At the beginning of the century, Sicilian dialect could be considered the unofficial
language of a people and territory. For the lower classes it represented virtually the only linguistic
code in use, nor was the "Sicilian tongue" perceived as diminutio: the national language remained
an expression of other realities, both geographic and social: it was the language of the rich (as
diabetes was regarded a disease of the rich) and of the North: of people from the "continent."
Illiteracy in Sicily reached extremes of 70.89% in the demographic census of 1901, of
56.97% the next decade, as compared to a national average that reached, respectively, 48.49%
and 37.43%.1 If after the draft a recruit tended to reproduce extraneous intonations or lexemes, he
might be asked not to speak tischi toschi: "talk as your mother made you." In the island, the
Italian language was sermo curialis, it circulated in the courtrooms, in parliament, in the schools;
it was the idiom of books and newspapers: a linguistic reality of other milieux, with which it did
not always like to interact. The middle class used dialect in the home and in the clubs; the
aristocrats preferred to express themselves in a mélange of Sicilian, Italian, English and above all
French; some spoke either in dialect or in French, skipping Italian altogether. A rapid (and
flavorful) Example of this kind of composite speech is offered by Fulco della Cerda, Duke of
Verdura, who recounted his childhood in the Villa Nascemi of Palermo at the beginning of the
century, in a work with the dialect title "Happy summers." His writing is studded with French
expressions. Here is the description of the princess of Ganci, who came to visit the writer's
grandmother, called Granmamà, her mother-in-law:
She was a delicate figure who called to mind the statuettes in blanc de Chine. She
spoke, or rather stuttered, a strange mixture of Sicilian and French pronouncing
the "R"s as if they were "S"s: "carissima" became "casissima" and "il parco della
Favorita" "Il pascu d'a Favosita."2
The situation appears radically different after W.W. II; the impoverishment of the
linguistic patrimony of dialect affects the whole peninsula and corrodes the solidity of the Sicilian
dialect. The rapid erosion of dialects surprises P. P. Pasolini; regarding Buttitta's heartfelt
lamentation in the poem "Lingua e dialettu" [Language and Dialect], he writes about the language
"stolen" from a people:
And in the whole world around me, dialect seemed destined to become
extinguished in epochs so distant as to appear abstract. It seemed that the
italianization of Italy had to be founded on a wide contribution from below,
dialectal and popular in nature (and not on the substitution of the pilot literary
language with the managerial pilot language, as later happened). Among the other
tragedies we have experienced (...) in the last few years, there has also been the
tragedy of the loss of dialect (...)3
And while the phenomenon of (functional) illiteracy continues to decrease in the island, with
extremes of 24.56% in the 1951 census and 16.46% in 1961 (which leave the region in fourteenth
place among the rest of the regions), as compared with a national average of respectively 12.90%
and 8.14%4, in letter-writing the Sicilian emigrant can express himself in the Italian language,
although dialect is superimposed on it. Dated 1965-66 are the letters ad familiares from Kall by
the Sicilian emigrant who represents the dramatis persona of Entromondo by Antonio Castelli,
which Sciascia considered the only literary work on emigration based on "recreated documents,"
capable of portraying "the condition of emigrants as it was, as it is," followed by the poems of
Tutti dicono Germania Germania [They All Say Germany Germany] by Stefano Vilardo. 5 This is
how Castelli reconstructs the epistolary style of the Sicilian emigrant:
Dear wife I'm writing you these lines to give you my news that I'm all right so I
hope this letter finds you and the children in good health. Dear Antonietta I have
waited two other days thinking I would receive your letter and instead I didn't see
anything and I was forced to put down these few lines; now I am letting you know
that Sunday Santi. A. arrived (...)6
The existence of "parallel schools," the mass media first of all, alongside institutional
schools, has hastened the compression of dialects; today, with regard to dialect literatures,
syntagms such as "lost words"7 and "furtive languages"8 are being used. Meanwhile, the
predictable adoption of English as future official language of the European Community could
make the Italian language, due to its limited diffusion, into a European dialect, while more and
more widespread becomes what is being called angliano (in France, franglais).
In 1988, Jana Vizmuller-Zocco from York University in Toronto, conducted a survey on
the Sicilian dialect, from a sociolinguistic perspective, interviewing 60 poets residing in the island:
With the exception of only one poet, dialect was considered the mother tongue,
and Italian became dominant once they entered the work force. Moreover, the
authors either alternate dialect and Italian within the family circle or use Italian.
Without exception, they do not use Sicilian with their children, with the result that,
at least by the acknowledgment of a few of them, their children do not understand
their poetry. Another person related that his daughter, now twenty-four, is
showing great interest in all things Sicilian, including the dialect. One of the most
surprising facts to emerge from some of the interviews is the poets' selection of
Italian as the language of the family and consequently the inability of their children
to enjoy the poetry in Sicilian dialect written by their fathers. Clearly, the rivalry
between Sicilian and Italian as mother tongues does not realize itself at the level of
artistic, ethical, or other types of psychological need and appreciation. Job
opportunities, better standards of living and technological and other advancements
seem to be embodied in Italian, and hence this is chosen as mother tongue for
Still open is the question of whether the over-production of poetic texts in Sicilian dialect,
which characterizes the end of this century, is an expression of a literary renaissance or whether it
is entirely on this that the survival of dialect depends, in keeping with a radical formulation by
Pascoli: "the language of poetry is always a dead language."10
Despite the difficulty of linkage, which the exponents of literary Sicilian life have always
experienced, with the important centers of the publishing world, concentrated mainly in the North,
in its Italian and dialect output the Sicilian Twenty-Century is rich with noteworthy personalities
of international repute (Pirandello, Quasimodo, Vittorini, Lampedusa, Sciascia, Buttitta). Quite
often, the possibility of entering the most exclusive literary circuits has meant leaving the island.
The cases of Lampedusa, Piccolo, Bufalino, are exceptional and due to chance. The submerged,
quality literature is considerable, full of important forgotten names: one has only to think of
narrators such as Raffaele Poidomani (Carrube e cavalieri [Horse Bread and Gentlemen], 1954)
or Salvatore Spinelli (Il mondo giovine [The Young World], 1958).
If this can happen for narrative and poetry in italian, one can easily assess the extent of the
phenomenon with respect to the poetry in dialect, due to the limited circulation of the texts, more
likely to be excluded from "the channels of national publishing and scattered among small
publishers, if not local printers."11 In his History of Sicily, Ganci Battaglia underlined the need to
save the poetic works, which had remained unpublished, of Saru Cannavò, from Aci Platani, who
died in 1960. Recently, Domenico Ferraro has edited the complete published texts of Francesco
Paolo Polizzano, from Prizzi (1857-1935), with the addition of some unpublished ones.13 A poet
inspired by ideals of peace and justice, Polizzano kept in mind Mazzini's lesson on rights and
duties; there is no common good if progress and morality "don't walk united."14 In his poetry
there are echoes of Carducci, which the local speech dissolves into an everyday dimension, whose
best results are to be found in the representation of the small Universe of Madonia.
Aside from the rediscoveries, the first decades of the century are dominated by the
personalities of Martoglio, Di Giovanni, Mercadante, representative of the principal tendencies
which characterize dialect poetry in the Twentieth century; they are, although no rigorous
demarcations can be established, the three souls of realism: playful-popular (Martoglio);
spiritualist and social (Di Giovanni); socialist and revolutionary (Mercadante).
Nino Martoglio, from Catania (1870-1921), famous playwright and comedy writer of the
Sicilian theater (his works are the mainstay of dialect theater comedians), was the editor of the
humorous newspaper D'Artagnan and gave life to the Compagnia del Teatro Mediterraneo. His
poetic texts are collected in Centona, in which he was able to be both lyric and dramatic, excelling
in lively compositions, no less than the others close to the popular spirit. Pirandello praised his
spareness and maintained that Martoglio was for Sicily what Di Giacomo and Russo represent for
Naples, Pascarella and Trilussa for Rome, Fucini for Tuscany, Selvatico and Barbarani for the
Alessio di Giovanni (1872-1946) chose his native Valplatani as the backdrop of his poetic
universe, almost to illustrate Tolstoy's maxim: "describe your village and you will be universal";
with the master of Russian narrative he shared a vocation for realism and a tendency to develop
symbiotically the poles of sociability and religiosity.
Figures such as St. Francis and St. Clara move in a rural scenery: from the island's nature,
with its Mediterranean elements ("air and green"), in a landscape made of vine runners, of "soft
almonds," of "sky and valleys", emerges the figure of the "poor lover."16
The world of the humble is represented with intimate participation, not with a middle-class
perspective or fanatical primitivism. Di Giovanni's work is popular with regard to themes from
Lu fattu di Bissana [The Bissana Incident], 1900) to A lu passu di Giurgenti [At Girgenti's Pass],
(1902) and Nni la dispensa di la surfara [In the Storeroom of the Sulfur Mine], 1910 but he is not
naïf. A cultured poet, he appropriated the operation he had admired in Saru Platania, whose
dialect poetry he had studied in his youth; he had credited him with being the first to have
"elevated himself" from the humble popular inspiration: not to have abandoned that vein to elevate
himself, but to have elevated the inspiration, by refining his expressive instruments and lending
poignancy to the representation. That is to say: to make himself humble with the humble according
to his specific nature, namely, as a poet.17 And Di Giovanni became the aedos of life in the feud
and the mine. The feud, with its immobility, was alive from the end of the last century to the
Fifties. Another poet, Mario Gori (1926-1970) sings of the dissolution, with the feud, of the rural
civilization, while poverty continues to afflict the population (whence the persistence, in those
years, of the phenomenon of emigration). In a certain sense, Gori harks back to Di Giovanni's
poetry, but not as an epigone.18
Di Giovanni's work will be dealt with more extensively in the anthological section.
Vito Mercadante, from Prizzi (1873-1936), was twenty-years old during the workers'
revolt of the Sicilian Fasces. He had the opportunity to observe the dire conditions of the rural
underclass, in a historical period in which the number of feuds was increasing in the island and that
of small owners decreasing, while the dark power of the gabelloti was expanding, at the expense
of the farmers. In such a climate, Mercadante, a socialist, followed the revolutionary line of
George Sorel. The poet's great-grandchild, Vito Mercadante Jr., looking through some of his
great-uncle archive papers, found the following comment:
Against the evil arts of politicians. Against the diabolical work of priests. Against
the indifference, or worst, of irresponsible comrades. Against weariness and
defeats. Against public opinion and the press. Against regulations, customs and
The poet was in favor of the valorization of rural civilization (as it was emerging from the
ethnic-anthropological studies of Vigo, Salomone-Marino, Pitrè), of popular literature and a
concrete poetry, in the wake of verismo, some of whose canons were nevertheless considered
misleading: the cold positivistic -scientific outlook and the "dogma" of the impersonality of the
In the language of his land he sang the epic deeds of garibaldi in Lu Sissanta (1910), as an
expression of the deliverance of the Sicilian people; the poem runs from the landing at Marsala
until Palermo, as if to signify the author's indifference to subsequent events, which saw the betrayal
of that revolution. The work appeared in the same year as Mercadante's L'omu e la terra [Man and
Land], inspired by the Messina earthquake of 1908 and the masterpiece, Focu di Muncibeddu
[Mongibello's Fire]: a collection characterized by fluid, limpid writing and a wide range of themes:
from the absorbed contemplation of nature to the lyric representation of moments of rural life, at
times festive at times tragic; from delicate sentimental broadsides to magical enchantments. Of
course, there are also compositions with strong social contents, equally distributed. Mercadante
can write intensely lyrical verses or become a fiery defender of derelicts. Or openly manifest his
diffidence towards justice, conditioned by power and by camperi mafiosi and affirm his irreducible
revulsion to any kind of abuse: "I may be killed, but will not bow my head."20
His work concludes with the poem La china, a tender and desolate celebration of unhappy
A different direction will be taken by the poets from Etna Francesco Guglielmino,
Vincenzo De Simone from Villarosa (Enna) and Vann'Antò (Giovanni Antonio Di Giacomo) from
Francesco Guglielmino (1872-1956), rather than re-interpreting Verismo (and yet he had
been a friend of Verga, De Roberto, Brancati), went back to the romantic roots of Verismo, in a
poetry aiming at inner analysis, to the consideration of man in the world, to the mystery of life and
death. No ideology can redeem what Malraux called "la condition humaine": "Socialism or not,
our life is a cloth weaved with pain."21
Guglielmino remains fundamentally anchored to Leopardi, with the same cosmic
connotations: in the universe everything is suffering. It is not just human beings who are subject to
this law; even in the fields, among stones and bushes, under the tender grass, are hidden a myriad
flowers, that man tramples unawares or, if he picks them, throws them immediately away.
Meanwhile, destroyer time corrodes everything: "it holds a file in its hands \ and never lets go of
it."22 There are none of Foscolo's illusions or Leopardi's "Ginestra": everything is resolved in the
desolation of the sciara or in the barrenness of lava; the only comfort can come from living as
much as possible according to nature, in a dignified, Epicurean resignation.
Guglielmino contributed, in a historic moment in which dialect poetry was still considered
an immediate instrument to let the gintuzza23 [little people] talk, in order to dispel the prejudice
that it could not deal with great themes. Classical culture, which had informed his education,
imbued his verses with elements of considerable formal refinement.
Vincenzo De Simone (1879-1942) emigrated very young to America; having returned to
his homeland, he moved to Milan, publishing several well-received works of poetry. Mondadori
published his Saggi di canzoni siciliane [Samples of Sicilian Songs], 1925. His first attempts were
translations into Italian from Heine and de Heredia. This exercise allowed him to acquire
considerable technical skills and as a result his verses in dialect are polished and solid. In any case,
de Heredia's influence can be felt in all his poetry. Above all, De Simone's attention focuses on
form: harmony and rhythm, skillful scansion of the line, refinement of the hendecasyllable, make of
him a master of style and a representative of the Parnassian school in Sicilian dialect poetry.
Vann'Antò (1891-1960) does not even try to use the Sicilian of the koinè: from his first
dialect collection, Voluntas tua (1926), he adopts the dialect of Ragusa and as professor of
Literature in Popular Traditions at the University of Messina he carries out his research on
folklore in the same area. He was a lover and philologist of the Ibla vernacular and prepared for his
students, among other things, some phonetics vocalism and consonantism and morphology
texts, treating the former in a diacronic dimension and providing a syncronic description of the
latter; he also outlined a "Proposal for the Arrangement of Sicilian Orthography," scientifically
acceptable, but which he did not adopt in his own poetry.
This attitude may seem contradictory, but it is not: the relationship between koinè and
vernacular language in him parallels that between language and dialect, both practiced by the
Author, in a non-conflictual duplicity of expressive register. In a "note," reported by Salvatore
Pugliatti, G.A. Di Giacomo tried to clarify this relationship to himself most of all :
To me poetry is born at times Italian at times Sicilian: and every time necessarily so,
I think: Sicilian, when I speak and sing of the workers and farmers of my island
(...); Italian, when I speak of myself or mostly of myself, and for myself, in a certain
sense as a means of solace (...)24
But the "note" is not to be taken literally; after all, it is not true that he does not talk about
himself, and for himself (if in a less obvious way), in the "Sicilian poetry," as it is not true that
workers and farmers are not present in his "Italian poetry." Both of them are, moreover, equally
He does not approach the world of workers and farmers as an "intellectual," nor does he
distance himself from it when he adopts the Italian linguistic code. As he was not ashamed to
consider himself a man of letters, so his populism is not mannered. Michela Sacco Messineo
The voice of the workers and farmers of Ragusa echoes in him in a fruitful
emotional and cultural osmosis, in which the author's sentiments are represented as
characters, as voices and points of view of his mother, his father, his fiancée, his
friends, of the farmers and workers of his community. In this "patriarchal
perspective," in feeling himself part of a civilization, lies the profound core of his
For further comments on Di Giacomo's work, see the introduction to his texts.
Giuseppe Ganci Battaglia (1901-1977) is like a bee that feeds on all the flowers, producing
the dense, fragrant honey of Madonie, the native area of this poet, who lived mostly in Palermo.
His poetry follows a solid (not archaic) tradition. He made his debut in 1922 with Sangu sicilianu
[Sicilian Blood], followed by Amuri [Love] (1923) and La Santuzza (1927). His first organic
collection, Surgiva [Fountainhead], which appeared in 1940, is initially conceived as an
autobiography in verse, but the poet's universe gradually widens: from insular themes to evening
songs and lunar enchantments, from mystical impulses to local color, to the meditation on the
vanity of things. Seriousness and lightheartedness also characterize Il volto della vita [The Face of
Life] (1958), in which "serious" and "comic" poems are arranged in different sections, to underline
the twofold reality of existence.
His masterpiece is Pupu di lignu [Wooden Puppet], written in 1927 but published in 1969:
a reworking in 36 cantos with protasis, in sestinas, of Collodi's Pinocchio. It is not a "translation":
the poet made it his own, recreated from within in verses of admirable freshness: an insular
Pinocchio who seems to have been born in Sicily, almost a homage of the "pupi" and the paladins
to their Tuscan brother.
In 1927, while he was composing his Pupu, Ganci Battaglia was co-editing a periodical of
dialect poetry, La Trazzera [Country Road], whose publication was allowed for merely a year by
the Fascist regime, which did not look favorably on dialect literature. Decisive was the issue
dedicated to the figure and work of Vito Mercadante. Ganci Battaglia's partner in running the
review was Ignazio Buttitta, from Bagheria (1899), who had published his Marabedda (with
Italian translation by Ganci Battaglia) through La Trazzera. Buttitta first book, Sintimentali
[Sentimental], had appeared in 1925: a collection still showing echoes of traditional poetry
(Pascoli, on the one hand, Zola and Verga on the other), but in which one can find the premises for
Buttitta's more mature poetry. His style is already outlined, based on spoken Sicilian, with a dry
After the experience of W.W. II and the partisan struggle, in the decade 1945-55, he makes
the acquaintance in Milan, introduced by the painter Renato Guttuso, a fellow townsman, with
Vittorini and Quasimodo. His poetry has long since abandoned traditional dross, the adoption of
free verse is definitive, and he moves between sentiment and engagement.
Buttitta's entire poetic output develops substantially between these two poles, in a period
of time encompassing sixty years. To Mercadante's "school", but also Di Giovanni's (although,
with respect to the latter, the poet from Bagheria has always avoided any reference) could not
belong a better pupil. We will expand on it in the anthology.
His works (which are dealt with in the introduction of the anthological section) have
become from their first appearance, one might say true "classics" of the island's vernacular
The aftermath of the war had been characterized by a deep spirit of rebirth; in Sicily also,
since 1943, when the war had virtually come to an end with the landing of the Allies. Dialect poets,
in their own sphere, were not excluded from the fervor of initiatives in every area. In Palermo, they
were led by Federico De Maria (1883-1954), who in his youth had taken part in the Futurist
movement. Author of novels and dramas (one of which performed by the great Ermete Zacconi),
but also of Barunissa di Carini (The Baroness of Carini), in dialect, with an introductory essay on
Sicilian poetry and Félibrige, De Maria had just founded a Society of Writers and Artists,
organizing, starting in 1944, lively afternoons of dialect poetry and folklore once a week, in the
Yellow Room of the Politeama Theater.
The city still displayed the deep wounds caused by the war: a large part of it had been
destroyed by the bombardments of the first three months of 1943, during which hundreds of dead
were buried under the ruins and in the shelters; the serious dearth of housing and food was
complicated by a steep increase in crime, with extremes which would be equaled only in the
present; in politics, the separatism of Finocchiaro Aprile, Gallo, Canepa was taking root.
Around De Maria gathered the dialect poets Ugo Ammannato (1906-1959), Miano Conti
(1905-1957), Nino Orsini (1908-1982), Pietro Tamburello (1910) and the very young Paolo
At the end of 1945 the meetings stopped, as the Township decided to give the great hall
back to the Gallery of Modern Art. Nonetheless, in that climate the groundwork was laid for a
radical renewal of Sicilian dialect poetry, which would become more evident in subsequent years,
characterized, according to Salvatore Di Marco's reconstruction, by the affirmation of the
literary value of the best Sicilian linguistic tradition, discovering a project of koinè
that would bestow the literary dignity of language to the Sicilian
dialect.(...) In the logic of that type of choice there was also the explicit refusal of
an artificial, pedantic, academic dialect, separated from the authentic roots of
Sicilian culture and deaf to the genuine voice of the people. And thus there was a
rejection of the idea of a kind of poetry following the worn-out linguistic models of
the imitators of Giovanni Meli.(26)
In 1946 the poets of Palermo gathered around the Gruppo Alessio di Giovanni, which
functioned until 1954; Ammannato, Conti, Tamburello, Orsini, Messina were joined by Gianni
Varvaro (1917-1973) and, occasionally, by Buttitta and the poets from Catania Aldo Grienti
(1926-1986) and Carmelo Molino (1908-1984). Grienti and Molino, in turn, had started the poetry
sheet Torcia a ventu, around which gathered the group from Catania, soon to be known as
Trinacrismo, whose leading spirit was Salvatore Camilleri (1921), a poet of notable interest;27
members were Salvatore Di Pietro, of Pachino (1906-1990),28 Mario Gori, Enzo D'Agata and the
older Angelo Alberti, Pietro Guido Cesareo, Adamo Leandri. The two groups, moved by the same
innovative spirit, had different outlooks; Camilleri notes that those from Palermo were influenced
by the Parnassus-De Simone tradition that, beyond the delight in the quality of words, constituted
a more advanced stage in the field of formal renewal with respect to the Catania
tradition, which meant mostly Martoglio, and therefore less forward-looking, more
closely tied to prejudices.29
In the Palermo area, a considerable impulse came from Paolo Messina, who linked Sicilian
dialect poetry to Symbolism and Hermeticism, while others - from Catania or Palermo were
assimilating Lorca's and Neruda's lesson.
In 1947, meanwhile, after the separatist movement began to fade, the Sicilian Region was
born, autonomous, with a special statute; the same year also saw the massacre of Portella della
Ginestra, still obscure in some respects, which was attributed entirely to Turiddu Giuliano, a
character which has remained suspended at least in part between the figure of the gentleman bandit
and the defeated patriot.
In Agrigento, in the years 1950-51, Antonino Cremona (1931), who was not connected to
any group, writes his poems in the Girgenti dialect; much admired for their spareness and clarity,
they were published by S. Sciascia with the title Occhi antichi [Ancient Eyes], and remain a
precise reference point. In the same period, the poet Nino Pino was writing in the Messina dialect.
On the whole, those years were harbingers of a singular experience, which united poets of
diverse stature, culture and social condition who, as noted by Di Marco (who came in very young,
bringing the voice of Neorealism)
they tackled some questions which they considered decisive for dialect poetry in
Sicily (the function of dialect poetry, its relationship with society, the question of
dialect and its relationship with the national language and the vernaculars), and
they were able to grow together, they made an all-encompassing cultural choice
regarding all the questions (...)30
In 1954 Pietro Tamburello edited Ariu di Sicilia, a newsletter that came out as a
supplement to the biweekly review of dialect poetry Po' t''u cuntu, edited by Giuseppe Denaro. In
his "Greeting," Tamburello pointed out how the island, despite the dominations, had remained
"above all Sicilian" and how its "secret soul" was living again, with "solar Mediterranean clarity,"
in its poetry. With regard to the latter, the newsletter proposed to carry out "new exegesis and
research," "with the explicit aim to renew tradition in the light of the latest aesthetic exigencies."
valorizing the most talented poets and closing the door to scribblers.31
To that newsletter collaborated, among others, Grienti, Camilleri, Varvaro, Ammannato,
Molino, Buttitta, Di Pietro. Very active was Paolo Messina, who also published a short story in
dialect and an article on "Mediterranean Poetry." His poetry, essential and fluid, intensely
sentimental but not romantic, refined but not Parnassian, engagé but free from the social rhetoric
of the time, hermetic but communicable, extremely personal, remains one of the highest voices of
the last decades.
Six issues of Ariu di Sicily came out as a supplement; a seventh one came out as a "one-time" issue on October 31, 1954, and it concluded this other interesting literary experience.
During the Sixties other worthy poets followed that line: Gaetano Cannizzaro, Salvatore
Consiglio, Nino Tesoriere, Santo Calì.
If Buttitta had inserted here and there dialectized morphemes of the Italian linguistic code,
with the intention of making his texts more accessible extra moenia, Santo Calì (1918-1972),
from Linguaglossa on the side of Mt. Etna, seems motivated by the intent of making, apparently
at least, his language more cryptic: not for elitist reasons, but rather to bring it closer and closer to
the voice of the voiceless, of the excluded, of the last on earth, who people his poetic universe. As
did Vann'Antò with the dialect of Ragusa, he adopts the speech of Linguaglossa - an island within
the island's dialect linking the epochal reality to the history of Sicily, through the ennobling
thread of language, which represents its highest cultural testimony. It was, moreover, a way of
developing on the literary level an aspect of the political engagement of Calì, who had been a
separatist with the Canepa group before adhering to Marxism (in any case liberally interpreted);
his Sicilian separatism constitutes a (subdued) leit-motiv in his poetry.
Calì carried out his commitment as a poet outside of the channels of the publishing
industry (as instead had been the case with Buttitta), in a flaunted almost polemic semi-clandestineness, which nevertheless earned him the admiration of those who had the opportunity
to read his work (which will be dealt with in the introduction to his texts), nor does it prevent him
from being considered one of the highest expressions of Twentieth-Century Sicilian poetry.
Presently, we are witnessing a real flowering: obviously, quality does not always
correspond to quantity, but the phenomenon is significant, nor can one deem small the number of
poets worthy of attention, among whom are certainly Santi Bonaccorsi, Corrado Di Pietro,
Carmelo Assenza, Nino Salvatore, Mario Grasso, Maria Emanuele, Umberto Miglioristi, Denzina
In concluding this rapid review, we would like only to point out a few cases, with some of
our comments (well aware that we will wrong many, for reasons of space): they are Turi Lima, in
the Etna area; Salvatore Di Marco, Alfio Inserra, Giuseppe Giovanni Battaglia in the Palermo
area, and Nino De Vita in the Trapani area.
Turi Lima, author of Sicilia celu e terra [Sicily Sky and Earth] (1925), a poet with a
strong commitment to Sicilian culture, aims at unmasking, in verses which are very modern, fluid
and vibrant, the mystifications that weigh upon the history of Sicily, and at raising his cry of love
and sorrow for the island tormented and thirsting for justice, without rhetoric or victimization.
Salvatore Di Marco (1932), in his Giornale di poesia siciliana [Journal of Sicilian
Poetry], discusses with dedication and competence the problems of dialect literature and, with the
aid of worthy collaborators, evokes its figures and characters, while he reaches out to young and
older poets alike.
His rentréee onto the scene of dialect poetry takes place in 1986 with Cantu d'amuri
[Love Song], a poem (whose first inspiration goes back to 1964), modeled after the line of "a
koinè of noble literariness"32: a hymn to love and its capacity to dissolve the vapors of habit; love
leads the poet back onto the paths of memory, through which he reconstructs times and places,
seasons and circumstances, of a personal historia, illuminates the present and transcends it. A
poetic language of surprising freshness and vividness, in which the discursive cadence is enriched
by a suffused lyricism and by a skillful play of metaphors. His subsequent works are, in 1988:
Quaranta [Forty], a collection of poems composed between 1957 and 1969, which attest to his
personal contribution to the renewal of Sicilian dialect poetry in that period; L'acchianata di
l'aciddara [The Climb of the Bird-Sellers], a moving celebration of an ancient road in Palermo's
ravaged historic center, in essential and poignant verses; in 1989, with Epigrafie Siciliane
[Sicilian Epigraphies], the poet follows the path, not often beaten in Sicilian dialect poetry
(although examples are not lacking, from Veneziano to Calì), of epigraphy; but experimentally,
and more than irony or sarcasm the poet embraces lyricism, in a language as Antonino Cremona
noted "gamboling from one subject to another," which does not undermine the unity of the
Singular is the poem Li paroli dintra [The Words Within] (1991), of "polished lyricism,"
in the words of Turi Vasile34, in which the poet deals with the mystery of words and their origin;
words designated not as abyss (Ungaretti's "buried port"), but rather as "reality, as man
containing all of man, as historical knowledge and creation."35 For the first time a text of Sicilian
dialect poetry ventures in the treatment of such a hard and absorbing theme, to demonstrate that
Sicilian has all the requirements not only to deal with alleys and country roads, but also questions
of philosophy of language. And what is more, in a manner not at all dry, in poetry. A kind of
poetry which is not artificial.
Alfio Inserra (1935) achieves notable results in the actualization of myth, at times drawing,
at times erasing the demarcation line between wisdom and madness, between real and surreal, as
in Circannu Asturfu (1986) and Pilariu (1988), but also phantasmagoric popular revivals, as in U
Fistinu (1986); all in a poetic language which has absorbed the fervid humors of Twentieth-Century European poetry, expressed in a personal way in quatrains of classical perfection.
Giuseppe Giovanni Battaglia (1951) from Alimusa, is tied to the vein of social poetry,
with poems that display the dryness of Montale's cuttlefish bones, in a totalizing dialect. in La
terra vascia [The Lowland] (1969), La piccola valle di Alì [The Small Valley of Alì] (1972),
L'ordine di Viaggio [Travel Order] (1988), Battaglia is with Calì but very different from him
the last representative of the line marked by Mercadante, but with the peculiarity of a driller of
words. Moreover, his realism has mythical tones and hues, so much so that Raffaele Nigro has
said that if Buttitta could be illustrated by Guttuso, Battaglia can be illustrated by Bruno Caruso.36
Nino De Vita (1950), from Marsala, has been working for several years on a long "novel"
in Sicilian verse, of which he has published the first "chapters": 'U rui novèmbri r'u sessantarui
[The Two of November '62] (1989) and Binirittèdra (Benedettina, 1991); a poet with a searching
eye, he "narrates," with measured lyricism, places and figures of his childhood and adolescence,
pausing on minute details and great existential dramas (Benedettina is a fifteen-year-old girl who
dies during an abortion) of the micro-universe of the Stagnone area, with a detachment one might
attribute to a biologist or entomologist; nevertheless the spare, quintessential words of his
vocabulary betray a compassion which is as deep as it is contained, and are able to lend an epic
greatness to small events, Fatticeddi [Small Events] (1992), of almost rural simplicity. An epic
without the "marvelous," unless one considers in this manner living "day after day," as
Quasimodo would have said. De Vita's moon has no need of hippogryphs to be reached: children
look at it, crouching in a circle in the garden, and listen to one of their friends talk about it: about
the whiteness, the spots in the whiteness, the light it gives, the halfmoon. And the game played by
the moon as it hides among the clouds. Among them there is also a small blind boy:
And suddenly Martino
he said "the moon!" 37
1cf. F. Vaccina, "L'analfabetismo in Sicilia," in: Analfabetismo e scuole sussidiarie in Sicilia, Palermo: Centro Studi Sociali I.S.A.S., 1970, pp.13-45.
2Fulco, Estati felici, Milano: Feltrinelli, 1977, p.183.
3P.P.Pasolini, Scritti corsari, Milano: Garzanti, 1975, pp.225-6.
4cf. F. Vaccina, op.cit..
5cf. L. Sciascia, Intr. to: S. Vilardo, Tutti dicono Germania Germania, Milano: Garzanti, 1975, pp.5-7.
6A. Castelli, Entromondo, Firenze: Vallecchi, 1967, p.57.
7cf. F. Brevini, Le parole perdute Dialetti e poesia del nostro secolo, Torino: Einaudi, 1990.
8cf. S. D'Amaro, "Furtive lingue I poeti dialettali dell'ultima generazione in Puglia," in: Rivista italiana di letteratura dialettale, a.I, n.1, Palermo, April-June, 1991, pp.13-6.
9J. Vizmuller-Zocco, "Sicilian dialect poetry: A sociolinguistic perspective," in: Italiana 1988, Monterey, Ca., pp. 295-6.
10G. Pascoli, Pensieri scolastici, in: Rassegna scolastica, II fasc., VI, 16, 1896.
11F. Brevini, op.cit., p.9.
12G. Ganci Battaglia, Storia di Sicilia (2), Palermo: Denaro, 1965, p.211.
13F. P. Polizzano, Ripatriata (ed. D. Ferraro), Palermo: Kefagrafica, 1990.
15L. Pirandello, Preface to: N. Martoglio, Centona, (9), Catania: Giannotta, 1948, p.7. Pirandello's
text, dated 1921, was written on the occasion of Martoglio's death.
16cf. A. Di Giovanni, Lu puviriddu amurusu, 1st ed.., Palermo: Sandron, 1907. Unpublished notes
on St. Francis, dated 1923, have been published in: A. Di Giovanni e la poesia siciliana
del Novecento (ed. S. Di Marco), Palermo: Centro di Cultura Siciliana "Pitrè", 1988,
17cf., S. Groi, Alessio Di Giovanni, Mazara: Società Editrice Siciliana, 1948, p.92.
18cf., V .Arnone, A. Di Giovanni e la lingua siciliana, Palermo: ILA-Palma, 1987; S. Cinquerrui,
M. Gori e il mondo contadino mediterraneo, Firenze Libri, 1986.
19V. Mercadante Jr., Preface to: V. Mercadante, Focu di Muncibeddu, Palermo: Sigma, 1961,
20"Preferisco morire ammazzato ma non piego la testa" (V. Mercadante, op.cit., p.145).
21F. Guglielmino, Ciuri di strata, Palermo, Sellerio, 1978. Previous editions appeared in 1922 and 1949.
22ib. ("in the world has a file / and never lets go of it").
23cf., S. Scalia, "Francesco Guglielmino," in: Operai di sogni (Acts of the Symposium on
Twentieth-Century Poetry in Sicily, Randazzo, 10-12 Nov. 1984), published by the Town of
Randazzo, 1985, pp.133-9.
24cf., S. Pugliatti, "Rileggere il Fante," in: Vann'Antò: Il fante alto da terra, Milan: Scheiwiller,
25M. Sacco Messineo, "La poetica di Vann'Antò," in: Vann'Antò (Acts of the Symposium,
Ragusa, 23-24, Apr. 1987), Pub. Centro Studi "Rossitto", 1988, Ragusa, p.31.26S. Di Marco,
"Cronache palermitane di poesia dialettale," in: Arenaria, Palermo, a. III, 1986, n.5-6, p.73. cf.
also: S. Camilleri (ed.), Manifesto della nuova poesia siciliana, Catania: Arte e Folklore di
Sicilia, 1989. Ammannato published Ciumara in 1936; Conti Matri (1945) and, posthumously,
Frutti di mare (1958); Orsini: Poesie (1970) and Altre poesie (1976); Tamburello: Li palori
(1984). Messina selected his "Poesie siciliane" [Sicilian Poems] (1945-55)" (scattered in
newspapers and periodicals of the time) in 1986 chronologically.
27Camilleri was the author of Sangu pazzu (1966), Ritornu (1966), 18 Jaròfuli (1979), Luna
28S. Di Pietro made his debut in 1936 with Acqua di l'Anapu, followed by: Alveare (1947),
Muddichi di suli (1957), Tuta di villutu (1962), Diu si e fattu di ferru (1974), La tratta di li
brunni (1975), Pueta e tempu (1984), Supra righi di zebra (1988).
29S. Camilleri, Intr. to: Manifesto ..., op.cit., pp.VI-VII.
30S. Di Marco, "Cronache"..., op.cit., p.75.
31c.cf., P. Tamburello, "Salutu", in: Ariu di Sicilia, suppl. to n.6 of Po' t''u cuntu, Palermo, 3-31- 1954.
32G. Santangelo, Preface to: S. Di Marco, Cantu d'amuri, Palermo: Edizioni del Pitrè, 1986, p.12.
33A. Cremona, Preface to: S. Di Marco, Epigrafie siciliane, Palermo: ILA-Palma, 1989, p.12.
34T. Vasile, Preface to: S. Di Marco, Li palori dintra, op. cit., p.13.
36R. Nigro, Preface to: G. G. Battaglia, L'ordine di viaggio, Catania: Prova d'autore, 1988, p.9.
37"And suddenly Martino interrupted me./ The moon / is beautifuil, he said!" N. De Vitta,
Fatticeddi, Trapani, Arti Grafiche Corrao, 1992, p.38.
ANTHOLOGIES AND DICTIONARIES
Poeti siciliani d'oggi, edited by S. Grienti e C. Molino, Catania 1955.
Voci della conca d'oro, edited by A. Miaso, Milan 1959.
I poeti dell'Etna, edited by P. Denaro, Palermo 1963.
Pampini sicchi. Poesie dialettali siciliane, edited by A. Bulla, Catania 1974.
Dizionario fraseologico siciliano italiano, edited by M. Castagnola, Palermo, 1979.
Dizionario siciliano-italiano, edited by G. Cavallaro, Acireale 1964.
Dizionario del parlar siciliano, edited by C. Scavuzzo, Palermo 1982.
A. Cremona, orientamenti dell'odierna poesia dialettale siciliana, in Letteratura, n. 21-22, 1956.
A. Noce, Sicilia, dialetto e poesia, Catania, 1982.
F. Imbornone, La Sicilia, Brescia 1987.
J. Vizmuller-Zocco, Sicilian Dialect Poetry: A sociolinguistic perspective, in: Italiana 1988, Monterey, CA., pp. 295-6.
S. Camilleri (a cura di), Manifesto della nuova poesia siciliana, Catania 1989.