REVIEWS For Charles P. Greco,Goffredo Pallucchini, Lewis Turco and Patricia Catto, Jerre Mangione and Ben Morreale, Pasquale Verdicchio, Irene Musillo Mitchell, Maddalena Tirabassi, Marco Fraticelli, and
Often overlooked by book reviewers, librarians, book store operators, and, therefore, by most book readers who would enjoy them if they were aware of their existence, are those worthy volumes published by smaller university presses, small independent publishers or, as in this case, by a Catholic fraternal order, the Knights of Columbus. The public at large is, of course, the looser. Though these memoirs here being reviewed cannot really be considered scholarly in the sense that the word is generally accepted, they, nevertheless, tell the story of an Italian religious leader, who of all unexpected places, was born on a cotton plantation in the small town of Rodney, Mississippi, a short distance from Vicksburg. Rather unique to say the least. Son of immigrant parents from Cefalu in northern Sicily, Bishop Greco, who died in his early nineties in 1987, began keeping a journal in his younger days and maintained the practice during much of his adult life. It is essentially this journal which has now been published.
I tend to lean towards that school of scholarship which claims that biography has to be presented and preserved in order to understand history better. Therefore, this volume helps to add to that knowledge which shows us more of the distinguished contributions which Italian/ Americans have made over the decades. Though by no stretch of the imagination can the volume be considered a study in ethnicity, it can be considered, as stated, a study of one of our ethnic background who made a contribution as a priest, bishop and religious leader. Here and there, almost serendipitously one could say, a glimpse that only an Italian/ American could enjoy fully is found in the volume.
Bishop Greco had a varied career during his long life being sent to Europe to continue advance studies in Louvain and Fribourg just at the time that World War I was breaking out; becoming assistant pastor of a small rural parish in the Deep South where he ministered to a mostly French-speaking people; actively working with the Knights of Columbus from their earliest years to assuming the post of the first bishop to become national chaplain; and working on special parish projects work and more. Perhaps the culmination of his career came in 1946 when he was appointed bishop of Alexandria, Louisiana, the first native born Mississippian to become a Catholic Bishop, indeed one of the very first Italian/Americans from the South to achieve national attention. Again, as stated, there are no footnotes, no deep reflections, and the style of writing is often more in the nature of an amiable front porch conversation between himself and the reader, and topics will range from his love of hunting to his responsibility as chairman of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine which had the task of educating the young; and his editorship of one of the few Catholic diocesan newspapers in the South, the weekly “Catholic Action of the South.” Along the way one gets good insight into some of the mores, life styles and everyday happenings in the Louisiana (the area where he spent most of his life) of the early- and mid-20th century. Perhaps the publishers might have helped out in trying to provide some marginal notes in certain sections to give the reader a little more background on what the Bishop was discussing, but basically it was their intention to preserve and help disseminate the journal, and after all, such an accomplishment is worthy enough. A good reminder of the work which relatively early Italian/American priests accomplished throughout this country.
Nicholas J. Falco
Bronx, New York
Eyebrows almost always rise at the news that an academic has published a volume of poetry. Those trained in the way of interpreting literature are not expected to create it. This dilemma is the theme of much of the poetry in Goffredo Pallucchini’s collection.
Of course, if we read Foucault and Jameson, these poems can’t help but create political discourse. But when we read Pallucchini, we find that there is more to politics than ideologies and argument. In these poems we find a voice struggling to express feelings that the formally trained mind has learned to suppress. This voice is especially strong in “About a Woman” and “About the Power of Dialectical Discourse,” both of which feature a woman as the object of critical scrutiny by those whose reasoning overpowers any chance of empathy. “Fuga” questions the goals of a “triumph of harmony” and “the order of reason” that result from the academic use of language. The dream in response to this reality is of silence of the desire to just “be quiet.”
While few of these poems are easily explicated, the effort is well worth the investment. “After the Revolution” seems to take off from Whitman’s invitation to hit the “Open Road.” The irony of this poem is that the inspired leaves the staid domestic world only to become the victim of the wild, outside world.
Many of these poems question the place of imagination in the act of political interpretation. This question is most clearly articulated in “Ballad: On the Political Discourse,” one of the collection’s longer poems. Along with “The Radio,” “Ballad” depicts a society that is numbed and controlled so that human contact is replaced by interaction with mechanical devices. In both poems the inability to imagine--to create images and to interpret those self-created images--leaves us in an impregnable solitude.
Setting off others from the self is yet another story told by Pallucchini. In “Portrait of an Interior” and “Exclusion” we realize that the worlds that others create often don’t contain us. In “Dream” and “A Last Image” Pallucchini juxtaposes the internal world of self, where knowledge is categorized and ordered into meaning, with the external world which is composed of chaos and ignorance. The writing of the poem, in effect, bridges the inside and the outside, allowing both to exist simultaneously. And this, in the end, is the tale that Pallucchini tells so well. We can study all the theories, join in all the discourses, but in the end, we are left with our selves and the dilemma between our human need to have it all make sense and our animal instincts to sense it all without having to order it into meaning.
While Pallucchini yet to join the ranks of those poets who live off their poetry, his collection forces us to challenge the way we live, the way we read, and the way we too often artificially separate creation and interpretation.
Fred L. Gardaphe
Columbia College, Chicago
Patricia Catto. Wife of Geronimo’s Virile Old Age: Seventeen Poems from Cochise County. Oswego, NY: Mathom Press Enterprises, 1991.
Winner of the 1989 Silverfish Review Chapbook Competition, Lewis Turco’s A Family Album features a tight cast of twelve kindred members, each of whom we come to know through the form of the dramatic monologue. Living or dead, each speaks a distinct and arresting idiolect: each discloses the pith of her life in frank and concise strokes. “They were familiars, / once . . .,” we discover of these persons in the first poem, “Albums”: “A jowl / sags here, beneath this rafter. An eye is gray. . . .” And they are hardly less than family by the time we leave the book.
But first, as the poem above promises, “the pictures come to life and walk the halls.” We hear initially from Julia Pullen (every poem takes as its title the name of the appropriate relative), the aunt who collects vials of sand. No sooner do we learn of this avocation than we are coaxed inside one of her distant memories:
standing beside the sea on a day lambent
with haze, the surf moving in from Madagascar.
I stooped to sample the world.
in this house, in a room faint with lavender
and shadow, I labeled the vial and laid it
in the batting, interred in my bureau
drawer with the others.
The tone here succeeds in being modest, somewhat wistful. Contrast this with the non-romanticizing, hard-as-a-banker’s-heart brand of remembering done in “Ruth Carr”:
From the spring
founting in the valley there followed
a hurliburl of foliage
in thunder and in sunlight.
Summer spent itself at last. It broke
into bankruptcy with a fine
splurge—too late. We fairweather folk
fared well away. We’d know
nothing of that bleak grace . . . .
Or, for a more striking contrast still, compare Julia Pullen’s with the brash and blessedly irreverent voice of Herbert Torrey:
[T]he lawn tapped out its cricket sounds. One girlchild
rapped her doldrums out upon
the tabletop. Muzzy Aunt Nat
turned over turning forty-one,
gave the women the once-over,
thumbed down the thought.
Turco is nothing if not a master of the means of looking back, of the varieties of tone and type of voice. In A Family Album, we get the best of all of the above; indeed, we get what is wished of the summer described in the penultimate poem, “Jean Court”:
Summer, if it should come,
would be an age of brass and trumpets,
swallows, and the flight of swallows.
Not a poem in this collection disappoints.
In the poems in her chapbook, Wife of Geronimo’s Virile Old Age: Seventeen Poems from Cochise County, Patricia Catto also explores family, primarily by way of her maternal line. More often, though, she reckons with issues having to do with region (Cochise County, Arizona) and, more largely, with Southwestern American lore. To be sure, the chapbook is written “For the Creatures, Gods, and People of Bisbee, Arizona . . . .” The forms of these poems are as diverse as the region’s flora and fauna: we find, in addition to the dramatic monologue, a “Sort of Sestina,” haiku, and imagistic and narrative poems.
Best among these varied works are, I think, the imagistic poems and those dealing with matters familial. Foremost among the latter is a poem appearing early in the book, “The Hummingbird.” It relates the experiences of the speaker’s mother caring for and trying to come to terms with her dying sister:
One July morning my mother gave up,
Eighteen times the previous day
bits of aunt’s intestines had left her to die
had streaked the sheets
with shit and blood
til mother’s dreams
were bleared with the stain
that for once her washer could not make Eden . . . .
In the next stanza the mother, aghast and exasperated at her own seeming helplessness, throws up the sheets and vows to give up her caretaking role. “[F]ully intending to stay gone forever,” she notices how the “noon filtered in” the garage to which she had fled. An “intimate ticking” makes her shift her gaze to face the glass, where she finds
flickering against it—a translucent heartbeat
a sapphire bee with a ruby at its throat
blurring and thrumming
the silken light
This sudden turn toward the hummingbird—here, a lovely, cogent emblem of kin and persistence—is masterfully wrought.
So, too, is the imagistic piece “Ocotillo,” taken as a whole. I quote it in full:
Back east they know nothing
of the octopus standing on its head in the sand
waving its glad legs madly in the air
four dance-hall girls in mid-cartwheel
their green thorny stockings on slender limbs
kicking and kicking their red flower shoes.
Any poem that succeeds in turning a cactuslike tree into something sexy is a prize.
The chapbook abounds in such whimsical leaps. In “Monsoon Morning, Bisbee Arizona”—where the book’s title comes into play—we see a frolicsome and visionary mind:
The monsoons arrive. Thunder and lightning!
I wake from a dream of Geronimo,
from being the wife of his virile old age.
Now suddenly everything goes streaming down the canyon,
the waters herding stones and twigs to town . . .
Growing concerned, the banker steps out gawking.
This could be a morning when money floats away.
When banking in a gulch seems unwise.
One would do well to bet on Catto. It is my hope we haven’t heard the last from her.
Albertson College of Idaho
This past year, 1992, was an important and difficult year for Italian Americans. The Columbian quincentennial was celebrated across the country in its usual way—at the annual October parades, especially in the larger cities. A year-long multifaceted cultural project featuring dramatic readings and scholarly presentations were on ongoing part of the cultural package sponsored by Columbus: Countdown 1992, based in New York City and spearheaded by its president, Anne Paolucci. In the universities at large, however, Columbus’s adventures have taken a more critical route; excoriated for exploiting and destroying the land and its inhabitants, Columbus and his “discovery” are being critiqued by the new historicism of academia. Despite their recalcitrance and albeit understandable defensiveness, Italian Americans have had to reconsider their roles in celebrating an event and a man who has increasingly come to represent genocidal destruction in America. Responding to the losses that the Native Americans suffered, Italian Americans in Chicago, for example, have established an ongoing dialogue between the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans and two Native American organizations in Chicago.
It is in this light that Jerre Mangione and Ben Morreale produce their wide-ranging, scholarly, and insightful history of five-hundred years of Italian American experience in La Storia. Both writers themselves, Mangione and Morreale trace the history of Italians in America, beginning with the Colonial period and the adventurers of the late fifteenth century. The authors place Columbus’s voyage in the context of early Italian adventurers, who took part in the European expansion across the Atlantic. Introducing their historical narrative with the anonymous canto, “The Song of the Emigrants,” Mangione and Morreale offer an interpretive gloss on the experience of large-scale emigration, one that surpasses the Columbian voyage and gives voice to the nameless victims and survivors of the transatlantic crossing and offers the reason for their coming: “Better to choke in the ocean than to be strangled in misery.”
Organizing their chapters chronologically, the authors move from the description of Italian emigrants before and after the American revolution to an analysis of living conditions in the Mezzogiorno before and after Italian unification. In Chapter 4, “Saints and Legends to Live By,” the authors clarify that the dream of America was part of the Italian mental climate in Southern Italy and Sicily well before the unification of Italy and the end of Bourbon rule. Inspired by the travels of Columbus and later on by the occasional repatriated immigrant, Italians’ conception of America took on mythic proportions well before the “politics of miseria” catapulted them out of their impoverished villages. Thus the peasantry, reduced to escaping their misery by either joining the priesthood or the brigands, found themselves instead succumbing to the fever of emigration and leaving their homeland altogether. Although the authors’ sense of history is too often defined solely in male terms, they make a very important point regarding the Southern Italians’ decision to emigrate. The assumption primarily fostered by Northern Italian officials that Southern Italians are “irrevocably rooted to their native soil,” are an “apathetic lot, hopelessly fatalistic,” is severely undercut by the massive evacuation of entire villages. Despite the tendency of writers such as Carlo Levi to depict a changeless and timeless world south of Eboli, in fact, the authors tell us, a dying economy in the Mezzogiorno soon impelled a mass exodus. Italians did and could change, if their conditions proved insufferable enough.
Mangione and Morreale painstakingly detail the Italians’ departure and arrival in the new land, their establishment of “tight little islands,” which, in fact, did achieve a social structure, though investigators rarely knew how to read the culture of little Italies that sprung up across eastern and midwestern cities in the United States. Incorporating the autobiographies of well-known Italians such as Fiorello La Guardia and Angelo Pellegrini, the authors skillfully interweave commentary from Italian Americans who first hand recorded the struggles and triumphs of their parents’ generation. Pellegrini’s mother, for example, imbued with the spirit of individualism and a “frontiersman mentality,” fought successfully to receive a state pension after her husband was killed in an industrial accident in the state of Washington. Mangione and Morreale make clear by this example that Italian Americans could overcome the fatalistic notion that the individual was powerless to change her circumstances, but much of that new-found ability was reinforced by the character of life in the West, where Italians were not confined to the nation’s Little Italies and where they were more directly influenced by other cultural groups.
Chapter 13, “New Orleans—Wops, Crime, and Lynchings,” the authors describe the wave of anti-Italian bigotry in the 1880s that eventually led to the lynching of eleven Italian Americans in 1891. Recognizing that the lynchings “were a manifestation of growing anti-immigrant feelings generally,” the authors nonetheless suggest that during this period the repeated emphasis on the word “mafia” by the press indelibly stigmatized Italian Americans and irrevocably linked them with crime. Despite the widespread belief that organized crime was imported from Sicily or Naples, the authors demonstrate in their chapter on “Identity Character and Assimilation” that such crime was learned on the streets of America, “where children did indeed catch the spirit of the new country.”
The authors might very well have strengthened their analysis of Italian/American identity in general had they gone beyond Andrew Rolle’s limited concept of the Italian family and its infantilizing mothers. For background on Italian women, Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum’s liberazione della donna would have provided solid scholarship on Italian feminism. The oral histories of Italian/American women collected in Voices of the Daughters, edited by Connie A. Maglione and Carmen Anthony Fiore, and Micaela di Leonardo’s anthropological study, The Varieties of Ethnic Experience, would have liberated the authors from depending too readily on a Freudian interpretation of the mothers’ unconscious desire to present themselves as martyrs to their husbands. In contrast, these works place the mother in a historical and social situation in Italy out of which such behavior was borne, but not consistently sustained in America.
If Mangione’s and Morreale’s La Storia is an important contribution to the wealth of material published to commemorate the quincentennial, it is equally important as a corrective to the ongoing belief that Italians in general don’t read and have not produced worthy writers. The authors dedicate two chapters to detailing the efforts and success of both male and female Italian/American writers. In contrast to Gay Talese’s recent and infuriating article in The New York Times Book Review (“Where Are the Italian-American Novelists?” March 14, 1993), the authors of La Storia give solid and satisfying evidence of a growing literary tradition among Italian/American authors. In contrast to Talese’s belief in the Italian’s inherent reticence, the authors of La Storia provide the future Italian novelist “with the distinctive advan-tage of listening to tall stories . . . The least educated immigrant was often naturally endowed with a strong gift of narrative that planted the seeds for the offspring’s form of storytelling.” Italian Americans have been absorbing the stories from their ancestors and continue to share their memories with the larger reading public in works of poetry, autobiography, and fiction. La Storia, too, should be shared with the public. It is a full-bodied testimonial to the complexities of one of the largest Euro-descended ethnic groups in America.
Mary Jo Bona
The mystery of nomads
translation in motion
imprint of the vanished
A voluntary disappearance
Essentially pure sacrifices
an unexplainable voyage
The first step tells the story:
they construct masks
tribe have no name
(. . .)
Pasquale Verdicchio, “Between the Desert”
The first person in modern lyrical poetry, both confessional or dramatic, serves to convey many different gestures of different order along with the poet’s multiples selves. From this come the personae that abound in Symbolist and post-Symbolist verse. The mask of the nomad is the most vanishing: it escapes any name and definition, and sets itself as the endless destiny of a pure voyage within the language perceived as a desert, as distance and absence. There is already a tradition of nomadism in modern poetry. Giuseppe Ungaretti and Edmond Jabès among the others have laid the milestones of this tradition in which should be inscribed also Pasquale Verdicchio’s Nomadic trajectories.
While Jabès and Ungaretti knew the African desert, Verdicchio seems to refer to the North American desert and to the nomadic way of life which many of the American Indians followed. The nomadic type of culture offers valuable lessons to the contemporary industrial human being who identifies with an endless series of distracting ideologies and destructive instruments. The industrial human being is in danger of being crushed by the weight of its civilization, and blinded by the perspective of the material achievements in western society. Modern psychoanalysis has discovered a real instinct to migrate as counterpart to the instinct of belonging to a particular land or to a specific people (Imre Hermann). The nomad is “Born under wandering stars” as Verdicchio writes. In fact in mythology the instinct to migrate is often associated with the moon, and the moon stands also for the opposite instict, the need to belong. The tension between these opposite instincts points to an endless search for the beloved. In German the word wandern (wander) is connected to wandeln (change, transform oneself). The nomadic style chooses an “Exile constant/and no place” to preserve the lightness of the spiritual values: the nomad has always “Hands to the heavens” and knows that “A mirage resolves all.”
Verdicchio’s style follows the trail of nomadic trajectories reproduced by the free verse and the shattered lines. On the other hand the intensity and the rythmn of his reasoning is so pressing that it can be expressed simultaneously in small pieces of prose-poetry. As he writes: “Heather labyrinth grows, higher than; it does and obscures. Any trace, any way out. The labyrinth decides its own weakness.”
University of Oregon
Great literary biographies rise above the documentary nature of their times to become works of literature. One need not go all the way back to Vasari for an example. I think of Maria Bellonci on Lucrezia Borgia, and to a lesser degree Julia Cartwright on Beatrice d’Este or Troyat on Chekhov. These books succeed partly by their imaginative prose and an almost novelistic empathy with their subjects. By such a measure, Irene Musillo Mitchell’s averred of Corrado Ricci’s two volumes on Beatrice Cenci falls flat. Like Ricci’s biography, it is honest, workmanlike and subjective. The book has some good moments, but again like Ricci, the language lapses too easily into the pedantic.
It is perhaps fitting in the Year of the Woman that Beatrice Cenci’s sixteenth-century life of parental abuse reminds us of how modern her story really is. In her way, she was emotionally prescient. It would take America, for example, four hundred more years to bring into the open the ongoing occurrences of parental incest.
In her biography of Beatrice Cenci, Ms. Mitchell carefully documents the early abuses of a wealthy Roman nobleman, Francesco Cenci. He is ruthless about money, sodomizes young boys, is guilty of not taking care of the simple needs of his family, and after the death of his first wife, of maltreating women. Today we might think of him as having a borderline personality disorder, but at that time he was known simply as a man of “violent disposition.”
Trouble with Beatrice begins when he holds his eighteen-year old daughter and his new wife virtual prisoners in a castle in the remote Abruzzi mountains near the town of Petrella del Salto. He continues to command Beatrice to rub or scrape his corpulent nude body, which is frequently covered with mange due to long periods of incarceration for “nefarious vice.” It is a pattern of sexual abuse that the father set-up years before.
As in many tragedies of today, Beatrice’s letters and calls for help are not taken seriously leading not to plot with the castellen (and others) in having her father murdered.
A plea of incest by Beatrice’s lawyer is ignored by Clement VIII who is determined to use the Cenci as an example of children who commit parricide. Beatrice, her older brother, and stepmother confess under torture and are put to death.
While Ricci accuses Beatrice’s lawyer of not having enough faith in the incest charge, and too much interest in the proceedings rather than “conviction” for his subject, he falls too easily into the same trap. Whether or not the rape or attempted rape actually took place, his comments frequently appear naive and dated: “Nothing has ever indicated . . . he (Francesco) performed any shameful actions on the person of his own children . . . the lack was not due to any scruples in his character but to the natural and general repugnance of the fusion of ones own blood which preserves brothers and sisters, parents and offspring from incestuous contacts . . .”
Unlike Ricci, who was a male writing at the turn of the century, Mitchell has the sensitivity not to rule out the possibility of incest. “Given . . . Francesco’s indecent sleeping arrangement (in the same room near his daughter’s bed) . . . Beatrice’s revolting . . . task of scraping her father nightly; and most significantly, Francesco’s unconscionable character . . . it is not unthinkable that the perverted Francesco attempted to have relations with his beautiful daughter.”
Observations like this in Mitchell’s book make me wish there were more.
Mitchell is good at introducing new information taken from the Valentini/Bacchiani biography Beatrice Cenci, Un Intrigo Del Cinquecento, published in Italian in 1981, such as Beatrice’s relationship with the poet Margherita Sarrocchi Birago and her distant cousin Marion Guerra. Her book, however, is mainly based on Ricci’s exhaustive work of 1923.
The author is also thorough in explaining the legend of Beatrice Cenci and literature written about her through the centuries. Several residents today in Petrella, unfamiliar with the history, speak of Cenci legend often confusing the facts. Even the facts are changing. When the little church of Santa Maria (now called Chiesa Parrocchiale) was being renovated in 1988 in Petrella, it was discovered that Ricci had been wrong about the position of Francesco’s crypt.
But despite these details, Beatrice Cenci will be remembered less for her legend than for her social and psychological significance in women’s experience. Surely she was and is a phenomenon. Her courage in confronting an all male tribunal, her determination to defend her body and her freedom as a sacred rite, her final dignity in facing an unfair sentence, four hundred years later, make her story a peculiarly modern one. I wish Mitchell’s book had been better at showing us why.
Quest’opera articolata e complessa si basa fondamentalmente su tre piani di ricostruzione storica. Come scrive Rudolph J. Vecoli nella presentazione questo lavoro “integra con grande perizia la storia dell’immigrazione, la storia delle donne e la storia dei sistemi di welfare” (7).
La scelta di parlare delle donne immigrate e delle contraddizioni che esse incontrano nel loro inserimento sociale e all’interno delle loro famiglie, dove non di rado sono vittime delle violenze più brutali è doppiamente coraggiosa. Da un lato infatti la studiosa occupandosi delle donne immigrate basa la sua ricerca, oltrechè su un concetto di classe, anche su quello di gender che l’ha aiutata a vedere “gli immigrati come soggetti sociali attivi nel mutamento sociale: non più prigionieri di una cultura fissa, impermeabile agli stimoli esterni, o vittime di un progetto di americanizzatore loro estraneo” (12). In secondo luogo Tirabassi rilevando e rivelando le contraddizioni e le brutalità pertinenti al nucleo familiare degli immigrati italiani tende a distruggere certi stereotipi a proposito della famiglia italiana e dimostra che il processo di americanizzazione è stato, nella maggior parte dei casi, elemento di emancipazione per le donne delle comunità italiane immigrate.
In particolare il libro si apre con un’analisi dei mutamenti che si verificano all’interno della welfare history a proposito del concetto di assistenzialismo: si verifica infatti il passaggio da una mentalità filantropica ad una più professionale secondo cui la condizione dell’assistito diviene oggetto di indagine su un piano “sociale.” I diversi aspetti della vita dell’assistito mettevano in contatto gli operatori del settore con istituzioni quali la scuola, l’ospedale la clinica, il tribunale ecc. Si riusciva ad avere così un quadro individualizzato e complessivo di quello che veniva chiamato il case work, la raccolta dei cui materiali costituisce gran parte delle riflessioni di Tirabassi. Proprio l’analisi del case work, permette da un lato di comprendere le modalità di intervento dell’istituzione, dall’ altro di avere uno spaccato di un particolare settore dell’immigrazione italiana negli Stati Uniti” (15). Intimamente legato a questo aspetto è quello della nascita del social work che da puramente volontaristico diviene vera e propria professione la cui nascita in tal senso può essere datata nel 1921 con la fondazione dell’ American Association of Social Work. Le social workers sono soprattutto donne di cultura anglosassone che si trovano ad essere escluse dal processo produttivo. Gli anni presi in esame da Tirabassi sono quelli che vanno dal 1912 al 1939 con particolare interesse per il periodo 1924-1939. Il 1924 è l’anno di fondazione degli International Institutes, elemento centrale della ricerca. Il 1939 segna l’inizio della seconda guerra mondiale e conseguentemente un nuovo ciclo dei problemi etnici e di emigrazione negli Stati Uniti.
Grazie soprattutto a Terry Bremer che aveva maturato una lunga esperienza di lavoro come social worker si verifica il passaggio dagli YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association), fondati nella seconda metà dell’ottocento, agli International Institutes. Il programma degli istituti, almeno inizialmente, è rivolto soprattutto alle donne straniere e la sua “filosofia” è basata sulla “creazione di donne” nel senso di uno sviluppo della loro personalità che tenga conto delle radici etnico-culturali secondo la tradizione del social case work, ampiamente praticato negli istituti. Proprio la valorizzazione delle culture etniche a svantaggio della specificità di genere è quello che determinerà la definitiva separazione tra YWCA e International Institutes nel 1933. Lo scopo degli Istituti era quello “di aiutare gli immigrati nell’adattamento finchè non si integravano in gruppi. L’utenza degli istituti era ormai composta da una grossa percentuale di uomini, ragazzi e vecchi oltre che da donne e ragazze. Inoltre l’unità a cui prestare servizio era la famiglia o l’intera comunità nazionale, mentre per la YWCA continuava ad essere la singola donna o ragazza” (66). È pertanto che l’interesse di Tirabassi si rivolge agli istituti come elemento di analisi e scandaglio del concetto di americanizzazione che ne sta alla base. Il programma di americanizzazione infatti aveva come obiettivo il “felice inserimento degli immigrati nella società americana” (95). Comune agli istituti era l’idea dell’inserimento degli immigrati nella società americana mantenendo valori ed istituzioni del paese di appartenenza quali famiglia, religione, tradizioni ecc. La conoscenza dei valori culturali delle varie comunità e delle tecniche del case work, di cui gli istituti erano particolarmente esperti, consentivano di raggiungere risultati nuovi e di grande interesse. Il caso dell’insegnante che racconta per scritto la sua storia (127-29) mostra al di là del conflitto generazionale nel rapporto tra madre e figlia, come il processo di americanizzazione abbia rappresentato in alcuni casi un elemento di emancipazione per alcune categorie di donne. Questo, come altri esempi di cui si tratta nel libro, mostra inoltre il tipo di rapporto che si era venuto costruendo tra social worker e immigrate. Tale rapporto come scrive Tirabassi costituisce “il principale oggetto di questo studio” (213). Da ciò emerge la complessità delle dinamiche che regolano il funzionamento degli istituti a seconda che prevalga l’elemento di classe, di etnia o di gender. Se sotto il profilo di classe questo evidenzia una caratteristica paternalistica da cui emerge un tentativo di controllo sociale, sotto quello etnico il discorso si fa più complesso. Spesso nel lavoro degli Istituti il tentativo di sviluppare una crescita della personalità delle donne si scontra con il tradizionalismo familiare delle comunità immigrate.
Ed è proprio il terzo elemento, quello di gender, che, attivando dinamiche di solidarietà al femminile, costituisce un elemento di emancipazione. Nonostante che, come rileva Tirabassi, sia “il meno esplicitato a livello teorico, . . . perchè è possibile coglierlo solo dalla prassi quotidiana del lavoro svolto negli istituti . . .” (214) diviene elemento promotore di pluralismo culturale. Tirabassi non esclude risultati contraddittori che vengono valutati di volta in volta, ma certamente rifiuta una visione della filosofia degli istituti come puramente strumentale. Piuttosto vede in queste istituzioni uno strumento che ha facilitato l’inserimento degli immigrati nella società americana rispettando le culture e le tradizioni delle comunità immigrate anche negli anni del predominio dell’idea della “melting pot.” Un libro quello di Tirabassi che unisce alla ricchezza della documentazione e all’apporto di discipline e punti di vista diversi tra loro una passione ed un interesse per le vicende femminili nel contesto americano degli anni ’20 e ’30 che rappresentano non solo un tassello della storia degli Stati Uniti, ma fanno anche riflettere sullo sviluppo successivo del pensiero femminista e delle sue elaborazioni.
Marco Fraticelli’s Voyeur offers both short lyrics and haiku. The haiku are richly embedded in the middle two sections of this four-section gathering. In the Prologue to his collection Fraticelli vividly presents a persona addressed as “you,” who boards the bus to Vancouver, wishing to escape his past. All he has with him is a photo album. While he picks over the album, “like a child picking at a scab,” he realizes he will never escape his memories.
Instants is the first section of eighteen pieces, mostly short lyrics, dating from 1972-1978. It is interesting to note how the sharply minimalist insights interact with the even more compressed haiku-like poem. I quote:
In Your Bed
I am the left hand
of the Renoir nude
and you are her hair
flowing through my
softly like a stream.
Crouched like a black cat
at the edge of my bed
Note the contrast in tone and picture: the soft fluency of the lyric, the ominous focus of the apparent haiku. The double theme of love and separation interact like this throughout the book as in a fugue, technique becomes obbligato.
In Night Coach our dream-filled journey continues, consisting of fifty-three haiku. There are neither titles nor frequency of figures of speech, but the same Fraticelli voice is heard. See the following (from Night Coach 1980-1990):
my hand on your bare leg
your sleeping face awakens
rainy vacant lot
a billboard continues to peel
After the Wake is a sequence, thirty haiku not previously published. Fraticelli continues “shedding his skin like a snake,” while he studies and discards photographed scenes and memories. There are tensions between living and dying, lovemaking and alienation. The tone is ironical, or self-mocking. For instance (from After the Wake 1991):
morning of the funeral
I peel a hard-boiled egg.
Voyeur is the fourth and last section. The eighteen poems are in the time honored tradition of love poems. And the personae, male or female, are seen in their changing occupations: painter, photographer, worker for the blind, burglar, etc. Note the sharp edge of loneliness, affection, and surrender. For example (from Voyeur 1991):
The Pet Shop
He has just begun to talk to the cages
the way that new parents
babble to their children
Trapped behind the cash register
and slipping on sawdust
he tenderly caresses
and feeds his prisoners
before selling them like slaves
for Valentine gifts.
In closing, I would like to quote the Epilogue in full, which gives the tone of the book and the fine line Fraticelli walks between reality and dream:
Lately, I have been having a recurring dream. I am sitting cross-legged in a field. The trees surrounding me are in autumn colours.
In slow motion, thousands of bits of paper and pieces of photographs begin drifting down like snowflakes. I reach out to touch them but they dissolve in my hand like ashes. I stick out my tongue to catch one and its taste is not as bitter as I’d feared.
I have written of haiku. I have said nothing of senryu. Senryu is this ancient form with a human focus rather than a nature focus. Several of Fraticelli’s haiku are really stunning senryu, sometimes humorous, sometimes sad.
The diary of the heart of course, is about our old friends, the Japanese poem-and-prose diary called the haibun. The haibun is ostensibly the account of a journey, in which haiku is enmeshed in a prose narrative. That Fraticelli handles all these concepts and techniques so gracefully in this bright, sad book is a testament to his veteran talent as a leading Canadian haikuist. Voyeur, an experiment that works, speaks for all of us.
This Guernica book is number 40 in the lively publisher’s “Essential Poets Series.” The volume is a model of book-workmanship: art work, photography, format design, generous spacing, all functioning together to bring the intelligent reader the book as a living experience. Marco Fraticelli’s trip, along the highways of his heart, is first class.
West Lafayette, Indiana
From Thucydides to Edward Freeman and Roman Roland who compared the ancient cities of Sicily to the “cities of America where populations of the world were poured into a pot never to truly melt,” many have written histories of Sicily. Now we have a history seen through the eyes of three characters whose conversations bring to life the history of the Holy Inquisition. It is all done in a good Sicilian tradition much like Elio Vittorini’s Conversations in Sicily and in the manner of the late Leonardo Sciascia who I suspect Mr. Messina has read and learned from.
At the beginning we are introduced to Master Giurlannu who could not believe that they wanted to take “the Holy Inquisition away from us.”
Giurlannu is eighty years old. His life has gone by like the century he lived in, but he carried his age well. He is a jolly man from Girgenti. His tailor shop in Palermo was a school where great discipline reigned but you didn’t only learn the art of tailoring you also learned how to behave, how to live with others, how to be respected; in his workshop you became a man.
Uncle Cola who has a shop in the Vucciria—the Palermo street-market—is the second partner in the conversion. Uncle Cola, ten years younger than Giurlannu, is a pure Palermitan. He is a match maker with a good conscience because he has never arranged a bad marriage. The third conversationalist is Turi. He is in his fifties and has never been married. He is from Caltanisetta. He has come to see Uncle Cola who is looking for a wife for him who, Uncle Cola exclaims, “you are man who can afford more than one wife.”
The three men are horrified that the Holy Inquisition will soon be abolished. They reminisce about the Spanish rule in Sicily which, they maintain, brought stability, morality and law and order to Sicily. How dare they imagine a Sicily without an Inquisition, without Spain and its Kings. They blame the horror of a Sicily without an Inquisition on the French. Giurlannu bemoans, “that cursed fellow Voltaire” who could not keep his atheism to himself, whose doctrines have done more damage than Luther. “Filth filth. He spread filth and yet there are people who look for his books and are crazy for anything coming from France.”
The three men go on to describe with loving detail past heretics burned at the stake; Brother Diego La mattina, of Racalmuto, who killed the inquisitor with the manacles that held him to the wall. This prompted the narrator to mention that after this all prisoners were not chained to the wall but sat chained to chairs while being interrogated.
They reminisce about past auto da fes that were like festivals in which everyone carried a morsel of wood to contribute to the fire. Now (1780) there are plenty of people fit to be burned but they get away with simple whiplashes, the three complain.
Abolishing the Inquisition, will be the loss of hundreds of jobs, Uncle Cola warns. Many good families will be impoverished.
And the women Giurlannu adds, “They’ve become worst then men . . . Once they were prudent, they were a check. Now they are once again the cause all evil.”
“We need the gallows, the Inquisition.” They conclude.
But on March 16, the Inquisition is done away with. Fortunately Giurlannu has died by then and two others accept the fact the narrator concludes:
The Palermatins began to hold popular festivities at Villa Giulia; where the trees that fed on the ashes of the fires of the Holy Inquisition offered seclusion to young couples and lovers, overflowing with life.
And in time nobody spoke any more of the Holy Inquisition.
After turning the last page one is left with the feeling that the ghost of Giurlannu still haunts the world.
This fascinating imagined conversation around the plea, “Sicilians want the Inquisition,” can be seen as a distant semaphore sent to our own times.