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Giovanni Raboni – Academia

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Giovanni Raboni’s Poetry: a conversation with Rodolfo Zucco

(University of Udine)

Interview by Maria Belova (University of Warwick)

What position does Giovanni Raboni occupy in Italian twentieth-century literature? Why, in your opinion, has he been defined as the ‘last of the classics’ by several critics? [1]

If we look at Raboni’s oeuvre as a whole, it seems to me that his role in Italian twentieth-century literature is simply unique. If we look at him as a verse writer alone – I mean his own verses, without considering his translations – I believe that Raboni’s poetic production was crucial to the history of Italian post-war poetry in at least two aspects. Firstly, his implementation of inclusivity, which the engaged critic used both to describe and support; and secondly, his response to what he had clearly and promptly announced as ‘a request for formal recognition’, in order to let poets ‘continue or start again to exist not only of their free will and imagination, but also in readers’ minds and ears’ – hence he chose to embark on his route of experimentation within the metric space of so-called ‘fixed’ forms. As a practical matter, I will mention as the main titles Le case della Vetra (The Houses of the Vetra) and Versi guerrieri e amorosi (Verses of War and Love) (from which back cover I quoted).[2] That being said I do not mean that these are the two best books by Raboni, although I would take many texts from them for my ‘personal anthology’, especially from the first one. I myself prefer the period of the 1970s (Cadenza d’inganno (Deceptive Cadence) and Nel grave sogno (In the Heavy Dream)) and those of the diptych formed from Ogni terzo pensiero (Every Third Thought) and Quare tristis. I find also that A tanto caro sangue (With Such Dear Blood) was an admirable book: a book that is dear to me anyway, as in those years – between Canzonette mortali (Mortal Canzonettes) and A tanto caro sangue – when my history as a poetry reader crossed Raboni’s works. I do not know whether it even makes sense to speak about Raboni and other poets (Giudici? Zanzotto?) as ‘the last of the classics’; I have no interest in this. I can just say that those who were twenty like me in 1986, when Canzonette mortali came out, could already feel something vital in reading Raboni’s lyric poetry, and shortly thereafter when A tanto caro sangue – that was crucial to poetry – many verses would be memorised and would feed our lives.

Speaking about ‘classics’, not many poets had the honour to be published in the Meridiani whilst still alive.[3] Raboni was one of them, even if unfortunately he did not see the published volume dedicated to himself. In fact, the book came out in 2006, two years after he had passed away. Could you please tell us about your experience of working on the book?

I would not connect Raboni’s (or somebody else’s) ‘classicality’ with the Meridiani. It definitely deserves enormous credit in making the work of some great contemporary poets accessible through its critique and comments (in this it deserves even most credit I believe). It is not up to us to judge their ‘classicality’. Apart from that, I consider the meeting between Raboni and my work on the volume later entitled L’opera poetica (the title idea came from Renata Colorni) one of the biggest fortunes of my life. In February 2002 I had a short exchange of letters with him regarding my essay La prosa nell’opera in versi di Raboni, when Renata called me asking me whether I was available to edit Raboni’s Meridiano. It was 6 March 2003. It was a great thrill for me especially as Renata called me because Raboni himself wanted me to do it. I was 36 years old then. I had already edited I versi della vita by Giudici (Raboni wrote about it in the Corriere della sera). I could only dream about editing Raboni’s poems when answering a question from a friend of mine (‘After Giudici, whose edition of Meridiani would you like to work on?’). I tell the story of our months spent together while working on the Meridiani edition in the Publisher’s Note. It was, for me, a marvellous human and intellectual adventure made up of letters, phone calls, and meetings. First, we met in a bar in Via Melzo; I would talk to him on the intercom, he would come down and we would sit together at table. Later we moved to his studio in Via Frisi. Finally, we were sitting around the kitchen table in his apartment in Via Melzo, protected by Patrizia Valduga who manned the phone. The first part of these meetings and letter exchanges was dedicated to the construction of the volume’s table of contents. After that, we would start to put together the chronology section: Raboni would recount his memories and answer my questions; I would record it on a small tape recorder. Our plan was to continue working on notes and commentaries, but we didn’t even have the time to start it. We worked together for a year. However, that was enough time to proceed with the project, which I knew had the author’s complete consent. In a nutshell, the book includes, together with the poems, the narrative fragments of La fossa di Cherubino, his critical works in prose, translated verses and verses for the theatre (all in chronological order). It reintroduces Le case della Vetra, Cadenza d’inganno, Nel grave sogno and Canzonette mortali in their original versions, alongside the book A tanto caro sangue in which Raboni reordered and revised many poems from his previous compilations of verses. It is true that Raboni never saw the book which we started to prepare together, but I can assure you that the completed book corresponds entirely to the idea that we discussed.

The poems by Raboni, including those from Gesta Romanorum, have a strong religious component. The religious theme returns in his work for the theatre Rappresentazione della Croce 50 years later. Do you think it might be incidental? What are, in general, the main themes of Raboni’s lyric poetry?

I am not so sure that Gesta Romanorum actually has a strong religious component. There is indeed a religious component in the Rappresentazione della Croce (Raboni says so in Autoritratto 2003, in the beginning of the second volume of Tutte le poesie published by Einaudi). In Gesta Romanorum, evangelical narration seems to me mainly an escamotage – and the first edition of this book presents a variety of models and sources that was much reduced in the final edition. Luca Daino carried out a lot of reconstructive work. I have recently talked about Raboni as a ‘civil poet’, a label that he rejected (he said: ‘I speak about these things because they hurt me, they make me indignant, but I don’t want and I’ve never wanted to be a civil poet’). Raboni wrote several outstanding love poems, but I am sure that he would quite rightly also refuse the definition of a love poet. However, he would definitely have approved of a thematic label of the important part of his work, that he used to call ‘his fidelity to the past, to dead people; his faith in communion of dead and live people’. But it is always difficult – at least for me – to pinpoint the theme of the poem. What, for example, is Le nozze (The Wedding) about? I would say that a poem, a true poem, tells us about ourselves (that is, about each individual reader, as we are all different), and reveals a big or small part of our core (which clearly refers to all literature or art in general).

What Italian poets did Raboni regard very highly? Did he know them personally?

Apart from the relationship with the ‘elder brothers’ Betocchi and Sereni, I believe that Raboni felt a particular kinship with those who in a way shared his ideas as a critic of poetry between the 1950s and the end of the 1960s – above all Giorgio Cesarano (a perfect example is the correspondence between the two, on which I worked on for the journal Istmi). Then I would definitely say Giudici, Majorino and Risi. Later he became a close friend of Antonio Porta, and firmly supported Jolanda Insana and Giampiero Neri. From the older poets I can mention Cattafi, Luzi, Caproni, Zanzotto, Fortini and Volponi. He also highly regarded some poets who were about 15 years younger, and some even younger poets, whose debuts he followed and encouraged: here I prefer to remain silent about the names (which, however, are well known). Even if one meeting would have been possible, chronologically, I do not think that Raboni had ever personally met Rebora, who was, according to him, the greatest of all poets.

Raboni was also an acclaimed literary and theatre critic, renowned translator (winning the Aristeon award for the À la recherche du temps perdu in 1994). In which way did his work as a critic and his expertise as a translator influence his poetic production?

I wrote in the introduction to the L’opera poetica that, ‘if it is beyond discussion, on one hand, that Raboni has a prominent place in the history of Italian culture in the twentieth century, it is equally true, on the other hand, that it was his poetic work that determined and stimulated his choices as a critic, as a translator, as a man of the theatre and as an intellectual’. The influence, therefore, is reversed from the perspective suggested in the question. Anyway, I think that it is now for the young to study whether crossovers in all areas of Raboni’s activities have been fully developed. I am glad to know that these studies have already started and will shortly produce results.


[1] See for example, Franco Cordelli, ‘Raboni l’ultimo dei classici’, Corriere della sera, 10 September 2006. [2] The titles of Raboni’s books in English are from G. Raboni, Every Third Thought. Selected poems 1950-2004, trans. Michael Palma (New York: Chelsea Editions, 2014). [3] G. Raboni, L’opera poetica, ed. Rodolfo Zucco (Milan: Mondadori, 2006).

Rodolfo Zucco is Ricercatore in Italian Linguistics at the University of Udine. He has written on eighteenth-century poetry and on many Italian poets of the second half of the twentieth-century. Some of his essays have been collected in the volume Gli ospiti discreti. Nove studi su poeti italiani (1936-2000) (Turin: Aragno, 2013). He is the editor of I versi della vita by Giovanni Giudici (Milan: Mondadori, 2000), and of L’opera poetica (Milan: Mondadori, 2006) and Tutte le poesie 1949-2004 (Turin: Einaudi, 2014) by Giovanni Raboni.

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This entry was posted on December 9, 2014 by in Academia.
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