bonalumi-Martinoni-Mengaldo, Cento anni di poesia nella Svizzera italiana, cit., pp. 171-75
F. Medici, Preface, in Canonica, I predé e i nosance, cit., pp. 5-8
F. Brevini, La poesia in dialetto, cit., p. 4231.

Poems translated by Gaetano Cipolla

Passa n saraja

Passa n saraja
fuin tence
ai ciama i fiö
a bofà in dro mantes
ra brasa sui padell
lus re stell
preponta r firmamente
cal se ciairiss lentamente
fen per lecc
sempre in quel tecc
Ma incö...
Is ví domà ra spoia
ögg lucid
in gir a mazzà ra noia

da R imbiugh

Passa un magnano. Passa un magnano / faina nerissirna / chiama i ragazzi / a soffiare nel mantice / la brace sulle padelle / luce le stelle / trapunta il firmamento / che si rischiara lentamente / fieno per letto / sempre in quella stalla / Ma oggi... / si vede soltanto la spoglia / occhi lucidi / in giro ad ammazzare la noia.

R imbiugh

R imbiugh succ e smorte
l'a sbiancò tutt quel corpe,
girava a vöide i pensé,
ro lerog segnava mezzanöcc
ma l'eva ra vuna d'una matina
lustra di cristai de brina,
pizzighenta ier quela vos,
incö sbiavida co i ögg che vo piange,
con tutt quel mar de ma
miga vöia de möves nè de pregà
ma de fa su r baluscion
na lontan, passà de là,
piú vedè nissun, nissun saludà
vess in dro monde e miga vessìgh
volpàa, verbàa vita
sovratutt piú vöre viv
quante ca to ví
che cent brames
it buii re nöcc e i dí

da R imbiugh

LA LINFA (IL SANGUE). La linfa asciutta e smorta / ha sbiancato tutto quel corpo / giravano a vuoto i pensieri / l'orologio segnava mezzanotte / ma era l'una d'una mattina / lustra di cristalli di brina / pizzighenta ieri quella voce / oggi sbiadita cogli occhi che vogliono piangere / con tutto quel mare di mali / non voglia di muoversi, né di pregare / ma di far fagotto / andar lontano, passare di là / piú vedere nessuno, nessuno salutare / essere nel mondo e non esserci / guardare, tacere / soprattutto non voler piú vivere quando vedi / che cento ladri / ti rubano le notti e i giorni.

The Lymph (Blood)

The dried up and lifeless lymph
has taken all the color from that body
thoughts wandering aimlessly
the clock sounded midnight
but it was one o'clock in a morning
sparkling with crystals of dew
yesterday that voice was sharp
today it has faded with eyes yearning to cry
with all that sea of troubles
with a desire not to budge nor to pray
but to pick up straps
and go fa away, going beyond
to see nobody, to greet nobody
to be in the world and yet no to be there
to look, to keep quiet, most of all to want not to live
when you see
that a hundred thieves
are stealing your days and nights.

'Na lus che lusiss

Ra vita: finida l'agh sta
in d'un bögg de curta misuira
stopin dra candera che va in fum
senza ditt nè r'ora nè r dì.
Separò quel ca l'è de qui
da quel ca l'è de là.
E s'am se guarda indré
in distanza
e s vì 'na funzion che la avanza.
I è n tance,
gnanca 'n lamente
ch'egh passa in dra mente.
Tra de lor i tas
i è in mezze a 'na gran pas.
'Na lus che lusiss
comè r so e mai la finiss.

da To vì. A vigh

Una luce che luccica. La vita: finita ci sta / in un buco di corta misura / stoppino della candela che va in fumo / senza dirti né l'ora né il giorno. / Separato quello che è di qui / da quello che è di là. / E se ci guardiamo indietro / in distanza / si vede una funzione che avanza. / Sono in tanti, nemmeno un lamento / che passi nella mente. / Tra loro tacciono / sono in mezzo a una gran pace. / Una luce che luccica / come il sole e mai finisce.

A Shining Light

Life: once over it fits
inside a hole not large enough,
wick of a candle that smokes
without telling you either the hour or the day.
What's on this side is separated
from what on the other side.
And if we look back
in the distance
we can see a function left over.
There are so many of them, but not one complaint
crosses their minds.
Among themselves they keep silent,
they are surrounded by a great peace.
A light that shines
Like the sun and never ends


A m brarnava
r fontanon lontan lusìss a r lusciairö
i gàlbora tra la strovarda
e nun lì a broncaa
e búii i fruite
i prim dra stagion
sgalfion tence
e quii in alte pence
he dornà i uccei
posè su i ram
i po pìlucai, vedei

da I predé e i nosance

Caldissimo - Si bramava il mare / lontano luccicano al sole / le ciliegie tra le foglie / e noi lì a cantare / a rubare i frutti / i primi della stagione / sgalfioni neri / e quelli in alto nerissimi / che soltanto gli uccelli / posati sui rami / possono piluccare, vedere

Very Hot

Very hot--we yearned for the sea
Far away cherries shine
through the leaves in the sun
and we were there singing
and stealing the fruits
the first of the season
big black cherries
and the darker ones high up
which only the birds
resting on the branches
can peck at and see.

A m parla

Ra cascada
sui lares castegn nôs
sui crôs.
In dre strad
su r géron
a m parla de mesté
de omen de donn. De sira de nöcc
in dre stanze
in dre brugh
i s vo ben brascè
lengua longa a lengua in boca
un tormente, i s toca.
Gatt in arögna
orocch sciguett
i fa r verse
in sto monde quiett
ombre che va
che sta
denanze pós a i cà
fantasme che nass.
I salta su da i sass.

da I predé e i nosance

A m parla. Parliamo - La cascata / scintille i sui larici castagni noci / sulle crose. / Nelle strade / sulla ghiaia / parliamo di lavoro / di uomini di donne. / Di sera di notte / nelle stanze / nelle brughe / si amano abbracciati / lingua lunga lingua in bocca / un tormento ci s tocca. / Gatti in amore / gufi civette / fanno il verso / in questo mondo quieto i ombre che vanno 1 che stanno / davanti dietro le case / fantasmi che nascono. / Saltano su dai sassi.

We Talk

The waterfall
on larch, chestnut, walnut trees
on the crose (what is crose?)
In the street
on the gravel
we talk about work
men and women.
In the evening, at night
in the rooms
in the brughe (what is brughe?)
they make love and embrace
long tongue tongue in mouth
a torment, we touch one another.
Cats in heat
owls, screech owls
mimic each other
in this quiet world
Shadows that move
That linger
in front behind the houses
ghosts that are born.
They jump out the rocks.