Who do you take me for, your personal doctor of philosophy?

"The degree to which rejection of traditional forms was part of the renewal of poetry of the twentieth century varied, of course, from country to country. In England it was never as pronounced as in the United States. And Reginald Gibbons once observed that 'the modern avant-garde in Spain,' by comparison with their American counterparts, 'felt little need to rebel against the traditions of poetic form.' In Italy, the various avant-gardes of the twentieth century, from the futuristi to the novissimi and beyond, certainly did rebel against Italian formal traditions. But it seems to me that they somehow managed to open up new rhetorical and prosodic possibilities without causing Italian poetry to develop as many neuroses about form as American poetry has - a nice trick."


So says Geoffrey Brock in introducing the portfolio of contemporary Italian poetry in the December 2007 issue of Poetry . And what, exactly, is meant by contemporary? Brock remarks that the poems he's selected are offered as a representative slice of a poetry scene which is "so polymorphous" that no selection can really adequately represent its range. "I'm not even sure that all the poets I've included can be counted as 'contemporary.' Contemporary with what? (Do the living automatically qualify? Even the extremely old? And what about the recently deceased?) I last recall puzzling over this question when the two-volume Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry came out in 2003. The 'contemporary' volume begins with Charles Olson (1910-1970) and includes poets who had been dead for four (Sylvia Plath) or five (Dylan Thomas) decades, while Richard Eberhart and Stanley Kunitz, though both alive when the anthology appeared, are found in the 'modern' volume - apparently too old to be contemporary." In the end, Brock's answer is that of the Italian anthologist, Alfredo Giuliani: contemporary with "our sense of reality, or rather with the language that reality speaks witin us." In a way, Brock adds, it's like Justice Stewart's notorious definition of pornography: "I know it when I see it." And as it happens, some of the poems are pretty racy, like the selections from Patrizia Valduga (pictured above, and from whom the title of this blogpost is taken) - her "One Hundred Quatrains" and "Quatrains: Second Hundred" might put a little lead in your pencil. So, too, Alda Merini's "Aphorisms" (one of which is: "Everyone is a friend of his own pathology") and "Aphorisms and Spells." Don't say I didn't warn you!

Originally Published: December 4th, 2007

Don Share became the editor of Poetry in 2013. His books of poetry are Wishbone (2012), Squandermania (2007), and Union (2013, 2002). He is the co-editor of The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine (2012), and editor of Bunting's Persia (2012) and a critical edition of Basil Bunting's poems (2016). He...