Nelo Risi, Poesie scelte (1943-1975). Ed. Giovanni Raboni. Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1977.

From “Dentro la sostanza” (1960-1965).
Stando nel chercio d’ombra
come selvaggi intorno al fuoco
buonarimento entra in famiglia
qualche immagine di sterminio.
Cos’ogni sera si teorizza
la violenza della storia.
TV News
Standing in the circle of shadows
like wild animals around a fire
goodhumouredly it enters into the family
some image of extermination.
So every evening is theorised away
the violence of history.
Here we have the quintessential Risi: short, tough lines, uncompromising in their social criticism, all the more biting through the clever use of simple language and straightforward structure. The conclusion of the second sentence contrasting with the scene-setting in the first. There is the feel of perpetuation in the opening present participle. There is a certain extravagance in the adverb, ‘buonariamente’ which suggests all is right with the world, with the domesticity broken apart in the final word, ‘sterminio’. The juxtaposition of a modern Italian domestic scene with Neanderthal lack of civilization cuts to the core. I’m appreciative of the tight rhyme scheme, the sequence of -a and -o rhymes. Risi at his best!  

Nelo Risi, Poesie scelte (1943-1975). Ed. Giovanni Raboni. Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1977.

From “Dentro la sostanza” (1960-1965).
Dentro la sostanza                               
Senza un qualcosa su cui                         
poggiare non si puo’ costruire;            
in altri tempi sui comandamenti         
oggi sul populo, sempre                          
le verita’ corali son verita’                      
solari che fanno un fracasso                  
infernale, sono un calvario                  
di slanci commesi a chi viene              
dopo, per un cominciamento             
Inside the substance
Without something on which
to lean, one can’t build;
in other times commandments
today leaning on the people, always
bright choral truths, one’s truth,
making an infernal din, a Calvary
of impulses committed to those
who came after, a new
 It’s been difficult to come to grips with the obscure nature of the rhetoric: swirling around ideas of commandment-like truths for people, interior and internal truths which move from the Old Testament to the Calvary and ‘new beginning’ of the New Testament. The middle lines, the kernel, are the most difficult to sort out: I have to assume the ‘solari’ (the adjective ‘solar’) belongs to the truths (le verita’) to which is attached the word ‘corali’, redolent of heavenly hosts singing on high, contrasted of course with the ‘fracasso infernale’, the infernal din with its strong ‘f’ sonority. There is of course ambiguity in the ‘sono un calvario’ which can mean either “I am” or “they are” (referring to the truths). As the title poem of the collection, more may be revealed by reading the rest of the works.
 Nelo Risi, Poesie scelte (1943-1975). Ed. Giovanni Raboni. Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1977.
From “Dentro la sostanza” (1960-1965).
Come gli insetti                                      Like insects
Sciami neri sciami gialli                           Black swarms yellow swarms

vissuti sempre in baracche                     living all the while in hovels

sotto la buona spinta                                 from under a decent upper-cut

levatevi in massa, sciamate!                   lift yourselves up en masse and swarm!


Sono sciami di colore                                These colours swarm

turbe straccioni parla                               ragged rabbles speak

a miriadi riempono l’aria                         myriads fill the air

cadono a frotte e abbattono                   fall in swarms and demolish


le vacche grasse.                                         fat cows.


The power of Risi’s poetry resides in both the unpretentiousness of the present-continuous tense of verbs, amplified by the bareness of the poetic structure and the universality of metaphor. Of course, these and similar poems are a running commentary on Italian society and politics of the 1960s, of the strength of the burgeoning mass media, of a restless but essentially apathetic and switched-off generation, emerging from World War II. The insect metaphor is Risi’s response to the movement of the masses, where crowds originate and where they end up, the aimlessness of crowds and who is pulling and pushing them. There are essentially hopeless dreams of revolution and dramatic change and there is the wonderful break between the puny insects and the gross mass of the “fat cows”. Who or what the ‘fat cows’ might be is open to question – those who live off the insects, those who support the life of larger animals.  Aurally, Risi contrasts soft “s” and “c” sounds (sciami, straccioni, sotto/spinta) with the stronger “b” (baracche, buona). Where the first stsnza is dependent on the “i” vowel, interest is created by a subtle to the “o” vowel in the second. Contrasting all with outwardly peaceful pastoral setting are images of violence implying war (spinta, cadono, abbattono).