Dialect literature has ancient traditions in Liguria in verse and prose: notable documents between the twelfth century and then the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth of a vernacular speech that is more closely related to Provençal than with modern Genoese. Documents such as the answer of a common Genoese woman to Rambautz de Vaqueiras (who was in Genoa after 1190), who woos her, and she answers the troubadour's Provençal with a hypothetical Genoese; or the collection of various poems, some in incorrect Latin, most of them in a vernacular close to old Provençal, with civil, historical, religious themes, given to an Anonymous Genoese and written between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, or the sacred Laudi and the religious and civil prose treatises of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. But, as in the other regions of Italy, true dialect poetry, "reflected," according to Croce, began in Liguria in the Renaissance and developed during the Baroque period. Thus Paolo Foglietta, "the first inventor of the Genoese Parnassus ," wrote in the sixteenth century, and for him it was no longer a "vulgar tongue," but true Genoese dialect, used polemically against Tuscan. In the seventeenth century, with Gian Giacomo Cavalli, a contemporary and friend of Gabriello Chiabrera, we have an important Baroque poet, who thanks to the vital expressionism of his dialect went beyond the moderate version of the baroque practiced by Chiabrera and approached the overwhelming frenzy of Marino.
There was not very much in the eighteenth century, besides the popular Rococo of Stefano De Franchi, a gallant Metastasio follower, but also rudely patriotic in poems like the one dedicated to the famous incident of Portoria or the other dedicated to commander Domenico Castellino, "terror of the Algerians." The nineteenth century, on the other hand, had a long list of poets who did not escape the worst kind of petit-bourgeois provincialism. They were limited to the sketch and local humor and, between the end of the century and the beginning of the twentieth century, to the imitation of fashionable national models, like Trilussa, Testoni, Barbarani. Some originality can be seen in the crepuscolare, and a bit art nouveau, vein of poets already belonging to this century, at least chronologically, like Carlo Malinverni and a few less interesting ones.
It was these writers, who no doubt brought an epoch to a close, that opened the way to the greatest Ligurian poet of our century and perhaps of all dialect literature of Liguria: Edoardo Firpo, whose art nouveau roots were the same as Malinverni's, but he was the first "new" poet, at last completely modern, the counterpart of Sbarbaro and Montale (though not of the same level). Pasolini wrote enlightening pages on Firpo, tracing his beginnings between Pascoli's legacy on the one hand and on the other "the sense of freedom, of delighted surprise always present in using dialect with the same dignity as literary Italian." Firpo blossomed late and it took him a long time to dispose of local tradition, a tradition at times echoed even in his mature work. He published his first book, O grillo cantadô, in 1931, when he was forty-two; his second book, Fiore in to gôtto, prefaced by Montale, in 1935; and his third, Ciammo o martin pesòu, in 1955. A handful of poems written between 1955 and 1957, the year of his death, mark his highest achievement, along with almost the whole third book, a few poems from the second, and very few from the first.
Firpo's true maturity, in essence, coincided with the new cultural consciousness with which poetry in dialect took root after W.W. II, with Pasolini and Guerra above all. It was then that the profound meaning of his poetry became fully apparent, the feeling of death, the irrevocable and merciless flow of time and of things in time, and their constant metamorphosis until the end, after which they can be born again, reincarnate, but always into something perishable, of mortal substance. Firpo, no doubt, is a deeply Genoese poet, like Montale, but is not "a poet of Genoa," as Montale is not. What interests the best Firpo is the skylark in the sky, the blade of grass and the trace left in the mind by its glimmer. Genoa, at best, is the quiver of distant lights or the Lantern seen from a ship going out to sea or a place between the finite and the infinite: the humble beach before which a dead cat is floating, the fountain of a villa circled by swallows, a desolate mountain village. Firpo does not identify with a place, even if it is a big and noble city, but in things large and small, the sky, the sea, the butterfly, the downy seed of the thistle. And above all, as Boselli notes, he "is aware of being a loner who observes himself constantly and also knows that his nature conditions his existence at every level, to the end" (preface to Edoardo Firpo, Diario 1918-1955, Genoa 1980).
As a matter of fact, Firpo even tried to become "a poet of Genoa," perhaps heeding a misguided advice by Montale, more likely due to the influence of post-war populism to which he was open, as a registered communist. He did so with the poems of Tutta Zena ciù un caroggio, published between 1947 and 1949 in the Genoese edition of the communist daily L'Unità; an unsuccessful attempt to describe Genoa neighborhood by neighborhood. Firpo, a poet capable of true greatness but not a man of great culture, mostly self-taught and naïf, as the mentioned Diario, published posthumously, demonstrates, when he does not follow his natural inspiration becomes a mere versifier.
Firpo is unique, in the sense that there are no contemporary poets who can be compared to him, except maybe Luigi Panero (Loano 1903-1960), a good friend of Firpo although younger and also a good friend of the excellent poet in Italian Angelo Barile. Panero, who died tragically without ever collecting his poems in a volume, can unfortunately be judged only from what he published in newspapers, journals, and anthologies, thanks especially to Boselli and other friends. From what remains of him we get the image of a poet similar to Firpo for his feelings toward nature, but which a much smaller technical range, based mostly on very flimsy stanzas, on chains of fine images, at the edge of aphasia but phonically and visually very suggestive. So in a glimmer of lights and October sun, what shines more than anything else are the chestnuts, amid swarms of birds and tolls of bells in the evening, the heart "looks for a sign,/barely a feather/of life around."
Even if they have no ties with Firpo, except for being contemporaries, Alfredo Gismondi and Silvio Opisso, capable of some originality despite their traditional inspiration, seem at least worthy of mention. Better than they, even if very "old style," is Aldo Acquarone, author of graceful sketches and vignettes, and whose nineteenth-century roots are enlivened by a very crisp diction.
The second half of the century has had different types of dialect poetry, beginning with Pasolini and Guerra. Poetry in dialect is one with poetry in Italian, it has no quarrel with it, and it addresses not the speakers of one dialect or another, but the general readers of poetry, while the new dialect poets usually write in Italian as well. In Liguria, the first new poet is Cesare Vivaldi, born in Liguria (Imperia 1925), but resident in Rome until his death in 2000, who in 1951, during Firpo's mature years, published Otto poesie nel dialetto ligure di Imperia. As a dialect poet, Vivaldi was immediately acknowledged by Pier Paolo Pasolini, who in 1952, in the preface to Poesia dialettale del Novecento, which he edited with Mario Dell'Arco, wrote about Otto poesie: "C..Vivaldi, the youngest of the Ligurian poets, is connected to A. Guerra, the Friulians, and in a way to Dell'Arco as well, that is, in general to the most modern poets (also in the sense of being more current and socially committed); his small book (eight poems in all), if not enough to have him included in an anthology, places him among the most talented dialect poets of the last generation."
After the Neorealist experience, Vivaldi found a more intimate measure in a constant dialogue with himself or with a loved one, and in recent years his poetry has taken on the form of an essential diary, both in dialect and in Italian, more experimental and dynamic.
Not too different from Vivaldi for his capacity to observe landscapes and figures with loving clarity, maybe even with greater tenderness, is another poet from Imperia, Giuseppe Cassinelli, born in Dolcedo in 1928. Cassinelli is linguistically the most dedicated of all Ligurian poets, in terms of the total restoration of his archaic dialect, without Italianisms and without the interference of other dialects, even the neighboring ones. A characteristic trait of the latest Cassinelli is his resigned and thoughtful religiosity, that brings him close to a Ligurian poet who writes in Italian, the already mentioned Angelo Barile.
Firpo has left quite a legacy in Genoa because, so reclusive in life and not very well liked. he achieved a huge fame after his death, almost a veneration. Bu the only one who really continued what we may call Firpo's line, in a very original and personal way, was Vito Petrucci, also author of plays and essays. Petrucci, at any rate, is quite different from Firpo, he is not afflicted by solitude like him, and has the gentleness and the serenity of his gaze, but not his desperation. He is rooted in life, in social relationships, in literature itself.
Other Genoese poets take different routes, at times very personal. This is the case of Plinio Guidoni, who often takes refuge in the history of the Genoese Republic to vent his strongly hallucinatory narrative power. Also worthy of mention is Giuliano Balestrieri.
A very singular place in Genoese poetry is held by Roberto Giannoni (1934), a highly cultured writer, no doubt the best poet of the area and perhaps of all Liguria, the only one who has been able to come to terms with the dialect poetry tradition of his city, freeing himself with authority from the experiences of the past. Having begun to write poetry rather late, after 'E gagge in 1987 he published 'E trombe in 1997. Both volumes reclaim a true, authentic, Genoese spirit rooted in that communal life that once had determined its greatness. Franco Brevini writes in Parole perdute (Turin: Einaudi, 1990): "Giannoni's poetry is rigorously anti-lyrical and recently it tends to transform itself into an authentic verse narrative. Giannoni delves into a sort of collective geology, in which dialect becomes the language of the chorus. His poems reveal a gloomy and mortuary Genoa, observed from an almost archeological distance. ... There is a radical rejection of the lyrical self in order to lend a voice to the people, the biographies, the realities touched during the long peregrinations on the seas, but also, in a city-prison approaching its decline, to a suffering and humiliated humanity. With his prosastic and narrative verse, Giannoni today represents the epic and choral spearhead of neodialect poetry."
A notable contribution to the latest dialect poetry of Liguria has been made, and continues to be made, by the two "horns" of the Riviera, the eastern and the western. As for the East, there is the revelation of Paolo Bertolani (La Serra di Lerici 1931), a very sincere poet and certainly one of the dialect poets, past or present, who have achieved national prominence . Bertolani uses with great elegance the rough and dense language of an area between Liguria and Tuscany, not without the influence of Emilia, depicting figures through which he expresses the feeling for stark landscapes and for the smallest corners of the countryside. The poetry of Bertolani, who is bilingual and also writes fiction in Italian, for now has found the best expressive medium in the ruggedness of dialect. His rediscovery of the landscape and of the people achieves an essential sobriety in dialect, devoid of naivete and sentimentality.
With respect to the West, instead, the name of the young Andrea Capano (Turin 1923), born in Piedmont but Ligurian (Ventimiglia) by adoption, should be added to those of Vivaldi and Cassinelli. For Stefano Verdino, who writes well of Capano, he is a violently expressionist poet, , capable of "a sharp feel for a degraded landscape, disfigured to the point of becoming almost hallucinatory, brute matter... the first measure of a true poetics of ruin, namely the accumulation of images whose continuous sequence only expresses the impossibility of finding a meaning" (La poesia in Liguria, Forlì 1986).
Anthologies and Dictionaries
M. Boselli, "I liguri,"in Il Belli, 1, 1956.
--. Poesia dialettale genovese dal secolo XVI a oggi, Genoa 1958.
--. La poesia ligure dalle origini a Edoardo Firpo, Genoa 1976.
D. Astengo, "Cinque poeti in dialetto ligure,"in Resine, 24, 1985.
A. De Guglielmi, Liguria, Brescia 1987.
F. Toso, Letterature genovese e ligure, Genoa 1991.
L. Coveri, G. Petracco Siccardi, W. Piastra, Bibliografia dialettale ligure, Genoa 1980.
E. Villa, "Vita, dilettantismo e poesia nella letteratura genovese, da Steva Parodi a Edoardo Firpo," in La letteratura dialettale in Italia, edited by P. Mazzamuto, Palermo 1984.
S. Verdino, La poesia in Liguria, Forlì 1986.
AAVV, La letteratura ligure, il Novecento, Genoa 1988.
F, Brevini, Le parole perdute, Turin 1990.