Achille Serrao and Francesco Piga
Only recently has dialect poetry in Umbria shown clear signs of deprovincialization, of emancipation from regional localism, proving that it wants to free itself from the fetters of a popular, impressionistic, folkloric tradition and turn to "cultural" modes which are predominantly expressionistic, in order to represent itself as no less refined than poetry in Italian.
This new direction, moreover, has generated notable interest among critics such of Antonio Carlo Ponti, Renzo Zuccherini and Cesare Vivaldi (see bibliography). We will constantly refer to their writings in an attempt to draw an outline of twentieth-century dialect poetry in the region.
At the moment, then, the desolate picture drawn by Pier Paolo Pasolini in the introduction to the anthology Poesia dialettale del Novecento1 seems outdated. In it one reads; "In Umbria there are almost no names, after the autochthonous notaries of the Perugia Academy of the XIV century and after two or three during the Risorgimento." A somewhat hasty conclusion, if truth be told, as it had happened to the critic with other regions not sufficiently researched.
An adequate scrutiny of the available documents might have allowed Pasolini to "re-evaluate, within limits, a couple of fairly good poets from the early part of this century"2 in addition to the 'two or three from the Risorgimento,' But, if it cannot apply to the early twentieth century and up to the second world war, there is no doubt that Pasolini's categorical and apodictic pronouncement does have bearing for the period between the two wars and the one that goes from the end of the second world war to the sixties, in which it is really difficult to identify true poets. This is acknowledged by the critic and poet from Perugia Renzo Zuccherini, who is also the author of a valuable anthology3 in which he maintains "the total disappearance of our dialect poetry during decades fundamental to Italian dialect poetry."
In the preface to his anthology, Zuccherini also makes another observation of no small consequence, where he underlines the fact that Umbria has never offered a unitary linguistic image. The region, in other words, has always appeared as a mosaic of small subregional entities centered around several centers of economic and cultural importance. This explains why there is "not one dialect poetry in Umbria, but there are as many traditions of poetry as there are cities and towns in the region."
As a consequence, it has always been difficult to find unitary lines of this literary production because only in the last decade the various historical, cultural and linguistic realities of the region have sought a center with common characteristics.
Due to its geographical position, Umbria is subject to the influence both of the central-southern vernaculars and the northern ones, so that it is possible to identify some linguistic areas to which as many literary traditions correspond: 1. the central-southern area, which is characterized mainly by the influence of romanesco and by the predominance of the "realistic" sonnet and the didactic long poem, the moral fable and the lyric of emotions; 2. the northern area, where the influence of romanesco is balanced by echoes from Romagna and Po Valley; 3. a middle strip of minor centers, which crosses Umbria, where personal and collective memory are expressed in a particular form of "lyric narrative."
Umbrian dialect poetry, which developed in the early twentieth century, is rooted in the baroque, in the Bartocciate by Francesco Stangolini and the Testamento by Orazio Tramontani, which in the eighteenth century led to the grotesque octaves of the Battaglia del Pian Perduto, by an anonymous popular narrator, and to the Perfettissimo Dittionario, an erudite work by Paolo Campelli (Spoleto), and in the nineteenth century to occasional verse, mostly satirical, and to sonnets mainly imitative of the romanesco, after the example of Ruggero Torelli and Giuseppe Dell'Uomo, both from Perugia.
Among those who at the start of the twentieth century wrote poetry in dialect, besides Furio Miselli and Ferruccio Coen from Termoli with some playful and nostalgic verses, stands out Luigi Monti (Perugia) who, as Cesare Vivaldi writes,4 "is the only one interesting, perhaps the best dialect poet in Umbria, a self-aware artist deeply involved in the Italian culture of his time." We should also mention Fernando Leonardi (Spoleto) who, besides a grotesque style attained through "a harsh verbal aggressiveness" and effects of wild expressionism, "transcends the town realism of his early work in favor of a broad and emotive meditation, expressed in poems of eleven and seven syllables lines variously rhymed,"5 a modern meditation where the problems are no longer local but cosmic.
After the crusade of the fascist period against dialects, the recovery was slow and at any rate it remained tied to nineteenth-century canons, not only when poets looked back at themes previously developed (this is the case of Tullio Maggiolini and Giovanni Polanga, both from Foligno, who followed the example of Giulio Giuliani with their depiction of town life), but also when they had other aspirations, as did Federico Berardi (Perugia), who told the ancient traditions and events of his city, or Umberto Calzoni, also from Perugia, who expressed patriotic feelings, nostalgia, and lost loves.
In the second half of the fifties a few local anthologies were published and dialect poetry that had appeared in newspapers and journals at the beginning of the century was collected and reprinted.
Even the polemic verve against social injustices, which had been a recurrent theme of the poets of the past, became a broader meditation on the adversities of destiny common to all men and things, as in the poetry of Mario Tosti (Umbertide). The more mature commitment of these years, coupled with a careful linguistic and metrical study, was also dispalyed by Ivano Marinucci (Spoleto) and Alighiero Maurizio (Terni).
Memory, which had been the object of so much poetry, continued to prevail even in the seventies, with new modes of expression and composition. Memories became more vivid within the medieval walls of the Umbrian towns, where time seems to have come to a standstill in order to allow events, places and characters to be recaptured. This looking back is not merely nostalgia, but a reading of one's own inner history, often juxtaposed with common history. The most representative poets of this trend are Luigi Catanelli (Perugia), Piero Radicchi (Gubbio), Aroldo Aleandri (Sigillo), Annarita Benedetti (Valnerina), and, from the Terni area, Luigi Santocchi, Marcello Ghione and Rolando Teofoli.
The polemic vein, one of the characterizing traits of Umbrian poetry in dialect, reappeared in the verses of Antonio Minciotti, priest and theologian, a philosophy teacher at the high school of Città di Castello, who harshly criticized the presumptuousness of poets engaged in politics in order to obtain benefits, ready to bow before earthly powers, to applaud the historic compromise between Christian Democrats and Communists. During these years, bad government and compromises were also the target of the satirical sonnets of Antonio Pecorelli, who had begun to write in the dialect of the Terni area in the sixties.
In the eighties and nineties Umbrian dialect poetry, more in synch with national poetry, experimented with new expressive techniques but still on the themes typical of the region, as in the poems of Claudio Spinelli (Perugia), imbued with bitterness and irony, which remind us of Trilussa. At any rate, it was the new taste for irony which undermined and belied the idyllic image. This is the meaning of Ludovico Scaramucci's self-ironic poetry, tinged with sadness and with references to the Latin world, written in the dialect of the Perugia area.
There is a sense of novelty, instead, in the verses of Gaio Fratini, Renzo Zuccherini, Antonio Carlo Ponti, and the very young Alessandro Prugnola and Ferruccio Ramadori, included in the anthology.
First of all, we should point out that the work of the latter poets corresponds to the demand for a new poetic style that historians and scholars place under the denomination of neodialectality - following Pasolini's theoretical propositions -, beginning with the cultured use that these poets make of the linguistic medium. That is, dialect is no longer employed, as in the past, as a mirror of popular speech, with a philological adherence to a given model, recognized by the single communities of speakers, but is rather interiorized and almost "reinvented" by the poet, to the extent of creating a bona fide "idiolect."
Another characterizing element of the Umbrian authors in the anthology is represented by the lyric centrality of the self, a self that stands in the page as the attractive pole of pains, losses and vital expectations, as attested by the poems in the anthology, albeit quite different in style and poetics.
1The anthology, edited with a modest contribution of Mario Dell'Arco, who contributed with the selection of a few texts, was published by Guanda in 1952. The work , edited by Giovanni Tesio, was reprinted by Einaudi in 1995.
2Cesare Vivaldi, L'Umbria, in G. Spagnoletti-C. Vivaldi, La poesia dialettale dal Rinascimento a oggi, Milan: Guanda, 1991, p. 671.
3Renzo Zuccherini, La poesia dialettale in Umbria, Perugia: Edizioni Thyrus, 1988.
4Cesare Vivaldi, "Note sulla poesia umbra in dialetto," in Diverse lingue, n.2, October 1986.
5Cesare Vivaldi, ibidem.
Anthologies and dictionaries
Raccolta di poesie dialettali perugine dell'Ottocento e del Novecento, edited by T. Della Torre, Perugia, 1962;
Poeti dell'Umbria, edited by C. Guerrini, A.C. Ponti and G. Prosperi, Forlì: Forum/Quinta Generazione, 1981;
R. Zuccherini, La poesia dialettale in Umbria, Terni: Ed. Thyrus, 1988;
A. Serrao, "L'Umbria" in Via Terra, antologia di poesia neodialettale, Udine: Campanotto, 1992.
G.Greco and G. Palazzi, L'Umbria. Libro sussidiario per la letteratura regionale , Milan: Mondadori, 1924;
W. Binni, "L'Umbria" in N. Sapegno and W. Binni, Storia letteraria delle regioni d'Italia, Florence: Sansoni, 1968;
P. Tuscano, Poesia e umanità. Saggi e ricerche di letteratura umbra, Perugia: Umbria editrice, 1981;
R. Zuccherini, Gli anni del Bartoccio , Perugia, 1984;
A.Carlo Ponti, "Appunti sulla poesia dialettale in Umbria dall'Unità ad oggi," in Letteratura dialettale in Italia, edited by P. Mazzamuto, Annali della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell'Università, Palermo: Sandron, 1984, pp. 491-511;
Lingua e dialetti oggi: la situazione umbra, edited by R. Zuccherini , Perugia: Quaderni della Regione dell'Umbria, 1986;
Vivaldi, "Note sulla poesia umbra in dialetto," in "Diverse Lingue ", a. I, n.2, Oct. 1986;
P. Tuscano, La letteratura nelle Regioni d'Italia - L'Umbria , Brescia: La Scuola, 1988;
F. Piga, "La poesia dialettale nel Novecento," in Storia letteraria d'Italia, edited by A. Balduino, Padua: Vallardi, 1991;
G. Spagnoletti and C. Vivaldi, "L'Umbria," in La poesia dialettale dal Rinascimento a oggi, Milan: Garzanti, 1991, pp. 671-676;
E. Mattesini, "L'Umbria," in L'Italia delle Regioni , edited by F. Bruni, Turin: Utet, 1992;
R. Zuccherini, La letteratura dialettale perugina dal Seicento ad oggi, Milan: Sellino, 1993;
De Matteis, "La poesia in dialetto dell'Italia centrale - L'Umbria," in Storia della letteratura italiana, Vol. II, Il secondo Novecento, Milan: Miano Ed., 1998.