By Claudia Quesito
While we of course must give credit where credit’s due and note that Dante well deserves the nickname Il Sommo Poeta, and that he definitely set a standard for all the poetry that followed, let’s fast forward to modern Italian poetry.
There are three eminent poets we’ll discuss, selected from many other choices: Alda Merini (1931–2009), Fabrizio De André (1940–1999), and Gianni Rodari (1920–1980).
Alda Merini was a poet and writer whose art intersected deeply with her personal life. Poetry was her life, and together with her mental illness, it marked her whole experience. Sono nata il ventuno a primavera, ma non sapevo che nascere folle, aprire le zolle, potesse scatenar la tempesta: I was born on the twenty-first, during the spring, but I did not know that to be born deranged, to open clumps of dirt, could unleash a storm.
Her style combines simplicity and the juxtaposition of apparently unrelated images. Her language is made up of everyday words and could definitely be an aspirational read, language- and topic-wise, for Italian learners.
On the same non-conventional page was Fabrizio De André, who is mostly labeled as a singer-songwriter, but whose lyrics can be described as nothing other than poetry.
Language-wise, he wrote in Italian, but also in Ligurian—more precisely, in the dialect from Genova, his city—and in Sardinian.
His greatness—and his controversy—resides, however, in his most beloved themes. Often called la poesia degli ultimi, his work is mostly about “the forgotten ones,” be they exploited women, eccentric people, addicts, or poor people from a variety of backgrounds.
De André’s life was very turbulent; at one point he was even kidnapped in his much-beloved Sardegna, and he later wrote that he somehow “understood” his kidnappers, so strong was his empathy with gli ultimi.
Finally, we have a less controversial name, Gianni Rodari, whose name alone evokes serenity for many kids and parents alike. He wrote in a number of genres, but his name is most generally associated with children’s literature.
Every Italian kid could hum Che cosa ci vuole, a nursery rhyme from Rodari written to a song from Sergio Endrigo, whose ending line is per fare un tavolo ci vuole un fiore: to make a table, you need a flower. It is an ode to the cycle of life, to the connection between our life on this planet and the environment, which Rodari somehow managed to make available and understandable to children—and language learners, of course, so be sure to check it out!
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