VENETO


Elettra Bedon



One can speak of twentieth-century poetry in the Veneto dialects only by placing it, along with that of other Italian regions, within the conceptual framework defined at the time of Contini's review of Pasolini's Poesie a Casarsa, when there appeared a renewed interest for poetry in dialect. It was then that the distinction between the first and second part of the twentieth century became common (although, in reality, the first part had come to a close around the end of the first world war, and the second would begin fully only in the sixties), as well as the idea according to which dialect was used because it was the language of reality or because it was well-suited to being used as the language of poetry. It was at that time that those in the field began to make a distinction between dialect poetry and poetry in dialect (a distinction that goes back to Pancrazi), and the related concept of the passage from regionalism to metaregionalism.
The poets who wrote in the Veneto dialect in the first half of the century in general used a more uniform koiné. Because they had lived between the nineteenth and twentieth century and were influenced by Pascoli and Carducci, their poetry is characterized by an adherence to popular subject matter, expressed in the nineteenth-century form of the description of a landscape, of a scene, of a situation, in addition to the one - inspired by socialism - that took up the themes of the struggle against exploitation and poverty, for a greater respect for subaltern social classes.
A case in point is Berto Barbarani (Verona), whose career was long and appreciated by both public and critics; while possessing a fluid and melodious poetic language, he was not able to avoid the limits typical of the Italian province at the end of the last century. Even his love for the poor was expressed through a humanitarian socialism that sought the solution to social inequalities in reciprocal help and compassion.
Another is the Venetian Domenico Varagnolo who, for the abundance of his production, his versatility (lyric author, but also playwright and theater critic), his renown in the area, deserves no lesser recognition than that given to Barbarani. His language is sweet and harmonious; aside from the themes tied to traditional poetry, his poems also deal with the events and emotions of the first world war.
Also Gino Piva (Pola); grounded in the mists, the waters, the fields of the Pola region, Piva evokes the hard life of farmers and fishermen, marked by tragedies, not in order to spur them into action, or to suggest solutions based on good sentiments, but to make their experience almost a paradigm, a metaphor of the human condition.
Other authors, more or less of the same age, offer innovations and experimental forms in addition to a different subject matter with respect to nineteenth-century tradition, and become the link between the two periods into which the twentieth century is usually divided. Among them are those whose experimentation is more timid and others of whom one can begin to talk about metaregionalism, in the sense that, while preserving chorality through the regional language, they are already moving toward the expression of the self.
Some example of the transition poets are Egidio Meneghetti (Verona), Livio Rizzi (Pola), Giulio Alessi (Padua). And then Eugenio Ferdinando Palmieri, playwright, well-known theater critic, who has also written poetry in dialect: he is the freest of the Pola poets, the most extroverted. Finally Dante Bertini (Verona); although he was (or perhaps because he was) a contemporary of the widely known and respected Barbarani, he expressed himself in a considerably different way from the latter.
Two elements denote Bertini's originality. The first is the dialect he uses, from the lower Verona area; for the first time the dialect is not the one of the great urban centers, it has no tradition behind it. The second element is his style: in some poems, and in parts of others, Bertini uses proparoxytone verses, with the stress on the third from last syllable (disharmonious but not unpleasant, notwithstanding the negative assessment by Pasolini, who defined them "like those of a seventeenth-century writer in heat, practically unreadable"). He frequently uses free verse, and rhyme is not always present. When he remains within tradition, the form is more often closer to that of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (canzoni and canzonette, frottole, contrasti, strambotti) than of the nineteenth. His poetry shows nothing of the narrow "local" perspective, but is open to all suggestions, both from the past and contemporary authors in Italian.
A few lines must be devoted to Giacomo Noventa who, although he published his poems in 1956, had already conceived them (spoken, recited) a few years earlier.
Giacomo Ca' Zorzi, a Venetian aristocrat, assumed the name Noventa when he published an essay on Helm in Solaria. A man with a rich culture and many interests, in poetry he turned to a personal language, almost to attest to a total independence from the themes and forms of contemporary poetry. The choice of dialect is the instrument of a dispute against the development of post-nineteenth-century thought, as well as a return to origins, to a greater bond between poetry and speech. Noventa's endeavor is cultured and refined; in antithesis to contemporary poets who had turned to classical authors, to the principal vein of eighteenth and nineteenth-century poetry, from Goethe to Heine, and as a result he used dialect in a completely anti-vernacular sense.
In the poets who have written in dialect in the first half of this century one can thus observe, on the one hand, the presence of characteristics that will remain constant at least until the sixties (the half tone, the search of balance between tradition and innovation, the identification with the landscape, an elegiac temperament); and on the other the transition from a complete adherence to the themes of the "small homeland" (which will continue in popular poetry) to themes oriented towards metaregionalism, a phenomenon that will become one of the characteristics of poetry in dialect in all of Italy from the sixties on.
Between the first and second half of the century there is an interval of about twenty years. From the forties to the sixties something new is developing: this is the period in which emerge Pier Paolo Pasolini and Tonino Guerra. In the Veneto several authors present symptoms of renewal of form and subject matter, although it is not possible to point to a name that might be a clear turning point.
The adoption of dialect in poetry by cultured poets became one of the salient phenomena from the sixties on, as was mentioned before. The use of dialect no longer meant going towards the town, the province, but rather leaving time altogether. As a consequence, the language changed, at times it became incomprehensible even for dialect speakers of the same area as the poets', because dialect was recovered from childhood, sometimes was reconstructed through the search for archaisms. It became increasingly clearer that the readership the poet was addressing was, in general, only that of the readers of poetry.
The themes of the poems are diverse, but they can be traced back (using a subdivision considered classic by critics) roughly to two veins: the one tied more closely to the land, expressionistic, and the one that shades off into metaphor, in the oneiric, in which dialect is used as a precious language. In both cases, however, poets express themselves, they speak subjectively.
Dino Coltro, Sandro Zanotto, and Ernesto Calzavara became known in 1960. Both Coltro and Zanotto made their debut writing again about the world of peasant civilization, almost to hold on to something which is soon to become only a memory, thus entrusted to those who have been able to record it. Coltro would remain faithful to materiality, while Zanotto was later to give his poems an oneiric, surreal dimension, in a language that has become personal, precious. Different is the experience of Calzavara, who from the start decided to experiment with dialect and on dialect, a language seen as able to accept amalgamations and innovations.
Coltro, whose research and anthropological documentation has made him a well-known essayist, uses the dialect of the lower Verona area in his poetry. He knew that, especially since he had made a different choice in life by having studied, he was cut off from the world of his childhood, but also knew that his roots were there. The realization that bringing to light his own roots was fundamental would lead him to express himself in dialect from 1967 on.
Coltro's last collection came out only in 1989, after a long period devoted primarily to his work as an anthropologist.; what strikes one immediately is its language, much more rustic than that of his previous poetry: an archaic language, perceived almost as sacred.
The use of dialect by Flaminio De Poli, another author quite prolific in Italian as well, in both prose and poetry, is due to the same fundamental reasons as Coltro's. De Poli's original contribution consists of his books of short stories in dialect, where a profound reflection on life is presented in a simple form, close to everyday experience, through tales of farmers who, perhaps because bound to and conditioned by the rhythm of sowing and harvest, the change of seasons, seemed to have possessed a wisdom that helped them to live.
One should not underestimate De Poli's dialect poetry, however: the long poem El toro, in hendecasyllables, is a perfect example of harmony, patterned on epic poetry; the short story in verse La degòra (which reveals a longing for the past, not because everything had value then - as Coltro seems to say -, but rather because we seem to have lost the human aspect of that time, the capacity to live in harmony with one's own destiny on earth, conscious that there is something beyond the physical world); and the only collection of poetry in dialect, Da la Tore a le Valtèle, where in the unearthed rural past one finds those reflections that render a poetic voice universal, beyond the language it uses, because they are inherent to the human condition.
The poetry of Attilio Carminati, who writes in a Venetian not devoid of archaisms, is instead without references to the rural world. This author, who went from lyric poetry in free verse, rich with images and evocative power, to a predominantly narrative poetry, always shows a tendency to see man (humanity, often a suffering humanity) placed within history, in relationship to history. This man who is the common denominator displays a variety of moods, primarily serious, but there is also tenderness, serenity, and then biting irony or harsh sarcasm.
In Venice, the poetry of contemporary authors who write in Italian and dialect seem to attest to the presence of a more deliberate cultural operation. Such is the case with Luciano Menetto, who has infused his dialect with a certain hermeticism (Luzi, Sinisgalli) through the skillful use of the phonic elements, playing on nonsense (preceded in this only by some of Noventa's poems); or with Carlo della Corte, Mario Ancona, PaoloBalboni, Eugenio Tomiolo. A case apart is instead Mario Stefani, whose poetry is mostly in Italian; his only two collections of dialect poetry go back to the late sixties, written in the Venetian of those years in a simple style, without any type of linguistic experimentation.
Andrea Zanzotto is another poet, well known nationally and internationally, who has written poetry almost exclusively in Italian. His attitude toward dialect is to some degree contradictory; born and raised in it, he found himself almost removing it in his formative years, preferring Italian. That dialect, perceived as "coming from where there is no writing," as he himself observes in the Note to Filò, where he uses dialect for the first time. The "old idiom" reappears in the central part of Idioma, which for the rest is written in Italian. Dialect is inserted, again in a contradictory way, in a basic discourse centered around language, identity, the impossible correspondence between language and external object; contradictory because, while the poet seems to suggest on the one hand that it is possible to recover the sense of existence by placing himself in a mother/son relationship with the world (a relationship in which not many words are needed, and the "petèl" can suffice), he simultaneously denies it by using dialect only to speak about the past, of something that no longer exists.
For Cesare Ruffato dialect also represents a means of expression which he has used occasionally, while most of his work is in Italian. Ruffato has always worked essentially on language, mixing different languages (including the scientific), creating neologisms, manipulating syntax and grammar. His experimentalism seems based on the concept that sound (and only sound) should determine the arrangement of words. Turning to dialect, Ruffato has not abandoned the traits that had characterized his poetry for more than thirty years; dialect seems to be perceived as the language that, in a particular moment of his experience, lent itself better to expressing what he felt. Ruffato wants to remove dialect not only from the awkwardness of vernacular use, but also from the limits of seeing it only as language of the past, immobilized, destined to disappear.
Luigi Bressan makes the dialect still spoken by the old people of Agna, in the province of Padua his personal code. It is a language distant in time and space, because he has been living in Friuli for years.
One cannot speak of schools of dialect poetry in Veneto; there are trends (which at any rate are not exclusive to this region), and it is possible to link the work of single poets to one or another trend, but there are no masters, personalities who have conditioned or determined the style of others. The only exception is Andrea Zanzotto; one cannot help but refer to him with respect to the sense of sacredness attributed to the past by Luciano Caniato and Luciano Cecchinel; for Gian Mario Villalta, instead, the point of contact is in the considerations on language: much of what the latter has written in his Lettura della "trilogia" di Andrea Zanzotto: il Galateo in Bosco, Fosfeni, Idioma can be applied to his own poetic expression.
Among the authors driven to use dialect by the desire to stop in time what is disappearing, there are also Ernesto Sfriso and Gianni Sparapan. Others, as we have seen, use it because they consider it better suited to express their inner world, as is also the case with Renzo Favaron and Livio Pezzato. The latter does not use dialect to talk about the past, but rather uses a language of the past to denounce a society about to be undone by corruption. Pezzato, as Noventa in the past, seems to seek through language a world more consonant to himself.
Like him, R. Favaron began by writing in Italian.) He frequently inserts Italian words in the dialect of Cavarzero (province of Venice. The tone of his poems conveys a sense of uncertainty, of indeterminateness for himself and others, of the hardship and fear of living, of the impression of being "extras" forced to recite a part, to look at themselves reciting a part.
E. Sfriso is a noted playwright and essayist; he turned to dialect poetry (the dialect of Chioggia and its hinterland) later in his literary career, out of a need to find his roots again, depicting landscapes, customs and traditions of the past.
G. Sparapan has felt the need to preserve his own childhood memories in the dialect of the central Pola area. With a strong, clear voice and a sure rhythm, Sparapan expresses himself in blank verse with a frequent use of rhyme, internal rhyme, alliteration and assonance, attaining his best results in his narrative verse.
The outline drawn so far does not include the names of all those that have written poetry in dialect in the twentieth century; I have intentionally excluded those who belong to popular literature, generally in close contact and interdependence with Italian and with the society in which they live, whose verses remain tied to the vernacular tradition.
Reading the works of the authors cited, from the sixties onward, it is possible to realize that the rural world has increasingly taken on a metaphoric value. One should not underestimate the fact that at the beginning poetry in dialect was born while the peasant society was on the way to extinction but still alive; those who wrote in dialect in the eighties and nineties no longer spoke of the living, but of the dead.
Since the sixties, then, dialect poetry has reappeared with the double motivation to record what was disappearing, and to find again a language that would allow what Italian, trivialized and trivializing, seemed no longer able to provide.
Independently from the impulses of single poets, one can say that only in those years dialect poetry began to display those characteristics that distinguish it from that of previous periods: a metaregional subject matter and a language, which is a dialect (in the real sense of "variation of a common language") extended to include even personal variations. The language of the Veneto poets (as in any case that of poets of other regions) is often (re)invented, through the use of archaic terms and the creation of neologisms, with an almost constant attention to sound patterns.
As for the subdivision between language of reality and language of poetry, proposed by some critics, it would be preferable if it were replaced by one closer to the poets' point of view. If one has to speak of subdivision, it should be between the poets who use dialect in its greatest authenticity, using archaic forms, transcribing with accuracy its sounds, and those who have refused to make it sacred, who have mixed it with other idioms and have created neologisms. The latter, after all, have considered it a "living thing": a language in every respect, and therefore subject to change and evolution, with its survival at stake. The former, on the other hand, through the out-of-datedness of dialect have described and attested to the out-of-datedness of the world in which it expressed itself and, metaphorically, the precariousness, the possible disintegration, the possible sensation of out-of-datedness of human experience.
They, as Calzavara would say, both have only one risk to avoid, "that of transgressing the superior law of artistic necessity."

Anthologies and Dictionaries
E. Vittoria, ed., Antologia della lirica veneziana (dal '500 ai nostri giorni), Venice: EVI, 1968.
R. Damiani and C. Grisancich, eds., Poesia triestina. Antologia (1875-1975), 2nd ed., Trieste: Svevo, 1976.
R. Francescotti, ed., Undici poeti trentini, Trent: UCT, 1985.
G. Pingentini, Nuovo dizionario del dialetto triestino, Udine: Del Bianco, 1986.
A. Carminati, ed., Poesia nei dialetti del Veneto: Antologia di autori contemporanei, Fiesso D'Artico: La Press, 1988.
G. Folena, Vocabolario del dialetto veneziano di Carlo Goldoni, Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1993.

M. Cortelazzo, Parole venete, Pozza 1994

Regional Studies
Arslan A., La poesia in dialetto, in Arslan A. e F. Volpi, La memoria e l'intelligenza, Padua: Il Poligrafo, 1989.
Astengo D., La poesia dialettale, Turin: Marietti, 1976.
Bandini F., Introduction to Antologia di poesia contemporanea in dialetto veneto, Padua: Rebellato, 1972.
---- ---- , La poesia dialettale di questi ultimi anni, in AA.VV.
Atti del Convegno "Dialetto e letteratura in Italia e nell'area veneta", Noventa di Piave 17-18 dicembre 1983, Treviso: Arti Grafiche Conegliano, 1986, pp. 15-20.
Borsetto L., Dialetto, antidialetto, deriva : scritture poetiche degli anni Settanta in Letteratura dialettale in Italia, Palermo: Società Grafica Artigiana, 1984, pp. 829-50.
---- ---- 1973-1983: dieci anni di scritture poetiche in dialetto veneto in AA.VV., Atti del Convegno "Dialetto e letteratura in Italia e nell'area veneta ," Noventa di Piave 17-18 dicembre 1983, Treviso: Arti Grafiche Conegliano, 1986, pp.21-43.
---- ----, Lingua, dialetto, poesia, Ravenna: Essegi, 1989.
---- ----, Discesa alla voce. Enunciazione e scrittura nella poesia in dialetto dell'ultimo Novecento, in Diverse lingue , 1991, pp.43-73.
Brevini F., Poeti dialettali del Novecento, Turin: Einaudi,1987.
---- ----, Le parole perdute, Turin: Einaudi, 1990.
Chiosi M.L.(edited by), Vecio parlar. Atti del Convegno sui dialetti del Veneto, Fiesso d'Artico (VE): La Press, 1990.
Dazzi M., ed., Il fiore della lirica veneziana, 3 vols., Venice: Neri Pozza, 1956-1959 (vol.III, Ottocento e Novecento).
Diverse lingue, rivista semestrale delle letterature dialettali e delle lingue minori, Pasian di Prato (UD): Campanotto, , vols. 1-16 (1986-1997).
Mazzamuto P.,, ed., La letteratura dialettale in Italia, 2 vols., Annali della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell'Università di Palermo, 1984.
Ruffilli P., ed., Poeti del Veneto, Forlì: Forum/Quinta Generazione 1985.
Spagnoletti G. e C. Vivaldi, eds., Poesia dialettale dal Rinascimento a oggi, 2 vols., Milan: Garzanti 1991.