The natural landscape encounters the human landscape: Umberto Piersanti

Roberto Marconi, literary critic, educator

Faithful to himself and to his poetry, in his recent works especially Piersanti guides us in unforgettable journeys. Starting out from the titles – “I luoghi persi” (“Lost Places”) (1994 and republished in 2022), “L’albero delle nebbie” (“The Tree of Mists”) (2008), “Nel folto dei sentieri” (“Deep in the Pathways”) (2015), “Campi d’ostinato amore” (“Fields of Stubborn Love”) (2020) – he takes us by the hand to leave us on his Cesane hills, afoot. As he writes, “he who knows not where to go / does better to walk”. The experience of nature (accompanied by meticulous bestiaries, botanical varieties, mythical characters) and history (conversations with Umberto Piersanti always include historical narratives) and loved ones (among the many, his son: “perfect and designed / whom evil offends / but does not bend”): these are the beloved themes that the poet wants to convey. As attentive readers now acknowledge, he has always been an enquirer into topical areas and crucial figures. He uses words to paint the places he has known; it could not be otherwise since memory, of the “stubborn” sort, “nourishes the day” and is “tenacious in giving a meaning / to each thing”. Every time the verse is quick to begin a new line, in an extended song; as a whole it creates a singularly poetical prose which compensates – in the breathing (a breath for each line), – for the “sedimentation” of experiences and, on the other hand, enriches the poverty of country places. He carefully, almost meticulously, commits his writing to the page, concerned not to let substantial situations slip away, since “one day of our life is not like another”.
He is no hurry at all, far from it; he retraces his steps, he slows down, sometimes “the foot / constrains him”, he stops, reflects, traverses back and forth across his memory (in nearly all the poems), he must necessarily fix the duration, draw on memories in order to counteract the anxiety of whatever flows, overwhelms and leads to oblivion. His more frenetic days leave fewer memories and he finds the time to record his visions. Almost like Ungaretti, he feels the need to date every poem, not just so as to form a sort of autobiographical diary, but also to reveal how time flows and leaves in its wake, as it were, puddles of memory: the sea of memory allows this poet to remain afloat and the waters are like eternal words. Thus every work of the poet engages in a continuous process of reasoning on landscape which, fatally, encounters the human landscape, and in the transition from the page to the public presentation Piersanti’s train of thought finds its vital, substantive endorsement. Tenacity to life as against the effort of living: it is this which ultimately distinguishes his art. Umberto Piersanti is indisputably one of the most important contemporary poets, and his “Luoghi Persi” (“Lost Places”) takes its rightful place in the history of Italian poetry. To write poetry you need to have read what has been produced over the centuries, and listening to Umberto is a little like reading the poetry of the twentieth century, and not just the Italian.