Academic journal article The Romanic Review

".Avaro Seme Di Donna": Patrizia Cavalli's Transgressive Discourse

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

".Avaro Seme Di Donna": Patrizia Cavalli's Transgressive Discourse

Article excerpt

Non ho seme da spargere per il mondo

non posso inondare i pisciatoi ne

i materassi. Il mio avaro seme di donna

e troppo poco per offendere. Cosa posso

lasciare nelle strade nelle case

nei ventri infecondati? Le parole

quelle moltissime

ma gia non mi assomigliano piu

hanno dimenticato la furia

e la maledizione, sono diventate signorine

un po' malfamate forse

ma sempre signorine. (31)

[I have no seed to spread over the world

I can't flood urinals or

mattresses. My meager woman's seed

is too little to offend. What can I

leave in the streets, in houses,

in unfertilized bellies? Words

far too many

but they already don't resemble me

they've forgotten the anger

and the curse, they've become young ladies

with slightly bad reputations perhaps

but still young ladies.

trans. Robert McCracken](1)

The poem which I use as an epigraph for this essay is contained in Patrizia Cavalli's first collection of verse, Le mie poesie non cambieranno il mondo (1974) (My poems will not change the world). It reaches back to the Italian tradition in its echoing of Petrarch's incipit sonnet to his Canzoniere; it underscores and debunks the traditional association between masculine potency and the creative act (penis:pen); and it problematizes the notion of poetry's vatic nature, or, to echo Pier Paolo Pasolini, of a "poesia civile" (civic poetry).(2) An early composition, it illustrates Cavalli's anti-traditional and antipatriarchal stance as one of the more significant feminine voices on the contemporary literary scene in Italy.

Relatively little critical attention has been paid Cavalli's poetry in spite of a general recognition of her importance.(3) In this study my concern is essentially with strategies of transgression in her lyric discourse, a discourse which questions male prerogative, replaces canonical lyricism in her language and imagery with the banal, effaces the possibility of any meaningful human contact, connection, or affect, and, ultimately, l will argue, becomes a form of self-annihilation rather than--as in the tradition of her sixteenth-century progenitors, for example--a construct of her own persona.(4) In some very postmodern way, the poem cited above calls up lyric tradition, perhaps consciously and mockingly echoing the first line of Petrarch's opening sonnet, "Voi ch'ascoltate in rime sparse" (You who listen [to my] scattered rhymes), with the verb spargere, to scatter. The Tuscan poet's rime sparse here become equated with impotence, a "phallic illusion of authority," to use Jane Gallop's phrase (20), and with linguistic semen which floods urinals and mattresses, failing in its generative potential. It is not, however, that Cavalli prioritizes female generative power: words well up from depths of fury and frustration only to lose immediately the force which spewed them forth: "non mi assomigliano piti" (they no longer resemble me); they become "signorine" (young ladies), without any real meaning. And like all potentially vital forces manifesting themselves in her poetry, they lose their efficacy. To paraphrase Cavalli's own sentiment, "Le mie poesie non cambieranno il mondo" (My poems will not change the world).(5)

Cavalli was awarded the Paolo Prestigiacomo Prize for a volume published by Einaudi in 1992 and containing three collections of her poetry, the first two of which had been published for the first time in 1974 and 1981, respectively.(6) The third collection, L'io singolare proprio mio (My own singular "I"), appears in integral form for the first time in the Einaudi edition. My comments in this essay are based on this edition, which is unprefaced (see above, note 1).

In a Leopardian sense, Cavalli's verse moves between the hic and nunc of everyday experience and the wider reaches of infinite meaninglessness. …

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