Introduction by Antonio Merola: Minimo umano by Stelvio Di Spigno
How Do the Bohèmiens Save Themselves?
Noi voleremo su battelli di lanugine,
o sulla nave del sale, aggirando
come fossero statue, le sentinelle
dell’aurora, le guardie armate
(da Ilario, Stelvio Di Spigno)*
“Literature as life”: this is the correct equation to gain access into Stelvio Di Spigno’s poetry (born in Naples in 1975), the Italian poet we introduce in this review to international audiences, together with a selection of poems translated by Pina Piccolo from his collection Minimo umano (Marcos y Marcos, 2020). I’ve always found that the notion of “literature as life” proposed by Italian critic Carlo Bo (1938) in relation to hermetic poetry works better for American writers and poets, rather than Italian ones. Of course, there is no shortage of examples in Italy from Dante to Dino Campana, whom following Henri Murger’s Scénes de la vie de bohème definition we could define as bohèmiens (1851). On the other hand, one could argue that all writings contain a bit of their author’s life, even the postmodernists. But unlike Italy, in the US the equation works in a systematic way, and becomes explicitly a sort of poetics, as, for example, in the works of Jack London, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Sayre or the Beats. In these literary experiences, literature and life are one.
So what does this have to do with Stelvio Di Spigno’s poetry? As far as form is concerned, readers have the chance to read one of the current voices of the Italian scene which firmly adheres to tradition. In particular, to the poetry of Giacomo Leopardi and the hendecasyllabic meter, the topic on whom Di Spigno wrote his thesis and conducted research. So reading Di Spigno is a good opportunity to approach a modern day poetry that bears the formal trappings of the Italian tradition.
And yet, there is more to Di Spigno. The locations at the center of his poems are the Poggioreale, working-class neighborhood in the outskirts of Naples with its boarded up factories, the City jail, Courts and skyscrapers, the coastline and beach of Anzio, the town not too far from Rome, where the poet currently teaches. Two suburban places, on the outskirts of things. But then Di Spigno favors the outskirts of the outskirts, the suburban, the sticks. Di Spigno’s poetic eye is that of the native, he is one who belongs to these places within places, similarly to Charles Bukowski. Hence the lower depths told from the bottom and within.
There is one more aspect of this matter that must be examined: the eye of the survivor and the eye of the puritan. “It was easy to die, more than to live/ in the Naples of Poggioreale […] And I am here even standing on my two feet/ among the many who wanted to settle scores“. Although the poetics of a experienced native, Di Spigno’s poetry is also posthumous. In other words, if on the one hand Di Spigno’s poetry faithfully tells us about an unseen world but one that he has partaken of, on the other Di Spigno is in conversation with God, without any intermediaries. The divine is summoned to be coauthor of this collection, which besides being a personal account is also a direct inquiry: am I already saved or am I still to be saved? An answer Di Spigno expects with regards to himself and to every character of his poems. Or rather: for all characters of his poems, except himself. “I’ve been everything and I have no regrets./ If I could, I’d fly up to my dead”.
*We shall fly on fluff boats, or on the salt ship, bypassing,
as if they were statues, the sentinels
of dawn, the armed guards
(from Ilario, Stelvio Di Spigno) *
I won’t answer any questions.
prophetic birds look for in our
hungry and rebellious neighborhoods?
What does the enchantment
of the evening oscillating between
beach conferences want from me?
I used to belong to the human species,
that impervious stock, the greedy race.
This much I remember. Every abyss of light
that tears reason away from me, every
soul as good as
broken bread, reminds me
of it, as they stammer.
I used to love the blade of grass turned
into a wound. Now that the feelings
are closed in bell jars
of vice, in boxes
of ash and snow,
even the grass if I look at it
I was born
in a small beehive, I fed
on harvest and rust, inside
premature and sighing, where
love still walks
and rises again and where
has never stopped against the wind.
For Mario Benedetti
Time is a round spool, it
promises and allows even your
deepest heartache, Mario, mine too,
in the scarlet lining of a blush
the good years are back, the Phlegraean tables,
the bright wine of the Mediterranean sunset
given to everyone, to those who no longer know the light
nor shadow in their lives of strain,
and I can see myself here and I sit down,
hermit walled alive at a game table
or a mortuary slab to suck in secret
the blood from the wound
to fester, to suture
more deeply, the evil is the same anyway,
the same is the complaint. These churches
of Anzio, Rome, Viterbo, they call me
I become something else, another pain,
I lose myself in others, I no longer know who I was.
Meanwhile, once again it is cards that come out a winner,
I exchange them for a puddle or a stable,
a possible death as long as it is by the hour,
as long as you can rise to the surface, like trout,
like the corners of my mother’s wedding dress,
purple, in this glassy wandering
life is not lacking, it is us it misses, it moves
and everything is split from the flat screen
of the foliage, from this atrocious page,
where we talk about castles and frogs, where
history sews on itself the smell
of that wetness we made yesterday, when
we were dealt the last moment to rejoice and disappear,
because in a winter for all the good ceased.
I will leave this hard stone stall,
on the chastest of winter days,
with scaly, windward icy leaves,
I will leave the world program, the daily income,
the bow of the car will point to absolute south,
I will pass the capital, someone will be with me, we will
cut towards Anzio, then among the Pontine forests
we will see the sea appear on all sides,
the sun will illuminate our terrified inclination,
the cities with metal and bitumen rings
will disappear from the eye, from the maps, from life,
albatrosses and dahlias will awaken the moved senses,
the fuselage of our desires will be active,
finally feelings will be clear to us
like floral tablecloths on the flower beds,
we will drink wine until we become serious,
all forgotten, all becoming yesterday,
a spike of rock that won’t be able to return home,
we shall be missing when the planets
the industries of smallpox and knowledge come calling,
we will do without our supreme self, we
will sleep on the exact edge of a coast,
with destiny on our side
and the losers’ freedom,
every agony will end.
Poems and introduction translated by Pina Piccolo
Non rispondo a nessuna domanda.
cosa cercano gli uccelli
profetici nei nostri
quartieri famelici e ribelli?
Cosa vuole da me l’incanto
della sera oscillante
tra i convegni delle spiagge?
Appartenevo agli umani,
il ceppo impervio, l’avida razza.
Questo lo ricordo. Ogni abisso di luce
che mi strappa la ragione, ogni
anima buona come
un pane spezzato, me lo
Amavo il filo d’erba tramutato
in ferita. Ora che i sentimenti
sono chiusi in campane
di vizio, dentro casse
di cenere e di neve,
anche l’erba se la guardo
in un piccolo alveare, mi cibavo
di vendemmia e di ruggine, dentro
la mia casa,
prematura e sospirante, dove
ancora l’amore cammina
e si rialza e dove
non si è mai fermato contro vento.
Per Mario Benedetti
Il tempo è una spola rotonda,
promette e permette anche il tuo
spasimo enorme, Mario, anche il mio,
nella fodera scarlatta del rossore
riecco gli anni belli, i tavoli flegrei,
il vino lucente del tramonto mediterraneo
donato a tutti, a chi non sa più luce
né ombra nel suo vivere a stento,
e qui mi ci vedo e mi metto a sedere,
eremita murato vivo al tavolo da gioco
o anatomico, per succhiare in segreto
il sangue dalla ferita
da suppurare, suturare
più a fondo, tanto il male è lo stesso,
lo stesso il lamentare. Mi chiamano
queste chiese di Anzio, Roma, Viterbo,
divento altra cosa, altro dolore,
mi perdo in altri, non so più chi ero.
Intanto la carta esce ancora vincente,
io la scambio per una pozza o una stalla,
una morte possibile purché sia a ore,
purché si risorga in superficie, come trote,
come gli angoli del vestito da sposa di mia madre,
purpureo, in questo vitreo vagare
la vita non manca, ci manca, si muove
e tutto si divide dallo schermo piatto
del fogliame, da questa pagina atroce,
dove si parla di castelli e di rane, dove
la storia si cuce addosso l’odore
di bagnato che facemmo ieri, quando
toccò l’ultimo istante gioire e scomparire,
perché un inverno per tutti finì il bene.
Me ne andrò da questo stallo di pietra dura,
un giorno d’inverno castissimo,
con le foglie squamate, sopravento e ghiacciate,
lascerò il programma del mondo, il ricavo quotidiano,
la prua dell’auto punterà a un sud assoluto,
passerò la capitale, qualcuno sarà con me,
taglieremo verso Anzio, poi tra le foreste pontine
vedremo spuntare il mare da ogni lato,
il sole rischiarerà l’indole atterrita,
le città con le ghiere di metallo e bitume
spariranno dallo sguardo, dalle mappe, dalla vita,
albatri e dalie risveglieranno i sensi commossi,
la fusoliera dei nostri desideri sarà attiva,
finalmente chiari saranno i sentimenti
come tovaglie fiorite sulle aiuole,
berremo vino fino a diventare seri,
tutto dimenticato, tutto diventato ieri,
uno spuntone di roccia che non potrà rincasare,
mancheremo all’appello dei pianeti,
alle industrie di vaiolo e conoscenza,
faremo a meno del nostro io supremo,
dormiremo sul bordo esatto di una costa,
col destino dalla nostra
e la libertà dei perdenti,
finirà ogni agonia.
Stelvio Di Spigno was born in Naples in 1975 and holds a degree in Italian Literature from the Orientale university of Naples. He has written many articles and essays on Leopardi, Montale and Zanzotto., as well as a monograph titled “memorie della mia vita” di Giacomo leopardi (L’orientale Editrice, Napoli 2007); and the essay lartifico della naturalezza. da leopardi a noi (Agiscom, Napoli, 2015). He has published the following poetry collections: Il mattino della scelta in Poesia contemporanea. Settimo quaderno italiano, edited by Franco Buffoni (Marcos y Marcos, Milano 2001), iattinale (Caramanica, Marina di Minturno 2006, which won the Premio Andes and Premio Calabria), Formazione del bianco, (Manni, Lecce 2007, Premio Penna), La nudità (Pequod, Ancona 2010), Qualcosa di inabitato, with Carla Saracino (EDB, Milano 2013), Fermata del tempo (Marcos Y Marcos, Milano 2015, Premio Nazionale Calabria e Basilicata), Stampa antica (Edizioni Gattili, Milano 2018), Minimo umano (Marcos Y Marcos, Milano 2020).
Antonio Merola, born in 1994, has published the essay F. Scott Fitzgerald and Italy (Landolfi, 2018). In 2019 he took part in the Leggere in Circolo project by the Ufficio Promozione della Lettura and the Cultural Activities of Libraries of Rome. He is co-founder of Yawp: literature and philosophy journal, works on articles and stories for several websites and literary journals such as Nazione Indiana, Carmilla, Altri Animali (Racconti Edizioni), Flanerì (edited the column L’isolamento del romantico americano), “Il Piccolo di Trieste”, Lavoro Culturale, Reader For Blind, “Midnight” and “O’ Magazine”. Always in 2019 he was an editor of the magazine “Atelier” and was a finalist for the Guido Gozzano Prize, for unpublished poetry. His poems have appeared on websites and journals such as n. 312 of “L’immaginazione”, Nazione Indiana, n. 89 of “Atelier” and Atelier online, La Bottega di Poesia on “La Repubblica”, Argo – Poesia del nostro tempo, Poetarum Silva, Nuova Ciminiera, “Il Foglio Letterario”, Pageambiente and the special edition of “A4 – the journal on a single sheet of paper” dedicated to poetry. He is among the authors selected by Alberto Pellegatta and Massimo Dagnino for the anthology Planetaria – 27 poets of the world born after 1985 (Taut Edizioni, 2020)