The chapter of Molisan literature in dialect (wholly contained in this century) displays elements
so peculiar with respect to the national context, that it requires some indispensable historical and
cultural premises to the aesthetic and critical exegesis of the texts, which encompass a period of
time ranging from 1910 (Sciure de fratta, by Eugenio Cirese) to 1992 (Moliseide, by Giose
Rimanelli). A very brief tradition, as can be inferred, without deep roots, mostly unknown to
scholars of regional literatures and dialectology, as witnessed by the more or less recent
anthologies of dialect poetry [M. Chiesa-G. Tesio (edited by), Le parole di legno. Poesia in
dialetto del '900. 2 vols, Milan, 1984; Franco Brevini ed., Poeti dialettali del Novecento, Turin,
1987; Letteratura Italiana. Storia e geografia. Età Contemporanea, 3 vols, (ed. Alberto Asor
Rosa), Turin, 1989; Franco Brevini, Le parole perdute, Turin, 1990; Giacinto Spagnoletti-Cesare
Vivaldi eds., Poesia dialettale dal Rinascimento ad oggi, 2 vols, Milan 1991], whether due to
insufficient research, to calculated editorial strategies, or also, unfortunately, to the inadequate
efforts of local cultural policies to recognize, organize and distribute nationwide a body of works
that, although relatively young, possesses a depth of motivations, styles, formal structures, and is
not at all lacking in aesthetic achievements.
We spoke of "peculiarity" of the Molisan poetic tradition in dialect, inasmuch as this tradition is
intimately bound to the very history of the Molisan province, self-absorbed in a troubled search
for a ethnic-cultural identity and political and administrative autonomy (with respect to the
neighboring regions of Abruzzi and the Benevento area of Samnium) beginning with the start of
the century, whereby the objective, historical conditions of isolation of the Campobasso province
(fifth of the Abruzzi region since 1860) combined with decided autarchic tendencies, aiming at
configuring, distinguishing and delineating the borders of a geographic and anthropological entity
clearly defined or definable, and therefore to be legitimated first and foremost on the linguistic and
This need (felt by the most engaged intellectuals between the end of the Nineteenth Century
and the beginning of the next, (cf. above all Alfonso Perrella and Giambattista Masciotta), then
supported more and more by the economic, social, political forces and by a wide margin of public
opinion (suffice it to note that the general political elections of 1921 in Molise were based on this
issue, that transformed into a unified "bloc" the 7/8 of the existing parties), conferred to the
budding literature in dialect, and not just in dialect, an autochthonous conservative impulse, that
more than ever aimed to find, with the mimetic instruments offered by the vernacular (more
precisely by the vernaculars) the authentic, true, profound spirit of a Molise which had to be
discovered in its "essence," in its unmistakable human dimension, historically intact and pure, in
its "rurality," as it was proudly remarked later on, at the height of the Fascist era.
This focus on an existing "molisanness," still to be "recognized" in every sense, would
eventually confine local culture in the net of a unidirectional process, substantially monolithic,
even in the diversity of experiences, of private struggles and elaborations, of the styles and
inspirations of the poets of the first dialect season (1920-35) who, with the exception of Eugenio
Cirese, the most committed of all, and Luigi Antonio Trofa, an "irregular" who was responsive to
the stimulus of a "modernism" still to be tested, can certainly be placed within the confines of a
mimetic verismo, functionally adherent to a singular historical moment of the Molisan province,
characterized, as noted earlier, by the expansion of a centripetal energy that excluded any sort of
opening toward external literary models, urban and cosmopolitan, though such models were fairly
present and active in the cultural milieu of the province in the Twenties and Thirties.
It is not by chance that the diacronic line of Twentieth-Century Molisan literature is marked by
two strong curves determined by the linguistic option of dialect, and both coinciding with the
most intense phases of the development of a regionalistic consciousness: the first, beginning with
the immediate aftermath of W.W.I, crosses the Twenties and Thirties; the second, beginning with
the late Fifties, spans the decades of the Sixties and Seventies, and both go through lively periods
of research and study of the popular culture and traditions of a Molise that, still in the early
Sixties, awaited to be recognized as an autonomous region.
From the first decade of the Twentieth Century there is evidence of active and concrete
interests in history, popular and high culture, the dialects of the province and ever stronger
demands for separatism and administrative autonomy. The fruitful preparatory phase of the
positivistic studies of the late Nineteenth Century, especially in the fields of folklore and history
proper (cf. Alberto Mario Cirese's essay Intellettuali e mondo popolare nel Molise [Intellectuals
and Popular World in Molise], Isernia, 1983, 3d reprint) lays the groundwork for the significant
studies by B. Galileo Amorosa (Riccia nella storia e nel folk-lore, 1903), Eugenio Cirese (Canti
popolari del Molise, 1910), Oreste Conti (Letteratura popolare capracottese, 1911) Giovanni
Ziccardi (Il dialetto di Agnone, 1910), for the academic research of Francesco D'Ovidio, whose
philological teachings were extremely important for the methodological and technical orientation
of the dialect poets of the first generation (it must be remembered that D'Ovidio already in 1876
had published La fonetica del dialetto di Campobasso); for the vast historiographic activity of
Alfonso Perrella and Giambattista Masciotta (the latter published in 1915 and 1915 the first two
volumes of the monumental work Il Molise dalle origini ai nostri giorni). Masciotta was a
convinced and strenuous advocate of the administrative autonomy of Molise (this commitment is
attested in the local press in the first quarter century, cf. Ermanno Catalano, Uno storico
molisano. Giambattista Masciotta, Campobasso, 1983), and to attain it (which only happened in
1963) it took the general mobilization of the ruling classes, the intellectuals, and above all the
businessmen of the province, who took the initiative away from the political parties [cf. The Acts
of the Provincial Council of May 1920 and the 1st Regional Molisan Congress of May 20-22
1922; the periodical of the epoch, especially L'Avvenire del Sannio (1919-1922), the official
organ of the Popular Party of Molise].
As the real prospect of acquiring autonomy for the province became unfeasible in a strongly
centralized Fascist state, the idea of a Molisan "homeland" was kept alive instead on the cultural
level in the framework of Gentile's education reforms (1923), which accepted historiographic
concepts (Benedetto Croce) and anticentralizing linguistic philosophies (G. I. Ascoli), and above
all the "decentralizing" pedagogical recommendations of G. Lombardo Radice for the elementary
schools, which were to assume once again the task of educating the "people." Elementary school
teachers became the unquestioned leaders in this effort, as preservers, interpreters and mediators
of the most authentic reality and the most authentic popular "wisdom", or even the "bards" of this
reality (it is not by coincidence that Eugenio Cirese, Michele Cima, Giovanni Cerri, dialect poets
of the first generation, were elementary school teachers, but more on the role of the teachers
further on in this prologue).
So that paradoxically, within the very monocentric state organization established by Fascism,
there was room for testing and solidifying those designs of "regionalization" that had already
surfaced between the end of the Nineteenth Century and the beginning of the Twentieth, maybe
even with the strains and distortions of the basic principles of the school reform that,
misunderstood, gave rise to and heightened municipalistic tendencies, of which we have
At any rate, the Twenties and Thirties were the most productive period of Molisan poetry in
dialect, [and of dialect literature in general, if we consider the substantial chapter of dialect
Theater of Isernia, entirely in the years 1920-1940, (cf. Giambattista Faralli, Il teatro dialettale di
Isernia (1920-1940) [The Dialect Theater of Isernia (1920-1940)], Isernia: Marinelli, 1992), in a
context that involved not only the school as an institutional structure with well-planned programs
[it should be remembered that the texts adopted in Molisan elementary schools, approved by the
Ministry of Public Education, were written by G. Berengario Amorosa (Molise, 1926) and by
Eugenio Cirese (Gente buona, 1925), but intellectuals as well [the writer Lina Pietravalle made a
specific contribution with the volume Molise (1924) and then with Sannio mistico (1931), in
addition to making Molise the privileged background of her narrative, in keeping with the canons
of a belated romantic verismo). Also involved were the press, that was focusing as never before
on discovering and publicizing a well-defined and "illustrious" "molisanness" [Molise (1924), La
rivista di Molise (1926), Luci molisane (1931), which later became Luci sannite (1937), to
underline the "heroic" character of the Molisan people, local publications that became the basic
forum for Molisan poets in dialect], associations and folkloristic groups, and composers and
ethnomusicologists [cf. the musical study by Vittorio De Rubertis on the Maggio della Defènsa,
(1920)]. All this was happening in Molise, while instead in the other Italian regions, especially
central and northern regions, with really century-old traditions, in those same years dialect poetry
was substantially in decline: see, for example, Piedmont, with only M. Costa and G. Pacotto;
Lombardy, with only Delio Tessa (cf. L'è di mort, alegher!, 1932); Veneto, with the few
collections of G. Piva (cf. Cante d'Àldese, 1930; Bi-ba-ri-bo, 1934) and V. Giotti (cf. Caprizzi,
1928 and Colori, 1941); Liguria with E. Firpo (cf. O grillo cantadò, 1931 and Fiore in to gotto,
1935) and A. Acquarone (cf. Discorsi e confidenze, 1928 and A scoverta dell'America, 1932);
Emilia Romagna, where only A. Spallicci is notably active; Marche, Umbria, Rome, Abruzzi,
where the production in dialect is extremely limited. But even southern regions reveal the same
gap in that period, with the exception of the always fertile Naples, where with Luca Postiglione,
Ernesto Murolo, Rocco Galdieri, Libero Bovio and, above all, Raffaele Viviani literary activity in
dialect does not seem to experience any decline. The exception is, therefore, Molise, as
confirmation of that "peculiarity" of its budding dialect tradition we proposed as premise to this
The other curve, which took place in a completely different historical climate, is fundamentally
based on analogous motivations: the resumption of studies on popular traditions and of the debate
on the relationship between "national" and "regional" cultures in the Sixties (cf. the fundamental
text by Carlo Dionisotti, Geografia e storia della letteratura italiana, 1967), anticipated in
exemplary fashion in the Fifties by Eugenio and Alberto Mario Cirese, who published the two
volumes of Canti popolari del Molise (Rieti, 1953) (in 1953, meanwhile, came out Lucecabelle,
by E. Cirese and in 1955, posthumously, Poesie molisane) and founded the review of popular
history and literature La Lapa (1953-55), which heralded future times much more responsive to
the messages set down in its pages by Ernesto De Martino, Paolo Toschi, Pier Paolo Pasolini,
Diego Carpitella, Giuseppe Petronio and other important experts in the field; this climate would
be felt in the province also, which arranged for the publication (1952) of the III and IV volumes
of Masciotta's Molise, once again called upon to act as the historiographic basis for the region's
autonomistic design, which was realized a few years later (1963), after decades of parliamentary
battles, thus legitimizing the presence, cultural as well, of Molise in the national context. It also
spurred not only research into the past, critical and historical "classifications," rediscoveries, but
also the arousal of the pressing expressive needs of a human world, historically and ethically self-defined, that precisely in the Sixties and Seventies was undergoing for the first time the
unforeseen, unplanned drama of widespread industrial and technological progress and of the
advent of the mass media.
In this framework should be seen initiatives such as the reprint of the published and
unpublished poems by Giuseppe Altobello, dialect poet of the first generation (Sonetti molisani,
1966) and the publication of the Prima antologia dei poeti dialettali molisani (1967), edited by
Emilio Ambrogio Paterno, but above all the activity of the new dialect poets who, already from
the second half of the Fifties (Nina Guerrizio, Sciure de Carde, 1956); Emilio Spensieri, Come
fusse allora, 1957-1970), reopen a discourse destined to become, in time, the most interesting
and aesthetically reliable component of the regional literary production in general.
In the Sixties and Seventies the dialect line displays a progression directly proportional to the
massive invasion of the language of the mass media and imported technological models. In mostly
lyrical-elegiac tones, the new dialect poets generally opt for escapes into memory, the restoration
of values dimmed by time or about to die out, the search for the inner self, the capture of what is
native and natural, and engage in operations of linguistic archeology in which melancholy and
mournful moods combine with the idyllic and evocative tones of E. Spensieri (cf. op. cit.); the
vertical, strongly interiorized tensions, translated into neo-hermetic stylistic patterns by N.
Guerrizio (cf. op. cit.; Viente de vòria, 1963; Pagliare 'e fantasie, 1969); the corrosive, ironic,
polemical voice of Turillo Tucci (cf. Cenza che ze sfoche. Monologhi, I, 1967; Cenza che ze
sfoche. Dialoghi, II, 1968); the contemplative, "social" vein of Camillo Carlomagno (cf. Gente
nustrana, 1969; Voce de mundagna, 1969; Voglie candà, 1980 [posthumous]; the backward
glances into memory, the moralistic tension, the existential concerns of Gianni Barrea (cf. Viarelle
de fore, 1972; Vurie de state, 1980). Alongside the authors just mentioned, there are many
more who, in different measure, have contributed to the enrichment of the rather substantial
landscape of dialect poetry.
The consolidation of a literary consciousness that has adopted dialect as a highly
connotative and fully legitimated instrument in the contemporary Babel of artistic languages is
paralleled by the revival of a neo-positivistic culture more and more aggressive and open to
the multiple spheres of knowledge, and actively at work in institutional centers of learning, at
the local and national level: evidence of this are critical editions of the significant works of
the poets of the historical tradition (Giuseppe Altobello, Domenico Sassi, Michele Cima), of
authors like Berengario Amorosa, of La Lapa, the review of Cirese father and son; the
studies by Luigi Biscardi on poetry in dialect (cf. La letteratura dialettale molisana, Isernia,
1983); the exploration of little-known areas of dialect literature such as the theater (cf.
Faralli, op.cit.); the critical work on the opera omnia of E. Cirese by A. M. Cirese and on
the unpublished poems of G. Cerri by S. Martelli; the recent volume Poesia dialettale del
Molise. Testi e critica (edited by Luigi Bonaffini, Giambattista Faralli, Sebastiano Martelli,
Isernia, 1993); the critical anthology, also recent, by Mario Gramegna (letteratura dialettale
molisana. Antologia e saggi estetici, vol. I, Campobasso, 1993).
At the forefront of Molisan poetry in dialect we find Giuseppe Jovine (Lu Pavone, 1970
and 1983) and Giose Rimanelli (Moliseide, 1992), writers with a background that is rather
broad and rich with linguistic and literary, as well critical and historiographic experiences.
They have come to dialect with a self-awareness that goes far beyond the usual "restoration"
or idyllic dream in the depths of memory; in these two very "new" writers, not of course in
a generational sense, dialect represents a field to be explored for a poetic quest with vast
connotative possibilities, even though their search takes them in very different directions.
With these last two authors Molise, beyond the conditioning inherent in its political and
cultural history, strongly felt until the Sixties, is bound to the rhythms and breath, the signs
and essence of contemporary poetry, beyond any provincial boundary: Jovine's and Rimanelli's
dialect poetry leads local tradition, with its conservative specificity, its "backwardness," its
lags (with the exception of Cirese), to the mainstream of the literary evolution of the nation
and of that "global village" we call the world.
The recent "discovery" of the work of Raffaele Capriglione, a poet already mentioned,
although briefly, bybE. Ambrogio Paterno in his anthology (op. cit.), does not significantly
alter the picture of Molisan poetry in dialect that we have presented. His opera omnia, both
prose and poetry, has been published by the Town of Santa croce di Magliano, which
approved a project of several years aimed at publishing everything writen by the poet from
Santa Croce. The first two volumes of this project have been issued: Raffaele Capriglione, 'U
l'uteme sabbete d'abbrile ed altre feste popolari a Santa Croce di Magliano (poesie
dialettali) [The Last Saturday in April and Other Popular Holidays at Santa Croce di
Magliano], prefaced by Francesco D'Episcopo, Project Dorrafajele, Edizioni Enne,
Campobasso 1995; Sergio Bucci, Giambattista Faralli, Sebastiano Martelli, Raffaele
Capriglione. Un "caso" letterario tra Ottocento e Novecento [Raffaele Capriglione. A
Literary case between the 19th and 20th Century], id. Some of the partial and little-known
publications of a few of Capriglione's poems are: Poesie dialettali di Dorraffaiele [Dialect
Poetry of Doraffaele], Editrice Universitaria Felici, Pisa 1972 e Antologia poetica di Raffaele
Capriglione [Poetic Anthology of Dorraffaele] (edited by Michele Castelli with drawings by
Pietro Mastrangelo), Editore THR, Caracas, Giugno 1992.
ANTHOLOGIES AND DICTIONARIES
Canti della terra d'Abruzzo e Molise, preface by O. Giannangeli, Milan 1958.
Prima antologia di poeti dialettali molisani, edited by E. A. Paterno, Pescara 1967.
Vocabolario dei vari dialetti del Sannio, edited by S. Nittoli, Naples 1873 (reprint, Bologna 1984.)
Le concordanze dei dialetti del Molise, edited by P. Piemontese, Bari 1985.
Isernia e il suo dialetto, 2 vols., edited by Carlo Santilli, Isernia 1988.
Letteratura dialettale molisana (Antologia e saggi estetici), a cura di M. Gramegna, Vol. I
and II, Campobasso 1993-195.
Vocabolario ragionato del dialetto di Casacalenda, edited by A. Vincelli, Campobasso 1991.
Il teatro dialettale di Isernia (1920-1940), edited by G. Faralli, Isernia 1992.
Poesia dialettale del Molise. Testi e critica / Dialect Poetry from Molise. Texts and
criticism, trilingual edition, edited by L. Bonaffini, G. Faralli, S. Martelli, Isernia 1993.
Dizionario illustrato Bonefrano-Italiano, edited by Michele Colabella, Milan 1993.
G. Jovine, Benedetti molisani, Campobasso 1979.
L. Biscardi, La letteratura dialettale molisana tra restauro e invenzione, Isernia 1983.
S. Martelli - G. Faralli, Molise, Brescia 1994.