Dante Maffia

Nelvia di Monte was born in Pampaluna, province of Udine, in 1952, but at the age of six she went to live in Cassano d'Adda, province of Milan. Though she was a just a child, she has not forgotten her father's language ("Ah, where have the years gone when with your figure only you would level the wavering Chaos?"), and Rainer Maria Rilke's line, placed in the title page ofCanto dell'acqua, the first section of her only book, becomes the guide, the sign to follow in order to interpret a poetry that was born from the original language but which has been strongly "opposed" by another language from a rather dissimilar area.

In any case, "it is not by chance that Friuli, and more generally the Veneto area," as Luigi Reina writes, (one can think of poets such as Giotti, Marin, Noventa, Cergoly, Zanzotto, Calzavara, Naldini, Zanotto, Francescotto, Pola...), have provided exemplary models that can be a point of reference for other dialect literatures as well." This is the context in which there emerges the figure of Nelvia Di Monte who, after her debut in Diverse lingue and Il segnale, has publishedCjanz da la Meriche (Songs from America), 1996. Coming to grips with the Friulian tradition was no easy task; if it has a considerable weight for poets from Romagna and Lombardy, one can imagine its influence on poets that live within a compact linguistic medium long adopted by poets of note. Di Monte did not find herself - as did the prefacer of her book, Achille Serrao, with respect to the Neapolitan tradition - in a position of having to abandon the cantabile acquired by the collective imagination, and had she not chosen the long verse in order to tone down the echoes of a recent and less recent past (Serrao made the same choice), she would have treaded on well-known grounds, at least musically, since it is now an accepted fact that "The neodialect waged simultaneously on two fronts: that of language and that of subject matter." Reina again focuses on the present situation and tells us what is happening in the tangled an often confused and contradictory landscape of neodialect poetry.

But does Nelvia Di Monte have anything to do with neodialect poets? This is the question Achille Serrao poses in the Preface to Cjanze da la Meriche. "In the main lines," the answer seems to be yes, Serrao writes, though there is no evidence of "a diffuse need for an interiorized reinvention of dialect and for linguistic sublimation." But Di Monte does not follow pre-existing models, and although she lingers in a poetic narration of private events closely tied to public events, she shows no vernacular throwbacks or adaptations to situations that might remind one of the past.

Yet the epistolary tale, the confession subdivided into four sections (Canto dell'acqua, Canto dell'aria, Canto del fuoco, Canto della terra) exalts, as Serrao rightly notes, the "function of memory," but in a very particular way, used as a perennial present on which the facts of existence converge.

The character of the book, informed by a presocratic poetic quality, with Lucretian echoes ("things will give each other so much light"), is revealed in a composed movement without lyric or metaphorical peaks, which disorients the reader who nevertheless perceives Luzi's andante ofSu fondamenti invisibili. Nelvia Di Monte remains faithful instead to words-things, words-facts, words-events, whose concatenation gives the hidden sense of things and creates a sort of mysterious acquisition. The news-song reaches the reader without jolts, riding the thread of memory and forces him to grapple with the "American repertory that has always sized our imagination. We realize that it is a new interpretation, which intends neither to oppose what has already been said nor erase it; it only wants to put forth a condition and offer it simply, without trappings.

There was no other way out and so "the common language, spoken by me for a few years, then abandoned and, perhaps, denied ... and finally again acknowledged and loved" ties her umbilical cord to the root again, but only in order to find psychological consonances, echoes of a submerged breath, residues of lost or broken dreams, and to build a platform with them on which to set sail. All this has happened as naturally as breathing, otherwise Nelvia Di Monte would not have thanked Roberto Giannoni for having "made her understand that dialect is not a minor but a deep language; and that the low tone allows one to listen to life more closely."


Cjanze da la Meriche, Florence, 1996.


A. Serrao, "Per Cjanz da la Meriche," in Cjanze da la Meriche, cit.

Poems translated by Adeodato Piazza Nicolai

(Author's voice)

'O stoi ben, mari, ma da siet dîs 'o viôt

tante aghe, lassât il puart spagnûl, dome

aghe e nûl e l'eliche 'e volte tal mâr

un agâr che daurmàn al si siare sglonf

di ajar e po nuje: al è dut cussì grant

cussì grant come se i tiei voi, mari, no

viodéssin plui lis cuelinis e un plan dut

vualîf al las viars lis monz sence un vencjâr.

A' nàssin, jo no sai dulà, pizzulis

vongulis ch'a' montin tôr dal vapôr e

si discjolin viars un altri lûc lontan:

dute cheste aghe ch'e si môf planc e si

siare compagne 'e jè come une biele

femine che'e ti cjale e tu restis là


* Sto bene, madre, ma da sette giorni vedo / tanta acqua, lasciato il porto spagnolo, solo / acqua e nuvole e l'elica ribalta nel mare / un solco che subito si chiude gonfio / di aria e poi niente: è tutto così grande / così grande come se i tuoi occhi, madre, / non vedessero più le colline e una piana tutta / liscia andasse verso i monti senza un salice.// Nascono, io non so dove, piccole / onde che salgono attorno al vapore e / si sciolgono verso un altro luogo lontano: / tutta quest'acqua che si muove piano / e si richiude uguale è come una bella / femmina che ti guarda e tu resti là / allocchito.


Mom, I am well, but for seven days I've only

seen water; we have just left the Spanish port

and only see misty waves the propeller churns

up, leaving behind an empty, deep trench

that suddenly closes; then there's nothing: mom,

it's so very huge, so huge, as if your own eyes

could not see the hills but only flat land,

with no weeping willow until the tree line.

I do not know where these little waves

might begin, which rise with the steam

and then vanish in some distant place:

far too much water moving so slowly

that evenly folds wave upon wave that

it seems like a beautiful lady who's looking

at you while dumbly you stand like a stone.


(Author's voice)

Chì, cjoc di robis

gnovis, 'o crodevi tal inprìn che il vueit

ch'o sintivi calchi sere, dismitût

di lavorâ, al fos dome pal intrìc dai

pôs carantans ingredeâz tes sclofis

de sporte, ricuart di nestre mari. Ma

cuan'che i cjamps a' son cressûz tôr dal cjasâl,

daûr dai poi e dai cjstinârs - bastardâz

ancje lôr - alc si viargeve, no sai cemût

dîti. Cui sa s'al lave ben chest sît par me,

contadìn di montagne: masse lontans

i cunfins e l'adôr ch'al si piart-vie dilunc.

Vuê di matine il cîl al è tant celèst

come cuan'che il rosean s'incagnive

jù pes vals dal Nadisòn, e cussì font

che tu t'al cjatis disore, daûr, intôr.

Epûr, torcenât da tante largure,

'o stoi a voltis come dentri une presòn.

* Qui, ubriaco di cose / nuove, credevo all'inizio che il vuoto / che sentivo qualche sera, terminato / il lavoro, fosse solo per l'imbarazzo / dei pochi soldi intrecciati nei cartocci / della sporta, ricordo di nostra madre. Ma / quando i campi sono cresciuti attorno alla fattoria, / dietro i pioppi e i castagni - inselvatichiti / anche loro - qualcosa si apriva, non so come / spiegarti. Chi sa se andava bene questo posto per me, / cittadino di montagna: troppo distanti / i confini e l'orizzonte che si perde lontano. // Questa mattina il cielo è così azzurro / come quando il vento di nord-est infuriava / giù per le valli del Natisone, e così profondo / che te lo trovi sopra, dietro, intorno. / Eppure, circondato da questa grande distesa / mi trovo a volte come in una prigione.


Standing here, drunk on new things

I thought, at the start, that the emptiness

sensed on some evening, when work was done,

was due to my shame for having

only a few pennies rolled up in paper

inside my purse, the only gift from my mom.

But when the corn fields appeared by the mill,

behind the poplars and chestnut groves

that had grown wild, something did happen,

I can't explain it. Who knows if this place is

the right one for me, a mountain farmer: these

big lots and that horizon seem lost and so distant.

The sky his morning is s perfectly blue,

it recalls the wild north-easterly wind

that blew through the Natisone valley, a total

blueness that seems to enfold you all over.

And still, surrounded by this endless vastness,

sometime I feel like I'm trapped in some jail.


(Author's voice)

E cumò 'e jè uere: " Malvinas Argentinas "

plachis e umidis di plois, e' son dongje

e' son nestris ... cjapant dentri cjasis e vîs ?

Pavlovsk, Nikolajewka : fevelàvial

cualchidùn la mê lenghe ? Dulà ise

la femine che mi à butât dongje dal pît

une patate cjalde? Il pizzul scuindût

daûr de cotule ch'al cjalave spaurît,

jo in divise di cercandul, so pari

lontan, dongje di un katiusha magari,

a spietâmi daûr de ferade, doman.

* E adesso è guerra "Malvinas Argentinas"/ piatte e umide di pioggia, sono vicine / sono nostre … case e vivi compresi? / Pavlovsk, Nikolajewka: parlava / qualcuno la mia lingua? Dov'è / la donna che mi ha buttato vicino al piede / una patata calda? Il piccolo nascosto / dietro la gonna che guardava impaurito, / io in divisa da mendicante, suo padre / lontano, a fianco di un katiusha magari, / ad aspettarmi dietro la ferrovia, domani.


War again: the Malvinas Islands of Argentina

so flat and full of rain, they seem so near to us,

are they our own...including houses and people?

Pavlovsk, Nikolajewa: is someone speaking

our language? Where is she now

that woman who threw baked potatoes

close to my feet? And that young child hiding

inside her long skirt while watching in terror,

and me wearing clothes like a beggar, his father

away, probably near his katiusha and waiting

tomorrow for me, by some railroad station.


(Author's voice)

Ma chel pizzul leandri che tu mi às dât

cuan'ch'o soi tornade, cumò al è un arbul

che no si pues plui stramudâ! Duc'i ains

cun lui 'o ài fatis gnovis plantutis di regalâ

'o 'n cjolerai une e par tantis stagjons

un balcon j pues bastâ. E dopo ? No

savarìn ce tant grande ch'e sarà,

se cualchidun un puest j destinarà o

se ai nevôz nol imparte nuje di un flôr.

* Ma quel piccolo oleandro che mi hai dato / quando sono tornata, ora è un albero / che non si può più spostare! Ogni anno / ne ha fatto nuove piantine da regalare / ne prenderò una e per tante stagioni / un balcone le può bastare. E dopo? / Non sapremo quanto grande diventerà, / se qualcuno un posto le avrà destinato o / se ai nipoti non importa granché di un fiore.

( da Cjanz da la meriche ) Le traduzioni sono dell'autrice.


That tiny oleander you gave me

when I came back now is a tree

I can no longer move it anywhere!

I give new sprouts each year as gifts;

I'll keep one and for a few seasons

my balcony will do. But after?

Who knows how tall it might grow,

if someone will save it a place or

if our nephews do not care for flowers.