Dino & Sibilla
September 14, 2004 8:03 AM   Subscribe

With our shipwrecked hearts. Ninety years ago Dino Campana, impoverished and outcast poet self-published his book Canti Orfici (.pdf file) ("Orphic Songs", mastefully translated into English by poet Charles Wright). The birth of the book wasn't marred only by Campana's mental illness (soon afterwards, he was committed to a mental institution). Initially, the "Orphic Songs" were submitted for possible publication to the poet/painter Ardengo Soffici, who promptly lost the manuscript. Campana spent the next six months reconstructing the book from memory. Finally in 1914, with the help of a local printer of religious tracts, he self-published a first edition of around 500, selling only 44. Campana attempted, with marginal success, to sell the remainder of his portion of the run (the printer had taken half the books as partial printing payment) himself at cafes in Florence. He is now remembered as one of Italy's greatest, most imaginative poets (with biographies ,award-winning movies about his troubled life and his dangerous, scandalous love affair with fellow writer Sibilla Aleramo. (more inside)
posted by matteo (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
...with fellow writer Sibilla Aleramo, whom Campana met, fell in love with, produced a timeless book about, and finally went mad).
The letters they wrote to each other and about each other during their year-long affair have intrigued scholars since 1950 when Aleramo released them for publication -- the letters are Campana's last biographical testimony before he was permanently institutionalized.
posted by matteo at 8:09 AM on September 14, 2004

PS The main link's title comes from a poem by, of course, Campana:

From even more distant silences,
Golden far-away birds tinted in different colors
Crossed and recrossed in the powder blue evening: the ship
Already blind plowing ahead beating against the darkness
With our shipwrecked hearts

posted by matteo at 8:12 AM on September 14, 2004

Isn't a modicum, or more, of mental illness a prerequisite in the trade ?
posted by troutfishing at 8:46 AM on September 14, 2004

Before the tradition was finally expunged from Europe, such a type might have become a shaman and so more smoothly navigated the realms between life, death, and madness.
posted by troutfishing at 8:48 AM on September 14, 2004

not that it would've helped the pitiful sales of his book, but you do have a point
no, seriously: Campana's condition has been widely debated post-facto by doctors here: and the saddest thing, really, is that most of them considered Campana's -- eventually fatal -- condition mostly curable with nowadays medicine.
whether madness -- or anyway mental instability -- is a prerequisite of deep creative process, remains of course debatable. as John Berryman said,

Well, being a poet is a funny kind of jazz. It doesn't get you anything. It doesn't get you any money, or not much, and it doesn't get you any prestige, or not much. It's just something you do.


That's a tough question. I’ll tell you a real answer, I'm taking your question seriously, This comes from Hamann, quoted by Kierkegaard. There are two voices, and the first voice says, "Write!" and the second voice says, "For whom?" I think that's marvelous; he doesn't question the imperative, you see that. And the first voice says, "for the dead whom thou didst love"; again the second voice doesn't question it; instead it says, "Will they read me?" And the first voice says, "Aye, for they return as posterity." Isn't that good?

posted by matteo at 8:56 AM on September 14, 2004

Precisely. The "illness" part is extra and not needed.

Gary Snyder's definition of poetic sanity can't be bettered:

What You Should Know To Be A Poet
by Gary Snyder

all you can know about animals as persons.
the names of trees and flowers and weeds.
the names of stars and the movements of planets
and the moon.
your own six senses, with a watchful elegant mind.
at least one kind of traditional magic:
dicvination, astrology, the book of changes, the tarot;

the illusory demons and the illusory shining gods.
kiss the ass of the devil and eat shit;
fuck his horny barbed cock,
fuck the hag,
and all the celestial angels
and maidens perfum'd and golden --

& then love the human: wives husbands and friends
children's games, comic books, bubble-gum,
the weirdness of television and advertising.

work long, dry hours of dull work swallowed and accepted
and lived with and finally lovd. exhaustion,
hunger, rest.

the wild freedom of the dance, extasy
silent solitary illumination, entasy

real danger. gambles and the edge of death.
posted by digaman at 8:57 AM on September 14, 2004

matteo slipped in.
posted by digaman at 8:58 AM on September 14, 2004

Nice post, matteo. Been missing you, round here.
posted by shoepal at 9:05 AM on September 14, 2004

digaman - yes, and I love Snyder's writing/poetry. I just happen to be one of the nutty ones.
posted by troutfishing at 9:22 AM on September 14, 2004

Wonderful post and links, matteo. Grazie.
posted by languagehat at 2:08 PM on September 14, 2004

It seems the original manuscript lost by Soffici was found by his heirs in 1971, and auctioned off by Christie's auction house early this year. Italian poet Mario Luzi organized a drive to save the manuscript:

"Luzi's campaign was successful and, after steep bidding, the manuscript was bought by L'Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze (Agency Savings and Loan Company of Florence) for 213,425 Euros (over $250,000). The new owner is proud to keep the manuscript in Tuscany, the poet's home turf, and to make amends for the oversight of a careless editor."

Story here; something about Mario Luzi in English here.
posted by taz at 4:29 AM on September 15, 2004

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