Table of Contents
The Bordighera Poetry Prize
(Wise Women's Web)
Non-Conformist, Italian Poet in New York City
Retrospective Essay on Alfredo de Palchi's
Italian poet living in America, Alfredo de Palchi has always avoided
conformity. For his supreme individualisin he paid a dear price
in his teenage years in his European homeland. His refusal to
conform to the wishes of fascists who arrested him caused him
to be tortured during World War II in Legnago, a suburb of Verona
where he was born in 1926. Yet, his supreme independence from
all literary movements has gifted him with a style all his own.
Many fine Italian poets do not translate well into English, but
dePalchi is not one of those. Though his staccato rhythms have
more emotional power in their Italian originals, they come across
very well in English translation. De Palchi has been blessed with
excellent translators and has published four bilingual collections;
Sessions with My Analyst (1966?) The Scorpions Dark
Dance (1994?) Anonymous Constellation (1997) and Addictive
Aversions (1999) which have won him good reviews and recognition
in the United States and England as well as in Italy where he
is, in good measure, an anti-poet. He is against all establishment
ideas of what the art must or should be. His language is stripped
of ornamentation, sharp and straight-forward as well as colloguial,
and his verse is jagged and disjointed, snatches of the unconscious
mixed with conscious memory, composed like modern music. It comes
from the gut of his being and does not substitute philosophic
tenents for experience and emotion. It has the substance of a
life deeply lived and felt, and a spirit fully disillusioned by
the ugliness of human depravity.
the war, de Palchi was freed from the fascists only to fall victim
to the partisans who in their communistic cadres inflicted grievous
punishment upon the innocent young non-conformist-- only just
freed from imprisonment by sadistic fascists. These early brutal
and tortorous experiences in prison are the matter of the initial
section of his first published book Sessions with My Analyst.
Titled "Remembering `45" this section is made of thirteen
monologues, speckled with interior colloquies, in a squalding
sequence which exposes the beastly behavior man is so capable
of in what the poet calls the "paleolithic present."
Drafted when the poet was only twenty-two years old, it was published
in 1961, thirteen years later. The free verses are crisp and use
the historical present with urgency in a stream of meanderings
which bring back theme upon theme, always punctuated with a hopelessly
felt Kafkaesque sense of guilt and existential despair. The poet
lives in a inferno with no exit.
Imprisoned in Legnago, the teen-age Alfredo learned how despicable
his townsmen could become under the dictatorship of Mussolini.
Beaten by the belts and buckles of the sadistic guards who use
their police power against the helpless, the poet remembers childhood
wrongs, the abandonment by his father, the drowing of his pet
dog by a sadistic boy, the abuse and contempt heaped on him, his
own abuse of a rabbit when as a boy he handled one ruffly as he
drew it from a cage by its hind legs and he heard it whimper.
The whimper of the rabbit returns again and again like a litany
of the damned and a reminder of guilt and cruelty, as the poet
begins to picture "God the Father" as his his own uncaring
father, a god-murderer and killer like the fascist prison guards.
The monolog of "Remember '45" is remarkably sustained
in its intense despair and justifiably angry cynicism. The lines
move with kinetic action in brillant flashes, experimental and
flexible, yet fluid in a meandering stream of stuccato passages.
The verses follow the young poets adventures with women and carry
him from Paris to Barcelona to New York City. The poems have a
lively sense of youthful abandon, mixed with an emotional sensativity.
They contain a poignant portrait of the poet's Italian grandfather,
dying of cancer, the only father he ever knew--during The Great
Depression years of his youth. The fleeting descriptions of great
cities, Paris, Barcelona and finally New York, a city de Palchi
love's and has lived in for many years, are palpable with spirited
observations. His father, his God, his town, his country and the
world have estranged the young poet and he is discordant with
his revulsion and revolt. Sessions with My Analyst is a
merciless exposure of de Palchi's probing of himself and his feelings
of guilt and failure, yet it does not have the feeling of confessional
poetry in the American mode about it at all. Rather the disjointed
verses rage like a mutiny against injustice in a compulsive outpouring,
begun in youth and finished in adulthood.
at every summons to the light
The poet can find no refuge in Church or State, corrupted by corporate
wealth which enslaves and makes robots of men in the marketplace.
hands in prayer
I spit out my birth
would commit suicide were he not driven by sexual appetite to
pleasure in his own desire. His desires for women are fully explored
in the poems which expose his physical drive in uncompromising
terms. As L.L. Salomon wrote in the introduction to Sessions
with My Analyst -- The book "is a work of art in which
guilt complexes, adolescent fears and mature revulsion at the
evil in man are deeply explored. Certainly no contemporary Italian
poet of his generation can matchde Palchi, whose dark and terrible
past comes to life in these poems. He has lived in an inferno.
He must forever
dismal cargo forward
under a light
--alone, out of touch
The Scorpion's Dark Dance , Alfreo de Palchi second published
book, was actually written prior to Sessions with My Analyst,
while the poet was imprisoned in his youth, but not published
until many years later.
de Palchi's Anonymous Constellation is one long stream-of-
consciousness presentation in the style of French symbolist poetry--with
plenty of blank white spaces between the individual sections,
or short poems, which wash through the poet's mind with stark
imagery and cynical emotion. Pour ce qu'il est tout insense
is the opening epitaph from Francois Villon--showing that the
poet means to insense us with his ironic message-- to slap us
in the face with our own pretense at civilization. There's a thoughtful
introduction by Alessandro Vettori of the University of Virginia
which explains the poet's mission and why the style of the book
is organic to its themes. The strongest section of the book comes
in the middle when the poet leaps into concrete happenings, leaving
the more abstract mode of existential nausea and despair. Disgust
and rage are expressed at corruption, greed, bigotry, hate, folly,
human vanity, and the loneliness which is the human condition.
These are dePalchi's themes as he takes us from the beginnings
of our evolution through the vulturism of the animal kingdom to
set us adrift in the far reaches of the stars. He is a poet longing
for human perfectablity, calling us to awaken into humane conscience,
aware of how power corrupts all in a self-aggrandizing universe
where existence seems based upon the expediencies of survival
and the necessities of nature:
Writing in his native Italian, de Palchi has been translated into
sharp-witted English by Sonia Raiziss--but the English translations
are not quite as good as the Italian originals in tone and passion.
The book is happily a bi-lingual edition and a cycle of poems
not unlike his last, The Scorpion's Dark Dance , also translated
by Raiziss, which won praise for its "dark exuberance, bright
anger, cutting cynicism which hammers us to the other side of
apathy." There is a Dantesque harshness and a Montalean sorrow,
even as there are glimpses of redemption and self-insight that
break through with a typically Italian, sardonic tone. De Palchi
is a survivor of war and imprisonment by Fascist and Communists
zealots, longing to find meaning in the violence and brutality
that surrounds him and which nearly destroyed his youthful life.
His earlier book, The Scorpion's Dark Dance, was a sharp
contrast of surreal, existential rage with sensuous imagery. Nature's
beauty bloomed forth in sticky, succulent contrast to the abstracted
wit of a sardonic mind to offer its peace. The poems seemed to
flow in a more driven sequence than in the current book. In Anonymous
Constellation, the rage is more complete and encompasses
nature, herself, the grass in the end covers all rot, corruption,
murder, and massacre, but does not bring peace. Rather, in the
the later work, nature is a seductress tempting us to forget our
horrors, a suspect beauty.
The poems intensify as one reads along. Perhaps, they are not
arranged in the sequence in which they were originally written,
but the highest points of the sequence come on pages 51-63. As
one reads deeply into the book to capture its strength, a more
concrete imagery leaps out of abstractions to ground the existential
despair in everyday realities . An excerpt like the following--so
much more powerful in the original Italian, too-- is such a moment:
They shot a black man
in a fruit store,
his tingling crinkled head
lands in a crate of tomatoes....
... the crowd grumbles ....
I shrug my shoulders, hurting at the thought
of the crash in his own and at the sight of his face
tinged with busted tomatoes
-Is that blood?-
-Eh, he's just a nigger-
says a dwarf clown.
This is followed by a section which states the central theme of
the intensely streaming consciousness-- which despite its cynical
bite seems meant to bring us to a peace on the other side of despair
and toward a more humane conscience. Only an idealist can become
....the world grins under a fist
we have opted for not weeping not helping
but looking away
when a body collapses
and walking off with the same indifference
we feel for the beast knocked out
by a car or a shotgun--
it's useless to pretend, everyone
is out for himself
and locked in himself.
And then the voice explodes into a flowering of truth that surmounts
the every day world to become epic in proportion:
How can we swallow history, our
daily story, get used to enormous and petty
insults--under each fallen leaf a war
of insects and everywhere the rage
for survival: the mouse the rabbit
the cruising hawk attack
and the butcher's boy in his ferocious glee
lashing the ox and hungry for power....
This is de Palchi's ultimate sorrow. Yet, the poet's despair in
Anonymous Constellation is full of heavenly aspiration,
even in its existential nausea. The title poem gives the book
a resonant aspiration, a respect for the mystery of self in relation
to the cosmos, so unfathmable to one finite mind. Alfredo de Palchi
suggests that each of us is his own "grand inquisitor"
responsible for the love we can create within our own small society
of friends and family. Within the walls of our own homes we may
find love that transcends the bitter world. This is his finer
message and Anonymous Constellation is a book worthy of
many readers. Responsibility for human love and suffering is what
the poet calls us to. In all his existential sorrow, dePalchi
wishes to reach beyond himself to a greater understanding and
humanity as he feels himself reeling in a vast universe, a mystery
even to himself, an Anonymous Constellation.
de Palchi's Addictive Aversions is a series of erotic poems
divided into three sections, Moments, Movements, and Mutations,
but it is more than merely erotic love which concerns the poet.
As in the poet's earlier works, the book is one long stream-of-consciousness
in the style of a French symbolist poem--with plenty of white
spaces between the individual verses which wash through the poet's
mind with stark imagery and contemplative clarity. Form follows
function as thepoems flow in a driven sequence and intensify as
one reads towards the conclusion. Again de Palchi's fierce nihilism,
and uncompromising lack of sentimentality--as in his other recent
books, The Scorpion's Dark Dance and Anonymous Constellations--is
at work to challenge our morality and bring us face to face with
our animal natures. These poems are about sexual obsession as
part of the human condition of an ordinary man, but the question
they pose is a deeply moral one which concerns the very psychology
of our species. These poems bring us face to face with our existential
despair in the midst of a baffling and unanswering creation.
De Palchi is both enthralled by sexuality and its pleasures and
repulsed by the addictive grip in which it holds him. He is angered
by his lack of control, his driving need, repulsed by his own
animal nature. Though the visceral condition of being human holds
orgasmic release as a pleasure, it also obsesses us with the need
for orgasmic release. Obsession drives us through life more than
our human will to rise above our animal natures and yet, as always,
de Palchi longs for us to transcend our natures, to be aware.
He challenges us to be better than mere procreative animals and
longs to rise above his own nature. We will cheat and steal and
trespass the boundaries of honor in order to fulfill the addictive
need that an enrapturing lover creates in us, he seems to say.
But though, yet again, dePalchi's message is that there is no
honor among men, only addiction, necessity, appetite, biological
drive, there is a slim hope for a finer transcendence, if only
one can find the incorruptible lover.
Alfredo de Palchi may see us as creatures in effect "raped"
by our own sexual drive. He is both attracted and repelled by
the life force--the addiction to the pleasures which repulses
him, but there is no prudery here, and no religiousity, as the
repulsion is more profound than Puritanical. It is a revulsion
which is deeply philosophical as the poet seeks the light of reason
in a Dante-like journey through his own pleasures, drives, and
appetites, searching for a raison d'etre beyond them.
I specify your body's insolence
subterranean with childlike
subterfuges, even your solar center
devouring me seems to laugh.
my existence interlocks with yours,
morning and night but the intricate mood
scares you because I am what you are
and you are what I am
joined in orgasmic nothingness--
Here again we meet with the existential despair of the poet who
literally knew imprisonment and torture under both fascists and
communists, finding dilemma at every turn. It is understandable
why any sort of fanaticism is repulsive to him, including his
own seemingly fanatical need of sexual release. Here is a poet
angry and disgusted by the grip life has on him, the chemistry
that defines him, the love that compels him. His mood is that
of a Don Juan in Hell:
let's turn over the stone pocked with scribbles,
worms, blanched with spermatozoa, molecules:
such is the incessant beginning, the glimmer
that locks us between the linear horizon and the leap--
De Palchi pictures erotic love like a rat gnawing at his throat,
opening his arteries, causing him to spurt life. The poet wants
to bring us face to face with the destruction wrought by man,
because of his greed. He doesn't want to be drawn into this corrupted
and corrupting world by blossoming life, the fruits of exploding
seeds which force their voluptuous life upon us even as greed
destroys nature's bounty and beauty.
don't harden me
with the stench of cleared forests
of poisoned water,
the spores mutate from deep within
then burn with pressure
with green threads that I sniff like a sick dog
lapping at their sources
--another ulcerated spring explodes
encircled by toxins, by trunks
uprooted in the flow;
my material chemistry
rushes into yours as they renew themselves
together in the flames that still remain--
The poet has never overcome his existential despair, his nausea
at the nothingness we are and become as we encounter ourselves
full of appetite and morally imperfect. This is what makes his
vision uncompromising and lacking in all sentimentality. He searches
for "the perfect Justine" who will play the "masochist"
to life as he sees himself a masochist tempted into desire by
an unanswering creation which only forces more unanswering creation
There is not one ounce of mawkishness, only aversion to the addictions
of being alive, a flame burning with desire for mere desire's
sake. Yet, there is a wry smile, a sardonic wit at work here,
for de Palchi makes the erotic delectably inviting and pleasurable
at the same time that he is repulsed by his addiction to it and
thus the apt title Addictive Aversions.
Writing in his native Italian, de Palchi has been translated into
sharp-witted English by Sonia Raiziss, Michael Palma, I.L. Salomon,
Alethea Gail Segal and nicely edited by Michael Palma. The book
is beautifully designed with a colorful illustration by Henri
Matisse, Zulma, 1950, on its cover. The introduction by Alessandro
Vettori of the University of Virginia is insightful in its appreciation
and the laudatory explanation of the poet's work is well deserved.
De Palchi's work has won much praise for its "dark exuberance,
bright anger, cutting cynicism which hammers us to the other side
of apathy." That is the very point of this poet's vision,
to awaken apathy, to challenge us to a profoundly cosmopolitan
view of ourselves in the vast cosmos of creation, so that we might
truly become the paragon of animals if only we will see ourselves
for the beasts of prey that we have proved ourselves to be through
the bloody course of our history here on this voluptuous and pleasurable
earth, full of human suffering wrought by man's inhumanity to
man, his greed and appetite.
This is an epic view, not a narrowly confessional one, but a broadly
universal theme that encompasses all creation. If there is a Dantesque
harshness, there is a Montalean sorrow, even as there are glimpses
of redemption and self-insight that break through with a typically
Italian, sardonic tone, but Alfredo de Palchi is original in his
voice and style--neither as ornate or Baroque as Dante, not ensconced
in a religious motif, nor as lyrical or soft-hearted as Montale.
He is a poet all his own in the "anonymous constellation"
of his Addictive Aversions--minamalist, stark,uncompromising,
and wonderfully exuberant in the clarity of his brief but flowing
imagist verses, linked one to the other by his search for a morally
perfectible life. A purer love, not merely sexual, in this brutal
and savage world, in which we must listen to our own lonely spirit,
is the only hoped for salvation.
.... yours is the voice you hear submerged....
--here I wait for the coming of an incorruptible
© 1999 by Daniela Gioseffi, New York City. All rights reserved.
Daniela Gioseffi is an internationally
known, American Book Award winning author of twelve books of poetry
and prose from major presses, both here and abroad. Her
father, Donato Gioseffi was born in Orta Nova, Provincia della
Puglia in 1905 and imigrated to the United States aboard the USS
Independent in 1913. Daniela Gioseffi's works have been translated
into Italian, German, Spanish, and Japanese. Her reviews have
appeared in major U.S. literary magazines for over thirty years.
Her new and selected collection of poems, Blood
Autumn, Autunno di sangue, 2007, was published in bilingual
edition. In the same year, she won The John Ciardi Award for Lifetime
Achievement in Poetry from Italian Americana: Cultural
and Historical Review. ON PREJUDICE: A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
(Anchor/ Doubleday) won a Ploughshares World Peace Award, 1993,
and IN BED WITH THE EXOTIC ENEMY, stories & novella,
Avisson Press, Greensboro, NC, was a Booklist choice, 1997. She
is winner of grant awards in poetry and prose from The New York
State Council on the Arts, and winner of a PEN Short Fiction Award
as well as The Eve of St. Agnes National Poetry Prize. Her 1995
collection of poetry , WORD WOUNDS & WATER FLOWERS,
VIA Folios/ Bordighera, Inc., Purdue University, Indiana, won
praise in THE AMERICAN BOOK REVIEW, POET LORE, THE VIRGINIA
QUARTERLY and several other venues. An earlier book of poems,
Eggs in the Lake was published by BOA Editions, Rochester,
NY and is now published on line at The University of Connecticut
website CAPA. She has edited two prize winning compendiums of
world literature for Anchor/ Doubleday and Touchstone/Simon &
Schuster, and reviewed poetry for many prominent publications,
including American Book Review, The Hungry Mind Review, The
Cortland Review on line, and Independent Publisher, The
Philadelphia Inquirer, and Rain Taxi, as well as been
very widely published online. She is editor of www.PoetsUSA.com.