Academic journal article Italica

"A Multi-Stemmed Flower": Reading Sandro Penna in Search of Modernity

Academic journal article Italica

"A Multi-Stemmed Flower": Reading Sandro Penna in Search of Modernity

Article excerpt

Abstract: Sandro Penna's poetry (1906-1977), is a delicate combination of melancholy and exhilaration, and shows innovation and modernity inside the Italian lyrical tradition. Critically stereotyping Penna's poetry as a flower with no evident stem, meaning no external influences, narrows the depth of his literary corpus. In his notes Penna reveals himself as a voracious reader of modern international literature and critics Roberto Deidier and Pierfranco Bruni pointed out that his evident European influences completely lack investigation. Most criticism though do not seem to acknowledge how close Penna's poetry is to the ideas of "modern" and "new" as fostered by Modernists and Imagists. This essay challenges the literary commonplace that Penna is a miracle out of history and time and, investigating Penna's archives and poems, discloses connections, references and similarities between his poetry and the major movements--French Symbolism, Modernism, Imagism--and literary personalities of the twentieth century.

Keywords: Sandro Penna, Italian twentieth century poetry, Transnational Modernism, Imagism.

**********

"If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away."

(Henry David Thoreau)

"Sometimes Penna, who has been described as a man from the Mediterranean's pagan past, seems more modern than Montale."

(Peter Robb)

Italian poet Sandro Penna (1906-1977) has been considered one of the twentieth century's finest poets on the subject of homoerotic love. Compared by critics to the Alexandrian and the Greek lyrical poets, Penna's poetry gently combines melancholy and exhilaration and, though sitting inside the lyrical classical tradition, it shows innovation and modernity.

Italian critic Piero Bigongiari poetically called Penna "un fiore senza stelo apparente" (1952: 31), celebrating the originality and uniqueness of his poetry. Since then, other critics have defined Penna's poetry as timeless and with no apparent external influence. Although the poet himself created his own myth of literary isolation and loneliness, yet critical stereotyping of Penna as a purely lyric poet limits and narrows the greatness and depth of his literary corpus, accepting without questioning his own myth of 'immaculate conception'. In the diaries, letters and notes found in his archives, Penna reveals himself as a voracious reader of contemporary literature and poetry. Self-taught but extremely cultured, Penna had a deep knowledge of modern international literature and modern visual arts.

Although awareness and appreciation of Penna's poetry in Italy and abroad have recently grown, the focus remains upon his lyric treatment of homoerotic love. Few critics so far have identified connections between Penna's poetics and the idea and practice of modernity in twentieth century poetry. Writers such as Roberto Deidier, Giulio di Fonzo, Peter Robb, William Riviere, Giorgio Luti and Pierfranco Bruni pointed out that an in-depth study and investigation of the European and international influences in Penna's work are lacking, but still most critics surprisingly do not seem to acknowledge how close Penna's poems are to the ideas of "modern" and "new" as fostered by Modernists and Imagists.

This essay challenges the literary commonplace that Penna has no roots and no influences and that his poetry is outside history and time. Narrowing down the investigation to notes and letters from Penna's "archives", connections to the twentieth century cultural movements such as French Symbolism, Modernism and Imagism will be discussed. Recent works on Modernism (e.g. Marjorie Perloff) (1) have highlighted approaches to thinking about modernist literature in a wider and more inclusive way. In showing similarities and connections between Penna's poetics and the works of the major personalities of the twentieth century modernist scene, this essay has not the aim to label Penna as a "modernist" poet, but to rescue Penna's oeuvre from a narrow, national context and place his work inside an international body of poetry. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.