FRIULI- VENEZIA GIULIA
Before tracing the development of twentieth-century poetry in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia
region, I was sorely tempted to examine socio-linguistic factors. This was because I found myself
consulting essays, anthologies, and prefaces in which a poet could very easily be assigned to one
area rather than another. It is obvious that the boundaries are blurred and interpretations are
controversial, so that in the end questionable arrangements were adopted which have
nevertheless not undermined the validity of the authors, at least with respect to their poetic and
literary value. Spagnoletti and Vivaldi, for instance, distinguish between Venezie and Friuli 1 , and
Serrao includes Gian Mario Villalta in Friuli-Venezia Giulia2. It is not a question of errors or
misunderstandings, but choices made on methodological grounds, not based strictly on historical,
philological, or anthropological factors.
We know for certain, in any case, that the web of the dialect universe is so thin and varied
as to disorient even specialists, if they do not have a long familiarity with the syntactical,
grammatical an phonic nuances of speech. It makes me think of the attitude of a street vendor at
Porta Palazzo in Turin. He could not agree on the price of some articles of clothing (jeans, I
believe) with some customers from Calabria and Apulia, and finally he came out: "Ehi,
Neapolitans, no more subtracting." For him southerners are all Neapolitans, or even worse
"Naples," but in his voice there was no sign of scorn or insult. He was just reacting in a generic
way to the differences in speech. If that vendor had the task of compiling an anthology of dialect
poets, more than likely he would group together in one chapter, maybe entitled Terronia, Belli
and Di Giacomo, Domenico Tempio and Padula.
In any event, "The essential fact for the linguistic history of the region is provided by an
extremely elusive ethnic notion: such as that of the Carni (inhabitants of the Carnia region): the
Gallic population that descended from the mountains in the Vth century B.C., breaking the
continuity between the Veneti from the eastern region and the Veneti from the Isonzo and
Carinzia regions."3 Devoto follows the process of acculturation, exchange and contamination in
all its amplifications and ramifications, but "This is not the place to raise once again the well-known question of whether Friulian is a variant of Ladin ... or a harsh, archaic Italian volgare.
What counts is the singularity, or rather the uniqueness of the Friulian dialect, more than a dialect
almost a language with the charm of its archaisms, its rusticity and popularity."4
It was almost natural, therefore, that over the centuries, after endless unsuccessful
attempts or partial achievements (think of the nineteenth century, for example, with Percoto's
stories in dialect) Friuli-Venezia Giulia would produce a group of poets with a distinct and
significant voice, not bound to the dialect tradition of sentimentality and local color, of sarcasm
and civil and political invective,. The ground had been prepared over a long time (there are those
who go as far back as the thirteenth century to find traces of a heritage that became slowly
important) 5, and it would be interesting to review the works that have appeared up to the
beginning of this century, but it would be a long list of names and publications that mean little
poetically. I am interested in seeing how the poetry of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, from the beginning of
this century, has suddenly ceased to be a simple witness to events, regardless of writing and
expression, and has become instead an important moment in Italian literature that cannot be
ignored. Let me be clear, "Dialects are not enough to have a revolution and not even to return to
the core of myth. They can be considered a more authentic, popular and original reality of Italian
and of any other language. Like Italian, no more and no less... dialects are precious witnesses of
civil and cultural history; they are imbued with the intelligence and labor, the intellectual
knowledge and the cultural experiences of the people who spoke them and speak them."6 Pietro
Zorutti (Lonzano del Collio 1792 - Udine 1867), who in the years of the "Strolic furlan" and in
the various published volumes had profusely spread all the commonplaces of the backward and
rural province, was not writing poetry. Rather, he had contaminated the smallest achievements
and had made more difficult the task of those who aspired to break the circle of repeating the
same words and images to find something different and new, at least outside the unbearable
weight of bourgeois rhetoric and respectability.
The first to reject the quagmire of the past was Pietro Bonini, soon followed by several
others, because they felt it was improper and out place to continue on a road leading backwards,
to the source of nostalgia, to regret, to the reconstruction of a reality gradually annulled by
history, but that dialect poets insisted on "remaking," with the intention of opposing an eternal
value to the discontinuity caused by Napoleon and the "disgrace" of the French Revolution.
Celso Cescutti (pen name Argeo), from Flaibano, showed a genuine vein without
excessive descriptiveness, and adopted a language that had considerable strength, as Pasolini later
recognized. In 1911 he published Primavere, which precedes by a year Biagio Marin's first work,
Fiuri de tapo. These are the first signs of a sensibility that will eventually engender the
fundamental books by Marin himself and by Pasolini, Giacomini, Cergoly, and Giotti.
It is extremely difficult to outline in a few pages what took place in the crowded world of
Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the course of the entire twentieth century, also because dialect poetry has
not traveled along a parallel path with Italian poetry, but has constantly interacted with it, often
lending rhythms as well as linguistic and human richness to it, and often borrowing from Italian
poetry all the innovations that came from French symbolism and other international experiences.
This dialectic relationship has become so close and so competitive in recent times, that with the
onset of neodialect poetry it is almost impossible to make distinctions between writing poetry in
dialect and poetry in Italian. The reason is that dialect, overcoming the pitfalls of tradition and
abandoning the attitude of self-importance and trendiness taken by poets in reprisal, in the end
becomes the language of poetry, comparable to Chinese and English, Spanish and Russian. Today
no one would ever think of writing a history of Italian literature starting with the preconception
and the reservation that dialect poetry is second-rate reading.
The wealth of authors from Friuli-Venezia Giulia who have attained a certain prestige and
critical recognition gave rise to a great deal of doubt and perplexity about what names to include
in the anthology. What was the criterion that guided the selection? Perhaps my familiarity with the
texts of the poets included, but also the fact that these poets, with the exception of two, represent
the entire century in its complexity and in its evolution, and give the exact idea of a world that,
though within the borders of Italy, never withdrew into its own identity, but was able to channel
and transmit Mittel-European sensibility.
It is worthwhile to reflect on the fact that the greatest Italian narrator and the greatest
Italian poet of this century are both from Trieste and that the best-seller Va dove ti porta il cuore
is the work of someone from Trieste. And from Trieste as well is the best interpreter of German
literature, Claudio Magris, the intellectual who more than any other has been adept at capturing
universal themes in books of extraordinary power. On the one hand Sicily with the countless great
authors that shape the history of Italian literature between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,
and on the other Venezia Giulia. Two border literatures, two experiences to compare with the
experiences of the rest of Italy and Europe.
It is perhaps their border location that triggers the need to keep their identity alive and to
find refuge in the tower of dialect, engendering a strong sense of their roots, so that nothing and
no one would ever be able to move the axis anyplace else. This probably explains the proliferation
of poets in the various dialects of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and it explains how they have been able to
preserve their ethical and metaphysical convictions without bringing in maternal justifications
(with the exception of Pasolini) or psychoanalytical or sociological justifications.
At this point I have to mention at least some of the poets who are not included in the
anthology, but who have nevertheless shaped the history of a region that can be linguistically
defined as being telluric. To give one example, the anthology edited by Roberto Damiani and
Claudio Grisancich, La poesia in dialetto a Trieste 7, takes into account seventy-five poets,
including Adolfo Leghissa, Vittorio Cuttio, Angelo Cecchelin, Corra, Anita Pittoni, besides, of
course, Giotti, Gergoly and Grisancich.
Absent are also Franco De Gironcoli from Gorizia, Siro Angeli from Carnia, Novella
Cantarutti from Spilimbergo, Bindo Chiurlo, Ugo Pellis, Lorenzoni, Nardini, Carletti, Riccardo
Castellani, Tonuti Spagnol, Dino Virgili, Leo Cianton, Leonardo Zanier, Ida Vallerugo.
Many of these poets (and so many others) have usually worked in groups, around
academies or associations, which is significant for a project that has always been at the root of the
world of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, i.e., the need to be united in advancing a proposal for preserving
the best of the ancestral world in order to offer it to future generations. Something of the old
groups still remains, but forceful and commanding figures have appeared recently who have
clouded the "project" and polarized attention (I am speaking of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Nico Naldini,
Amedeo Giacomini, Claudio Grisancich, Nelvia Del Monte). Indirectly, they have renewed the
interest in poets who, though they had received a great deal of critical attention in the past, were
now being essentially ignored. Of course I am not speaking of recent years, and the reference is to
Virgilio Giotti, Biagio Marin, Luigi Bartolini, and Carolus Cergoly.
There is no question of interrelation for any of these nine poets, as sometimes can happen
among writers who live and work in the same region and within the same linguistic and cultural
milieu. The individual poetics and individual histories seem to stem from very personal pursuits
and explorations into the history of poetry in all its vastness and international correlations. Even
Virgilio Giotti, who was born in 1885, does not seem to be influenced by the regional climate,
though he did not belong to the ranks of novelty-seekers and of those readers who trample
everything in the fury of their quest. He had clear ideas about poetry and about how to write it,
and his being almost isolated did not limit him or turn him into a barren minstrel of personal
objects, small places, solipsistic situations. Giotti was a poet in the full sense of the word, because
he did not pursue the absolute or saw it in its relationship with people and events. For Giotti
poetry meant the expression of an ideal reality, if all the elements harmonized and united in the
effort of finding a new truth. But nothing should stem from psychoanalytical or intellectualized
notions or from literature tout court. Giotti took from everyday life: a store sign, a window, a
narrow street, a passerby, words he overheard, fragments of conversations, which he then would
organize in perfect meter, with usual and unusual rhymes, with a music that did not betray the
source of things. Thus his poetry, while having popular roots, instantly becomes highly refined: a
landscape, a feeling, a sorrow, a joy. We are still not in the sphere of what would later be called
neodialect poetry, but neither do we enter that provincial climate in which every verse was born of
fading memories and picture postcards. Giotti has a strong feeling for colors (it's not a chance
that he was also a painter), a healthy feeling for life, an innocent and enchanted gaze, even when
sadness seem to mute his voice, the landscape of his days.
Biagio Marin likewise "defended the law that invites you to pause, to say yes to the call of
life,"8 but especially in his last years lived entirely within Grado's world and gradually
reduced the concreteness of reality. It is as if he took the pulp out of everything and came up with
a formula, but not a rigid one, an immaterial substance made of sky and sea, of air, infinity. One
can perceive, more manifestly in the last collections, something like a murmur of algae and an
ungraspable whisper, a music that whirls upon itself and yet opens towards the depths, the abyss.
As time goes by, Marin pursues an ever-denser light a truth whose reach and limits are unknown.
Almost all critics have noted that in Marin's poetry history withdraws to make room for a
sort of irreducible fire; it is like facing sculpted marble, words that filter the ultimate sense of
existence. Yet Marin was a proud and defiant man, exuberant, egocentric, marked by suffering
and sorrow, and in his pages we should be able to perceive the weight of the world's harshness.
Marin swallowed everything, drank everything, absorbed everything, and then left it in his depths,
not because he intended to forget what life is, but because tensions must cast every experience in
light and music, if the palpable presence of a lesson is to survive.
Before turning to poetry, Carolus Cergoly devoted his attention and his work to the
theater, and it seems to me that this experience shows in his poetry as well. He was also a
journalist, published successful novels, and almost always tried to give credit "among Italian
readers to the bookish image of cosmopolitan Trieste."9 As a dialect poet, however, he remains
outside any canon, and it is difficult to interpret or place him because ideally he is linked to
Giacomo Noventa and does not take into account the works of Saba and Giotti, reiterating the
"presumption of living outside one's own time, but with an appearance of frivolousness that
belongs to him alone; and he is misleading about the true morality of a poet who is in reality very
serious."10 Being outside one's own time, however, is not similar to Biagio Marin's attitude,
unconsciously prompted by metaphysical urges. Cergoly's seems a deliberate choice, political or
at least social in nature; Marin's is to flow toward the moon, to lose oneself in order to reach the
I am not the only one who is convinced that Pasolini gave the best of himself in the poems
written in the Friulian dialect, especially those penned at the same time as Le ceneri di Gramsci.
Naturally, since Neorealism prevailed in the early fifties, he was in any case involved in it, while
protesting against the coarseness of a style that he considered useless and devoid of any possibility
of producing anything worthwhile. In the course of time his dynamic personality overshadowed
his dialect poetry, but reading it now without the excessive noise made around the figure and
comparing it to his later work in Italian, we can realize that in Casarsa's dialect the poet had been
able to find the limpid milk of a season never again repeated. With the risk of shocking the
fanatics and those who have made a martyr, a saint and a matchless film director, narrator and so
on of Pasolini, perhaps the time has come to say out loud that the best of Pasolini's work is to be
found in books such as Poesie a Casarsa, Dov'è la mia patria, Tal cour d'un frut, La meglio
gioventù, Poesie dimenticate, La nuova gioventù.
Perhaps one of the reasons he worked on Poesia dialettale del Novecento and Canzoniere
italiano with Dell'Arco was to show that those who wrote in dialect should not be considered
poets behind the times and bound to popular traditions. He has left no statements in this regard,
but what is certain is that he devoted a great deal of work to dialect, with research and writings
that still today must constantly be taken into account.
Elio Bartolini, editor of classics, cinema man and well-known narrator, began writing in
dialect only in 1977 with Poesie protestanti, a surprise that in a few years has become an abiding
presence. Reading Bartolini is like moving through a mine field, like breathing air of tragedy at
every step. He observes the mad rush of events with bewildered and sorrowful eyes, and when his
gaze falls on his native town, he imbues reality with the same tragic feeling. There is also a vein of
regret for a world erased or adrift, yet there is no longing for the past, the yearning to return to
distant times. There is the sadness of feeling adrift and having to bow one's head before the
consumption of the world and of the self.
Nico Naldini, author of excellent biographies and of a few books in Italian, has written
only occasionally in dialect. A relative of Pasolini and himself from Casarsa, he made his debut in
dialect in 1948. His writings always carry an air of innocence and candor which however conceals
a variety of moods, an obstinate longing to find in the music of every verse the elusive heartbeat
of life. Naldini's poetry does not show linguistic refinements or flourishes; it aims straight at
things and things seem to wake up from a centuries-old sleep.
Claudio Grisancich painstakingly avoids intellectualizing, and from the start has
distinguished himself for his harsh language, for his ability to capture reality with natural ease.
One has the impression that the act of writing is for him similar to eating, conversing, breathing.
His verses show no unresolved resonance, no ambiguities, they do not circle around the discourse,
but take what is out there and turn it into certainty and admonition. Something of Leopardi can
also be detected when he deals with the question of maturity, but nothing is left to the least
fatalism or to inertia. His verses burst with vital energy, manifest the consciousness of a crisis and
are a bridge toward the future.
The poet who has captured the interest of critics in recent years is Amedeo Giacomini,
from Varmo, author of books of prose, essays, poetry in Italian and in dialect. The most
prestigious names have always been enthusiastic (Maria Corti, Cesare Segre, Dante Isella, Franco
Brevini), pointing to the expressive power of his verses, which at first showed the influence of a
certain Mittel-European expressionism, and later a meditation increasingly bearing on his own
condition of man and intellectual in a jagged world, torn apart and about to disintegrate.
Yet, his poetry is not maudit, there is nothing that points to eccentricity, exhibitionism, the
gratuitous gesture. He lives among contrasting tensions, opposes dishonesty, dismisses residues
and smoke, and for this reason his every word is incandescent, every verse is like the crack of a
whip, every inflection has the irony of someone who plays with the gods and knows he can fool
As is always the case with poets who can enter the quick of the universe, there is a side
that looks at nature in the fullness of its beauty. When faced with wonderment, Giacomini's
language can create unforgettable verses, among the best of recent years, and of course I am not
referring only to poetry in dialect.
Nelvia di Monte, from Pampaluna, who after her debut in Diverse lingue and Il segnale in
1996 published Cjanz da la meriche, concludes our brief dialect journey in Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
She is a poet who was born seasoned, with a world of emotions and small mythologies told in
pure narrative, without embellishments and without metaphorical excesses, so that the native
strength of her dialect can manifest itself in everyday reality and in absence.
There is no doubt that, given more space, I would have included poets such as Leonardo
Zanier, Anita Pittoni, Siro Angeli, to name a few. But the aim of this work is limited, which also
explains the scant attention given to the concatenations of certain events which would have shed
light on such a singular literary world. Friuli-Venezia Giulia, in any case, has too many poets, of
various levels, and it was not possible to do a detailed survey of a literary output which is at least
as vast as that of Sicily or Campania.
1. G. Spagnoletti-C. Vivaldi, editors, Poesia dialettale del Rinascimento a oggi, Milan:
2. A. Serrao, editor, Via terra, Udine: Campanotto, 1992, introduction by Luigi Reina.
3. G. Devoto-G. Giacomelli, I dialetti delle regioni d'Italia, Florence: Sansoni, 1981, p.48.
4. Poesia dialettale del Rinascimento a oggi, cit., p. 401.
5. P.P. Pasolini-M. Dell'Arco, editors, introduction to Poesia dialettale del Novecento, Parma:
6. T. De Mauro-M. Lodi, Lingua e Dialetti, Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1986, pp.13-14.
7. R. Damiani-C. Grisancich, editors, La poesia in dialetto a Trieste, Trieste: Edizioni Svevo,
8. C. Magris, "Io son un golfo," in Biagio Marin, Nel silenzio più teso, Milan: Rizzoli, 1980,
9. La poesia in dialetto a Trieste, cit., p.26.
10. Poesia dialettale del Rinascimento a oggi, cit., p.248.
ANTHOLOGIES AND DICTIONARIES
"Testi inediti friulani dal secolo XIV al XIX," in Archivio glottologico italiano, IV, 1878.
Antologia della letteratura friulana, ed. by B. Chiurlo, Udine 1927.
Nuova antologia della letteratura friulana, ed. by G. D'Aronco, Udine 1960.
Antologia della letteratura friulana, ed. by B. Chiurlo and A. Ciceri, Tolmezzo 1975.
La flôr, letteratura ladina del Friuli, ed. by D. Virgili, Udine 1968, 1978.
La poesia friulana del Novecento, W. Bernardi and G. Faggin, Rome 1984.
Friuli Venezia Giulia, ed. by P. Sarzana, Brescia 1990.
M. Foscarini, Storia della letteratura veneziana, Venice 1856.
B. Chiurlo, Letteratura ladina del Friuli, Rome 1915, 1918, Udine 1922.
G. D'Aronco, Breve sommario storico della letteratura ladina del Friuli, Udine 1947.
A. Giacomini, "Poeti dialettali friulani nel secondo dopoguerra," in Miscellanea I della Facoltà di
Lingua dell'Università di Trieste, Udine 1971.
F. Bandini, "Osservazioni sull'ultima poesia dialettale," in Ulisse, 1972.
G. Francescato-F. Salimbeni, Storia, lingua e società in Friuli, Udine 1977.
C. Galimberti, "La lirica nelle Venezie," in La letteratura dialettale in Italia, ed. by P.
Mazzamuto, 2 vols., Palermo 1984.
R. Damiani-C. Grisancich, editors, La poesia in dialetto a Trieste, Trieste: Edizioni Svevo, 1989.
A. Serrao, editor, Via terra, Udine 1992.