An introduction to the poetry of Elio Fiore
by Maria Amata Di Lorenzo
(published in Italy by Fara Editore, print edition of January 2012, ebook edition of April 2016)
not yet available in English
FOR YOU READERS
One day the poet Biagio Marin was on the beach of Grado, his hometown, intent on photographing the cloudy sky. A little girl passed by uttering with veiled rebuke, ‘You can’t take pictures of clouds’, to which he, in return, slightly surprised replied, ‘But, you know, I am a poet’. The girl, ready to respond, with a lively gaze, retorted, ‘Come on now, all the poets are dead’.
I remembered this episode the day, in January 2012, I had in my hands the first copies of my book ‘The Light and the Cry’ dedicated to the poet Elio Fiore, because when I met him, back in 1993, at his house for an interview, it was the first time I had ever met a living poet. For me too, the poets, until that day, had all been dead, just as that little girl on the pier of Grado had said, especially since I had recently finished years of university in which I had studied and loved hundreds and hundreds of authors necessarily born and having lived in other eras.
With Elio Fiore, I was instead approaching a living poet, a poet with whom on that day I would forge a long and important friendship that lasted until his death but never reached a conclusion, since today it continues, mysteriously but concretely, on a different plane.
When I met him, I realized that he was living very poorly, and yet he seemed to me the richest man in the universe. He had within him a joy, a crazy, irresistible joy, and I wanted to understand what that joy, that fervour, that faith really was. It was very important for me to be able to enjoy his friendship, and with this book I have fulfilled a promise. Elio, indeed, made me promise solemnly that after his death I would write a book about him. And, as you know, every promise is a debt to be paid.
So this book, ‘The Light and the Cry’, published precisely ten years after his death by Fara Editore, is now available in ebook form, and I hope so much that you will read it, enjoy it and that, above all, it will help you to know a poet able to excite you as he excited me from the very beginning, letting you discover the secret of his crazy happiness.
Maria Amata Di Lorenzo
We like it because…
There are human beings who are born helpless, unable to defend themselves, because of their noble spirits and childlike hearts, resistant to the materialistic temptations of this perverse society, devoted to attention-seeking and appearance at all costs. These souls are the poets and dreamers, often removed from the world around them, immersed as they are in their own magical worlds. They are souls destined to immortality and their presence on this earth leaves an indelible mark, helping to better those that know of them, scattering a wealth of feelings, light to draw from, pure water to quench our thirsts. Elio Fiore was one of these. And the book by Maria Amata Di Lorenzo (published by Fara Editore in 71 pages at €11.00) is an act of justice towards this man.
Who better could retrace his existential and poetic journey? Maria Amata is an incredibly sensitive woman, as well as genuine intellectual, who can discern the chaff from the wheat and dig into the deepest and most inaccessible mines to extract the most valuable of golden nuggets. In this book, ten years after the death of the poet, she has refocused attention on his art, his example of being human and his desire for solitude, away from contamination, at the edges of our artificially bright and fetid society.
Yet Elio Fiore was able to place himself at the centre of our universe as bearer of truth thitherto incomprehensible to others, as a messenger of faith and ethics. His poetry freed himself from a state of apparent immobility, to walk a sacred journey of the soul, to sing a song of faith and joy, a hymn of praise and gratitude. He was a man who nurtured within himself an extraordinary wealth, faith and hope. His was a spiritual pilgrimage raised up to a symbol of the search for Truth.
His was a restlessness that could only be placated by the possibility of discovering his deepest identity, that unfathomable mystery of self. As writes Di Lorenzo, ‘Poetry was the light and the bread of his existence. His was an unconventional gaze raised every day to the sky, that sky that we all continually lose sight of, drowned in the simulacra of modernity. His was a loving space, transparent as a flame, able to safeguard, amongst the whirlwind of history, the simple secret of life, in the flickering incandescence of a verse, as a prayer and sister of faith’.
Maria Amata knew him in person, and surely it was a meeting of two chosen souls that enriched both. Elio Fiore also knew intimately the horrors of war, the bombings, the deportation of Jews, all the evil that men are capable of exercising over their peers. These experiences marked his character and had a strong impact on his magnificent poetic production, alas rather hastily forgotten. Yet Elio Fiore was esteemed by such writers as Mario Luzi, Carlo Bo, Eugenio Montale and Giuseppe Ungaretti.
© Salvo Zappulla, Art-Litteram, 24th March 2012 / La voce dell’isola, 30th May 2012 – all rights reserved
There are men who go through life without defending themselves, men that live their lives simply, more in sufferance, but sometimes in joy, and never get to own their own lives, or take control of them. They are a breed of losers, or of visionaries, for some, as categorized by the world, or a breed of prophets and mystics, for others, able to read into the outrageous folly of the Cross all the wisdom that the world is not able to see.
The poet Elio Fiore, who died in Rome on 20th August 2002 at the age of sixty-seven, belonged to the latter category. In Fiore, we lost a poet, an authentic poet. Born in the capital on 12th July 1935, he was a librarian at the Pontifical Biblical Institute for over two decades, having previously turned his hand to many trades and with factory work and illness having cast a long shadow over his life for many years. Fiore was no poet laureate and, in the modern Babylonian mess of mass media, his outsider’s voice was like that of the watchman of Isaiah, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go be the night-watchman. Cry out what you see’” (Isaiah 21:6).
For more than three decades, ever since his debut book entitled ‘Dialogues so as not to die’, Elio Fiore, though his verses, cried out what only he could see in order that the spiritually blind others then might see. A rather delicate and secluded artist, Fiore earned the friendship and admiration of, among others, Eugenio Montale, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Mario Luzi and Carlo Bo. He was a totally unique and original voice in the Italian literary scene, a poet who travelled his entire life a long lonely road, away from cultural cliques and the drum of mass media. ‘A great poet,’ Monsignor Claudio Sorgi, with his usual wit, once said, ‘but, you know, poets become popular in life only if they win a Nobel or make a scandal…’.
Baptized at St. Peter’s, Fiore lived for more than twenty years in the heart of Israelite Rome, in the square of Portico d’Ottavia. Such was a circumstance that had a great influence on his poetic production, feeding his imagination and making him participant of Jewish history and tradition, so much so that the Jewish community honoured him as ‘Roman, Catholic and Apostolic’, exactly as he liked to call himself, together with a list of about two thousand Roman Jews captured by the Nazis and deported to the gas chambers in the autumn of 1943.
The main themes of his literary output were indeed the madness of the Holocaust, the painful memory of the dead, the search for God, not merely in the abstract sense but ‘in the blood and the cry of history’, the belief in poetry and poets, the need to see and tell, as writing is a duty, a moral imperative, just as to remember is a duty. Other themes included faith in the invisible, the primacy of the person and the need for voice and prophecy, expressing his being religiously within history, with every symbol of good and every metaphor of evil, as he said, ‘There, faith and nothing else is life. The rest matters not, it is history’.
This book, published ten years after his death, is not meant to be an exhaustive work on the entire corpus of his literary production, but merely an introduction to the essential themes of his poetic universe, a first approach to the world of this author, who deserves to be brought out of the shadows to which contemporary narratives and literary anthologies seem to relegate many deserving voices of the twentieth century.
I met the poet personally during the summer of 1993 for an interview that was later published on page three of a newspaper of the Lombardy region. I therefore wanted to insert, at the very beginning of the book, the transcription of our long interview, because there is nothing better, in my opinion, than allowing the poet to speak himself, in person, of his world, his life and his ideas. Those who read it can get, I believe, a more vivid impression, from direct, first-hand knowledge, allowing them to begin to understand his poetry and to enter those often secret recesses of literary creation, to intimately approach an author who is no longer among us but, by the magic of words, is, now and forever, present and alive.
(From the introduction to the volume ‘The Light and the Cry – An introduction to the poetry of Elio Fiore’ by Maria Amata Di Lorenzo, Fara Editore, print edition of January 2012, ebook edition of April 2016 – © all rights reserved)
We like it because…
Maria Amata Di Lorenzo had promised Elio Fiore, before his untimely death, that she would write of him. She has now kept her word with a concentrated and stunning booklet entitled ‘The Light and the Cry’, an expression used by the great Mario Luzi to put in a nutshell the poetic horizon of his colleague and friend of Rome, which primarily denounced the pain inflicted, and the cry sent up, that inexpressible and inconsolable grief of the 16th of October 1943, when Elio, as an eight-year-old boy, helplessly watched, from his home a few steps away, the deportation of Jews in the Ghetto of Rome, as he himself expressed in words, ‘Here, in the secret of my home, reveals itself the voice / of memory, in the rumble of the Tiber grows pity, / vital since the 16th of October 1943. When my innocent foot / was awashed with the blood of the just of Israel. / When the wicked shouted, broke down the doors with shotguns…’ (from ‘In Purest Blue’, 1986).
The traumatic experience remained forever engraved in his flesh, feeding in time an acute sensitivity to all suffering, starting with that of the marginalized, the homeless, the mother in the street embracing her child and asking in vain for alms from the hurried passers-by, unable to recognize in her the figure of Mary and the baby Jesus, in the blind and superficial excitement of Christmas eve; ‘Mary was dressed all in black / on the hard ground, composed / in his arms she clasped Jesus. / In the crowded rush the passers-by / went distracted, not looking / not giving a penny of alms’ (from ‘Myriam of Nazareth’, 1992).
This is the cry of Fiore, the mission to which he feels embodied as watchman, on the alert, with eyes wide open, to see and to witness the evil of history, a history that moves blindly between horrendous crimes and unspeakable injustices, but which painstakingly lets emerge from the magma of pain a way for redemption, evolution and the slow but certain affirmation of progress.
Fiore, indeed, sees the light beyond the cry sent up, the light of the Absolute, which mysteriously governs the world and instils in human creatures the desire to seek it out, to make it the destination of their arduous journeys across this difficult and extraordinary land.
In front of the uniqueness of earthly beauty, of life and of the everyday, where nothing is trivial, not even the most habitual of gestures, the Roman poet expresses constant delight and amazement. Because existence itself is a miracle and there is no resolution to the continuity between the visible and the invisible, material and metaphysical reality.
Maria Amata Di Lorenzo illustrates with passion this poetic world, which is lyrical and epic at the same time, pervaded by a faith as solid as a rock and his plastic, linear, sometimes resigned, ardently communicative and extremely effective language, a language that stays with us due to the flame that feeds it.
Di Lorenzo introduces us to Fiore the man, his love of children, his discretion, his annoyance at false intellectuals amongst whom he jostled for affirmation, his Christianity distilled from its Jewish source, his joy in friendship given and received, by among others Giuseppe Ungaretti, Eugenio Montale and Carlo Bo, his veneration of Leopardi, from whom he took the title of his collection ‘In purest blue’, a septuplet of ‘La Ginestra’, which also became the name of the cultural blog created by Di Lorenzo.
In short, this is a gem of a book for getting to know more intimately a poet much studied by major Italian intellectuals but whose light has yet to shine and whose cry is yet to be heard by the general public.
© Maria Gisella Catuogno, Viadellebelledonne, 16th February 2012 – all rights reserved
A PRIZE THAT I WOULD LIKE TO DEDICATE
TO THE MEMORY OF ELIO
‘Maria A. Di Lorenzo’s aim is to give a real picture of Elio Fiore the poet, in a revealing, strong, compelling, essential text. The power of his poetry is shown to be as a tangle of feelings that unravel in incandescent fragments, revealing its most secret essence, the hidden meanings of the soul that rise from the abyss towards the light. A deep religious feeling feeds and illuminates his pain from within. His word is a weapon of testimony, an instrument of communication, of resistance, marked by the harrowing vision of Jewish persecution in the Ghetto of Rome, not to forget the importance of remembrance, in the commitment to allow every Jew to be forever free.’
The Light and the Cry. Maria Amata Di Lorenzo and the poetry of Elio Fiore
by SIMONA LO IACONO
He was a Christian of the Ghetto, and when asked the reason for this unacceptable mixture between the God of the Jews and that of Christ, he would reply by citing the defenceless reality of Myriam of Nazareth. In her, he would say, a Jew and at the same time the mother of Christ, all disharmony of history would fade into inconsequence such as a plaything or a troublesome bank of fog.
So Elio Fiore lived in the square of Portico d’Ottavia, in the heart of the Roman Ghetto. Of its alleyways named after trades, such as Via dei Falegnami, Street of Carpenters, and Via dei Funari, Street of Undertakers, and of its ancient Roman portico erected in honour of Jupiter Stator and Juno Regina, he loved the silence, a lack of noise that he invested in the search of the meaning of existence and returned to the ear in the sound of verses.
It was a silence that covered like a pitiful tombstone the obscenities of pain, the barbaric assault on the life of man, the violence of the time. He was still a child when, on 19th July 1943, he found himself under the rubble of his bombed home, and though he survived this, he later watched helplessly as Jews were deported to an unknown destination, men swaying in convoys like coffins, already dead without yet knowing it.
From this moment, Elio Fiore became more than a poet, he became a witness, a herald who would not be silenced. He became a cry. Thus it is no coincidence that his collection ‘In Purest Blue’ bears as epigraph the thundering words of Isaiah ‘Go be the night-watchman. Cry out what you see’ (Isaiah 21:6).
Now his parable as poet and man is skilfully brought to light by the delicate pen of Maria Amata Di Lorenzo, who paints his secluded and yet smiling nature, his mysticism tinged with hope and his cultivated optimism in spite of the ‘blood and cry of history’.
Elio Fiore is a poet of the invisible, but of the close-quartered and not so distant invisible, wholly participant, on the contrary, in man’s pain, embodied in his fall and in his desire for atonement. ‘There’, he would say, ‘faith and nothing else is life. All the rest is history’.
– Dear Maria Amata, your essay ‘The Light and the Cry’ (published by Fara Editore) wonderfully reconstructs the life of a almost forgotten poet, who in actual fact enjoyed the admiration of such great artists as Eugenio Montale, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Mario Luzi and Carlo Bo. Tell us about him and his poetic life.
Elio Fiore, who was born in Rome in 1935, and died in 2002, made his poetic debut in 1964 with the anthology ‘Dialogues so as not to die’, held at the font by the great Giuseppe Ungaretti, almost as a poetic investiture. He lived for work in various Italian cities until he was able to return to Rome as a librarian and to the Ghetto, which played such importance in his poetic and above all human dimensions.
Fiore lived in worship of the poets of the past and of his contemporaries, yet imitated or bore resemblance to none. His artistic journey was thus extremely original and ran for about forty years through themes of prophecy, memory, faith, the necessity to write, to see and to tell, as both a poetic and personal mission.
– The themes of Elio Fiore’s poetry feature memory understood as a moral duty, aspiration for the eternal and the asceticism of living the present through the lesson of the heavens. Could you tell us about when you met and interviewed him at his home?
I have a very vivid memory of that interview, even though it was almost twenty years ago. I remember that hot June afternoon, the sun-soaked streets of the Ghetto, the children swarming around the Portico d’Ottavia having just emerged from a nearby school, the thick and dense silence that hit me as soon as I walked through a wooden and corroded door to a deserted landing and a door that opened to the poet, a humble and collected person, yet full of wit and grace.
The interview went very pleasantly indeed. At one point my recorder stopped working and so I wrote everything down in a notebook. His words were so alive and deep that I could have recited them one by one, impressed on me as they were. That day I realized two important things; that you could love writing and poetry with a pure, unconditional love, as he did, who lived and nourished himself of poetry as plants feed on light, and that you could also be happy believing in God. I did not, at the time, think such a thing possible, as personally I had a rather musty idea of religion, of that heard in childhood catechism, a series of joyless precepts and duties. The poet I met that day for the first time talked a great deal about God and had inside him an overwhelming, crazy joy that was totally incomprehensible to me. I decided that, at all costs, I had to understand where that joy and that fervour came from. Fortunately, that meeting was not an isolated happening. Right until his death, I was able to enjoy his company and friendship, which was very significant for me and gave me a lot on both a human and literary plane.
One day, he made me promise that after his death I would write a book about him, and that is what I have done. With this book, I feel I have maintained my promise.
– The experience of the war touched Elio Fiore like universal enlightenment. These are some of his magnificent lines, ‘Here, in the secret of my home, reveals itself the voice / of memory, in the rumble of the Tiber grows pity, / vital since the 16th of October 1943. When my innocent foot / was awashed with the blood of the just of Israel. / When the wicked shouted, broke down the doors with shotguns…’. The war thus came to stand for him as a symbol of the human condition, of the perennial struggle between good and evil. Is that so, Maria Amata?
You are right, Simona. On the one hand there is the war, the terrible war that, as a child, Elio directly experienced with all its atrocities and horrors, and then there is the other everyday war, that perennial struggle between good and evil as you say, that war within ourselves, in which we are often torn, divided, eager to go towards the light, but more often mired in the depths of darkness. This conflict, to think of it, is eternal. ‘History gives birth to monsters’, said Fiore, ‘but within history, in spite of everything, there is the providential path of Man towards the light’.
– Finally, dear Maria Amata, tell us about the role that Elio Fiore believed a poet to have. One of his verses says ‘Poetry is a call to capture the voice of justice’. Who, then, is a poet, according to Elio Fiore?
Let me answer with his own words, ‘A poet’, said Elio Fiore, ‘is who sees life with different eyes from others and is the holder of a truth that must be passed on to his fellow man. This is the mission of the poet and his message is bear witness to his time, the time of beauty, the time of poetry’.
© Simona Lo Iacono – all rights reserved
…Poetry was the light and bread of his existence.
His was an unconventional gaze raised every day to the sky, that sky that we all continually lose sight of, drowned in the simulacra of modernity.
His was a loving space, transparent as a flame, able to safeguard, amongst the whirlwind of history, the simple secret of life, in the flickering incandescence of a verse…
Maria Amata Di Lorenzo