Sanzio Balducci

It is always difficult to defend the merits of dialect poetry, especially of those Italian regions with little linguistic unity where the absence of large urban (and cultural) centers does not favor the expansion of dominant models through broad areas. This is precisely the situation in the Marches, par excellence a region of a thousand dialects, a thousand bell towers and circumscribed cultural realities that rarely reach beyond the city walls of their historical centers.

The Marches has illustrious exceptions, as in the case of Leopardi and Rossini in the last two centuries, but there have been neither schools of thought nor cultural movements, so that every great artist, every thinker, every scientist from the region who has become known beyond his own territory has never been able to establish in loco a favorable and permanent atmosphere for the development of the arts and sciences.1

Paradoxically, one can say that a great city creates a great dialect, a great market and consequently some potentially great dialect poets. The great dialect poets are almost all tied to the great cities, in a sort of reciprocal osmosis, yet even these poets, because they write in dialect, have trouble crossing the limits of their own city and the territory it controls, and do not succeed in being known nationwide.

These annotations, which could be considered sociological in nature, are not meant to be a captatio benevolentiae, that is, a nice excuse and a reason for fostering a priori a benevolent attitude toward dialect poetry from the Marches, which in reality could use some, given the far from flattering criticism it has received in the last fifty years, after the long and happy parentheses of Giovanni Crocioni's promotional and critical activity, which culminated in his work La poesia dialettale marchigiana (1934-1936).2

In the period of strong ideological contrast after WW II, which led to the neorealist movement in literature and above all in cinema, there was a great interest in the condition of the people and of the working class, especially in the big cities. In this climate Pasolini developed his art and his attention to dialect4, as attested by his poetry in Friulian5, the anthology Poesia dialettale del Novecento (1952)6, and the Canzoniere italiano - Antologia della poesia popolare (1955)7.

Pasolini clearly defined the criteria on which his choices were to be made especially in the first work. In dialect poets he would look for the ability to describe and represent the real, namely the situation, analyzed sociologically, in which a community is structured, in its diversity and internal contrasts. This is the reason he appreciated Belli: "Belli documents - in a marvelously visual way - the last days of an epoch which immediately precedes ours and which survived , more than in other parts of Europe, in the papal incubator" (p. LV). With Pascarella, Zanazzo, and definitely with Trilussa: "The withdrawal from "Belli's" people goes hand to hand with the withdrawal from Belli's language; there is the progressive disappearance of a poetic reason and a social reason that had blended in the miracle of Belli's poetry, unique in Italian literature" (p. LVII). In short, with Pascarella begins the withdrawal from realism and realistic and sociological analysis8 of the situation in Rome.

Pasolini extends the negative verdict on Belli's followers to the poets of the Rome-Florence axis. His point of view seems obvious: he includes in the category of dialect poets those who bring to light the social contradictions by describing realistically these situations, without disguising or sugar-coating them in a idyllic and deceptive portrait.

Given these premises9, Pasolini's conclusion makes sense, since for all the dialect poets from the Marches, (with the exception of a few from the last generation, and therefore subsequent to Poesia dialettale, 1952, such as Scataglini, Ghiandoni, Mancino, who will be addressed later), one can say what Pasolini had stated at the beginning of the preface to Poesia dialettale (p. XII): "The popular equation - realistic does not have at all an absolute value, because the people, at least in the meaning given to the word until the early twentieth century, did not represent themselves in poetry, devoid as they were of a social conscience, and thus, in our case, of poetic reflection, but they simply expressed their own feelings, especially of love." And further on: "dialects possess a tradition which is no less cultured and anti-popular than the one in Italian. It is almost always a translation from Italian into dialect, and caricatures, when they are present, are due to a purely formal polemic."

But much more appropriate seem to be Pasolini's comments on the reasons that drive the countless dialect poets to write poetry: "The average dialect poet is in terror of being linguistically different. Of not rigidly obeying that linguistic code of honor shared by the most unconventional soul. And his greatest ambition is to disappear in anonymity, to become the unconscious demiurge of the popular genius of his city or town, the spokesman of an 'absolute' local glee" (p. LIII).

The long quotation from Pasolini's preface (which is so illuminating on the figure of the dialect poet and so clear in the ideological formulation of the parameters for judgment) is meant to exorcize in some way those negative comments it gave rise to with respect to dialect poetry from the Marches, made in fact acceptable and convincing by the authoritative prestige of this great artist.

We encounter three scholars of dialect literature from the Marches. Alfredo Luzi, who obviously follows Pasolini's realistic formulation, states: I have the suspicion that the dialect choice in poetic expression is often born from an idyllic and limiting vision of our microcosm, that it hides a longing for the past which is visceral and has psychoanalytical implications, rather than a rational need to interpret reality." And further on: "His line [of the dialect poetry from the Marches] is to recognize, in the negative, the values on which middle-class mentality rests, and to delegate to others, to the dominant class, the management of power to which the people are inexorably and somewhat masochistically enslaved.

Giancarlo Breschi's analysis12, which remains one of the keenest for the pre-nineteenth-century historical period, hinges on the qualitative weakness of dialect literature from the Marches: "We still need to face the fundamental problem, that is, the tenuous strength and vitality of dialect literature of the Marches, poetry in particular, to be found during the entire course of its brief history, as was already said. It is a matter of pointing out and rationalizing the causes, attributable to both 'internal' and 'external' history." According to Breschi, the causes of such backwardness and weakness are to be found in "the strict interaction of historical, linguistic, cultural and sociological elements," and particularly in the "brain drain" that in more or less early times has impoverished the culture of the region." Nevertheless, Breschi does not seem to share Pasolini's formulation: "Starting from an 'objective' and polar criterion, developed by Contini in 1951 in his essay on Petrarch, 'monolinguism' vs. 'plurilinguism' [...], he extends the notion ('language vs. dialect': a still usable metaphor) beyond the initial thrust (stylistic and cultural), summarizing it in a single category, which is Pasolini's 'realism'."12

Sandro Baldoncini tackled the theme of dialect poetry in 1988, underlining in the first place the lack of in-depth studies: "There is an abiding absence of criticism which for the Marches concerns not only dialect literature but conspicuous segments of minor or local literature, from the Apennines to the Adriatic."13 Then, following Pasolini's critical parameters, makes a sharp distinction between the quality of nineteenth-century dialect poets from the Marches (A. Leopardi, Tamanti, Mancioli, Giansanti) who were able to interpret "the new political and social reality of post-unification Italy" and that of early twentieth-century poets" "After the best voices of the late nineteenth century were gone, the new century seems veined with productive weariness, as poetry remained within the narrow limits of the nebulous memory of everyday life."14

This distinction between two periods of post-unification dialect poetry from the Marches seems somewhat strained, both because many poets lived between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and because the subject matter of all the poets remained more or less unaltered, privileging family and town-life themes and giving less importance to national and international events.15 Not even metrical forms were very different during all this time, with the clear prevalence of the Bellian sonnet over the eight-syllable couplet. Only in the last few decades, following the literary model of poetry in Italian, free verse has become more widespread.

It is generally believed that much poetry in dialect is still buried in public libraries and family archives, due to publication costs and poor market (which for every dialect poet coincides with his place of origin or work).

From this it should be inferred that it is not possible to give an overall judgment about the last one hundred years of dialect poetry from the Marches.15

It may be a coincidence, but Polvara's anthology Perle dialettali - Poesie tra le più belle di trenta dialetti d'Italia16 includes only two dialect poets from the Marches, Bice Piacentini from San Benedetto del Tronto and Luigi Capogrossi Colognesi from Cupramontana: two noteworthy poets (especially Piacentini), but whom no subsequent scholar places among the most significant in the region. This shows that dialect poetry from the Marches was (and is) almost totally unknown, and what is known of it in Italy does not correspond to the way it is judged by critics from the region and by those who have studied the linguistic reality of the Marches.

Having underlined how little it is known, it is not in any case my intention to exalt the dialect poetry of the Marches, or to place it on the same level as the poetry of Naples, Venice, and Milan, recent and past. Determining a value scale is difficult (especially in this case), especially because of the tendency to celebrate the poets of one's own province: I don't mean due chauvinistic reasons, but to familiarity and linguistic affinity.

Among the Piceni17 poets of the nineteenth century, Baldoncini underlined the importance of Alfonso Leopardi18 of San Ginesio, Giambattista Tamanti of Fermo, and Giuseppe Mancioli of Macerata. The latter, born in 1824, "a clergyman of humble origins, a man of strong character, combative and determined even with his superiors," showed "a keen and constant interest in the political affairs of post-Unification Italy and, open more than most to the new liberal tendencies, noted the effect of its negative sides among the humble populace."19

Province by province, the poets who have enjoyed a great deal of esteem in their respective communities are Carlo Pagnini and Antonio Nicoli of Pesaro, Renzo de Scrilli of Urbino, Duilio Scandali and Palermo Giangiacomi of Ancona, Donatella Serrani of Senigallia, Guido Moretti of Montemarciano, Lello Longhi of Jesi, Onofrio Angelelli of Fabriano, Mario Affede of Macerata, Enrico Ricciardi of Sarnano, Emidio Vittori and Checco Bonelli of Ascoli Piceno, Pio Salvi of Grottammare and Bice Piacentini of San Benedetto del Tronto. I intentionally left out the authors included in this anthology, who merit a more in-depth treatment.

Odoardo Giansanti, a.k.a Pasqualon20 (Pesaro 1852-1932), is no doubt the most famous and important dialect poet of the Marches, already winner of the best poet award in 1905 at the Esposizione Marchigiana di Macerata by a jury presided by Giovanni Crocioni. Pasqualon wrote more than four hundred poems (one hundred and fifty of which are dedicated to various characters) for a total of approximately fifty-thousand lines. The language preferred by Giansanti is the urban dialect of Pesaro, at times enriched by the dialect of the countryside and by expressions from other neighboring dialects, such as those of Urbino, Fano, and Senigallia. There are some characters who speak in the best known dialects of Italy (according to the stereotypes of the Commedia dell'Arte): Lombard, Venetian, Neapolitan, Romagnolo and Romanesco. Contrary to some statements21, Giansanti knows how to use Italian (and the parody of Italian, spoken by the most ambitious men of the people), writing poems completely in Italian and poems in which he wants to show his skill by alternating verses in dialect and Italian.

Giansanti's metrical form is almost always the eight-syllable couplet, but he often uses more traditional verses, especially in the dedicatory poems.

Pasqualon's personality cannot be limited to the figure of tavern and market story-teller that the poet in fact embodied, just as his work cannot be reduced to a testimony, however precious, of an epoch and of the traditional life and speech of Pesaro between 1885 and 1925 (the forty years in which he wrote). There are poems that transcend the occasion and the repetitiveness of meter (but not the banality of rhyme), and there are epic moments that refer to a small world but have the breath of the great epos.

Giulio Grimaldi (Fano, 1873 - Marina di Pisa 1910) was, during his short life, one of the most complex men of letters of the Marches: historian, philologist, founder of the most important historical and literary journal of the region, Le Marche, author of the novel Maria risorta, poet in Italian and in dialect. He passionately studied Fano's seaside world and collected a substantial repertory of dialect expressions and folklore. Unfortunately, these latter studies have been lost.

Grimaldi's dialect poetry is all contained in the volume Brod e àcin (1905), consisting of about fifty poems, usually in sonnet form (not apparent in the arrangement on the page).

Grimaldi is notable for his stark but precise use of dialect, seeming almost detached from the scenes he portrays, as if not wanting to get involved in what he is telling. While his novel Maria risorta and his poems in Italian betray his decadent22 roots, in his dialect poetry he shows the eye of a verista, almost a cold camera that seeks neither tears nor laughter, but aims to depict society23 as it appears to his sensitive and curious gaze.

Grimaldi did not leave any literary heirs, and the dialect poetry of the Marches continues to employ the themes and models outlined by the great figures of the nineteenth century: Belli on the one hand (and his followers), and on the other Giansanti.

In the last decades the Marches too has participated in the great movement of the so-called neodialect poets, whose medium is also dialect, but not the one which is philologically understood as the mirror of popular speech and the continuation of a given model (namely the linguistic model recognized by the single communities of speakers). It is rather a new language freely chosen by the poet, who bends his dialect to his expressive needs and is not concerned with its relevance to the "sacrality" of tradition. This type of poetry is intellectual, not tied to circumstances or occasions, it does not seek a convivial consensus, and it stands as an alternative to poetry in Italian. In a sense, it is a living poetic language opposed to a worn-out poetic language. The major exponents of this new dialect poetry are Franco Scataglini, Gabriele Ghiandoni, and Leonardo Mancino.

1The only exception was the Duke Federico of Montefeltro who created the conditions for the flowering of Urbino's Renaissance.

2Giovanni Crocioni, La poesia dialettale marchigiana, Fabriano: Stab. di Arti Grafiche "Gentile": vol. I, Saggio storico critico e con testi dialettali sino a tutto il sec. XVII, 1934; vol. II, I poeti dei secoli XIX e XX, con annotazioni, aggiunte, lessico e indice dei due volumi, 1936. The first volume is part of vols. VII-VIII (1931-1932) of Rendiconti of the Istituto marchigiano di scienze lettere e arti, pp. 1-210, also printed in Fabriano in 1934..

3From a historical and linguistic point of view, and aseptically Alfredo Stussi, in Lingua, dialetto e letteratura, Turin: Einaudi, 1993 (in the essay that gives the book its title, which had already appeared in 1972 in the Storia d'Italia, I. I caratteri originali, pp. 679-728), examining the use of dialect in literature, typical of those years (Pratolini, Calvino, Fenoglio, Pasolini, Testori, etc.), underlines its ideological motivations veined with " populist attitudes brought up to date in an anti-fascist key. [...]. The idea of giving progressive ideological reasons for the use of dialect expressions by characters from the dialect-speaking lower classes is no doubt "disarmingly naive" (pp. 54-55). But Pasolini himself spoke of an "excess of naiveté," as Pier Vincenzo Mengaldo reminds us in Poeti italiani del Novecento, Milan: Mondadori, 1978. Referring to Pasolini and citing his Poesie a Casarsa, Stussi also speaks of "a document of his linguistic hedonism and of his philological passion leaning toward the primitive and the archaic" (p. 55).

4Since Poesie a Casarsa is from 1942, one should more correctly say that Pasolini's interest in the world of dialect, and the primitive it represents, was born a few years before post-war neorealism.

5 The 1942 Poesie a Casarsa, "along with other dialect collections of the following decade, will form the volume of poems in the dialect of Casarsa and other Friulian and Venetian varieties La meglio gioventù, Florence: Sansoni, 1954" (Mengaldo, Poeti, p. 778).

6In collaboration with Mario dell'Arco, Parma: Guanda. Pasolini wrote a demanding Introduzione, pp. IX-CXIX, in which he laid out the reasons behind his choices.

7This anthology was also published by Guanda.

8We could say "of class," as it was fully implemented in the middle of the twentieth century in the literature and criticism inspired by Gramsci.

9Which in my view are biased, aiming at an analysis of the subject matter, and deferring to a later time a qualitative analysis of the works.

10These are quotations taken from p. 60 of La poesia dialettale marchigiana, in Sulla soglia del paese. Scrittori marchigiani contemporanei, Ancona: Bagaloni, 1984, pp. 57-65 (but this essay was published for the first time by the daily La Stampa, Dec. 16, 1978.

11Giancarlo Breschi, Appunti per una storia della letteratura dialettale marchigiana, in Studi Urbinati. Supplemento linguistico, 2/1 1980, pp. 15-74.

12The quotation from Breschi's Appunti are taken from pp. 18, 28, 24 and 19..

13Sandro Baldoncini, Marche, in the series Letteratura delle regioni d'Italia. Storia e testi., Brescia: La Scuola, 1988, p. 54.

14The last two quotations in Baldoncini, Marche, p. 55. The author makes similar comments (but even more similar to Pasolini's) in the essay "Di alcuni poeti dialettali piceni tra Otto e Novecento", in La lingua e il sogno. Scrittori in dialetto nell'Italia del Primo Novecento, by Vito Moretti, Rome: Bulzoni, 1992, pp. 219-243, where, still referring to Alfonso Leopardi, Giambattista Tamanti and Giuseppe Mancioli, he reiterates that they "will bring the fervor of a reborn inventiveness cleverly combined with everyday life."

15From this point of view the restrictive title Appunti that Giancarlo Breschi gave his work is not due to modesty.

16Fedele Polvara published his collection in 1944, with the publisher Corticelli of Milan.

17The designation of piceno is not given to the descendants of the territory of the fifth Augustan region named Picenum (that went from the Teramo area to boundaries of the Esino), but it is generally used today to identify the inhabitant of the Fermano and the province of Macerata, (approximately the center-south area of the Marches where the dialect has the u ending in masculine nouns and adjectives.).

18His dialect poetry is gathered in the volume Sub tegmine fagi. Sotto un tegame di fagioli, published in 1887 by Lapi of Città di Castello (reprinted in 1902 ). This collection includes poems of other poets of the region.

19In Baldoncini, Di alcuni poeti dialettali piceni, p. 230.

20This nickname comes from a character much liked by the public, the farmer Pasqualon, whose story Giansanti tells in six poems written in 1886 and 1,200-lines long.

21The 'critical' edition of his works, edited by Sanzio Balducci, came out in 1996 (Pesaro: Nobili and Pieraccini). This edition, which includes forty unpublished poems, follows the first copy of each poem and in many cases (whenever available) the manuscript text that resulted from the collaboration between Giansanti, who was blind even before he began to write, and his printers (occasional scribes who wrote under the poet's dictation).

22See Gualtiero De Santi's comments, Giulio Grimaldi tra Verismo e Estetismo, in "Giulio Grimaldi e la cultura marchigiana del primo '900", edited by Marco Ferri, Urbino: Quattroventi, 1991, pp. 63-77, especially on p. 70.

23The society described by Grimaldi consists mainly of the lower classes, sailors and farmers.

Anthologies and Dictionaries

Vocabolario anconitano-italiano, edited by L. Spotti, Geneva: Olschki, 1929.

El dialetto fabrianese, edited by O. Angelelli, Fabriano 1935.

La poesia dialettale marchigiana, edited by G. Crocioni, Fabriano 1934 and 1936.

Nuovi poeti marchigiani, Milan 1959.

Muse all'aperto, edited by G. Lisotti, Pesaro 1960.

Marche, edited by S. Baldoncini, Brescia 1988.

Polittico letterario: Poesia lirica nei dialetti piceni, edited by L. Gentili, San Benedetto del Tronto 1988.

Regional Studies

G. Crocioni, introduction to La poesia dialettale marchigiana, cit.

G. Lisotti, "Profilo della poesia dialettale nelle Marche," in I cento anni del Bramante, Pesaro1962.

S. Baldoncini, "Il poeta in zoccoli e guazzerone," in La letteratura dialettale in Italia, edited by P. Mazzamuto, Palermo 1984.

A. Luzi, Marche: Poeti oggi, Urbania 1979.

F. Scataglini, "La cerimoniosa mascherata," Diverse lingue, 1, October 1986.

G. Spagnoletti and C. Vivaldi, "Marche," in La poesia dialettale dal Rinascimento ad oggi, 1:647-69, Milan: Garzanti, 1991.