The young writer and poet Flavio Santi talks about himself, his work and his relationship with his Friulano origins.
It must be very satisfying to be considered one of the most promising and talented writers in Italian literature at age thirty. But perhaps it can cause feelings of uneasiness or pressure. This is not the case for Flavio Santi, who is living this golden moment of his so far brief but intense literary career with great humility and with a wisdom that is typical of minds that are more mature and worldly. Poet, translator, novelist, and critic: these are the diverse facets of Santi, who manages to express himself at such a high level thanks mainly to his writing, but also to an uncommon capacity for observation and criticism.
How does it feel to be considered by critics as one of the most interesting and promising young writers on the Italian literary scene?
I am very flattered, of course. But this tickling of one’s narcissistic ego is almost immediately replaced by a sense of inanity, of sloth: the awareness of how Italian criticism is so often deceptive or determined by extra-literary circumstances or motives. For example, the right friendships and contacts, the exchange of reviews, etc. Otherwise there is no explanation for the difficulties encountered by extraordinary poets like Amedeo Giacomini or Antonio Camaioni or by novelists of great value like Franco Cordero. We have had noteworthy victims in the past as well: Massimo Ferretti, Pier Antonio Quarantotti Gambini, Piero Chiara.
Poet and novelist. How do you approach these expressive forms that are so diverse and how much does poetry affect your fiction and vice-versa?
I feel like a fiction writer. The first thoughtful and decent things that I wrote, apart from the usual poetic junk written at age 13-14, came out in prose at age 19 and ended up in Diario a bordo di una rosa (Log Book of a Rose), which is a text that can be defined as lyric prose – and therefore, poetry. I’m afraid it’s a question of concentration and condensation: poetry dries up, prose broadens. Maybe Pasolini was right: prose is poetry that is not poetry.
A poem of yours in Friulano appeared in the January-March issue of the magazine Nuovi Argomenti and Marsilio published Rimis te sachete. In terms of content and musicality, what does it mean for you to write poetry in Friulano?
Friulano is the language of my father, it’s the language of the geographical place that I love the most and that I therefore hate the most. Mine was an anthropological choice in a way: in Friuli Friulano is spoken, I grew up surrounded by this language, which through the years kind of sedimented inside of me. I was like a stratified stone. And so I began logging and extraction.
Rimis te sachete is the result of a Friulano that confronts itself with Jimi Hendrix, the Beat generation, and the cinema of Lynch, but also with the earthquake of 1976 and the death of Pasolini. Is there then a Friulano language that follows the times, which can still be alive, new and lively and not subjected to useless and painful debates?
I chose the language of those who live in Friuli today, who watch television, who use Internet and cell phones. But I feel like it is becoming exhausted. It is dying. My units of measure were the new generations. Up until that of my brother (born in ’77), it was spoken regularly. Recently I have noticed that the latest generations have a lot of difficulty in speaking it. A language can therefore exhaust itself. This is why I decided to write a second collection in Friulano, which will be gloomy and funereal, and then abandon Friulano. This was Pasolini’s great intuition, when he decided in 1975 to rewrite La meglio gioventu (The Best Youth): in dialect you can only conceive of two collections, one proactive and hopeful, the other destructive and disenchanted. The Circolo Culturale di Meduno is about to publish some excerpts from this second collection.
Diario di Bordo della rosa is set in Planvischis, a mysterious, undefined place in Friuli. How did this choice come about?
Planvischis comes from Platischis, an actual place near Taipana, in the Carnic Pre-Alps. But Planvischis is Caporiacco, the town where I spend my summers. The facts of Planvischis refer to Caporiacco, even the names are very often the same. Certain ludic-sexual sermons were in vogue in Caporiacco . . .
At Pordenonelegge.it you were at a conference that grouped together ten of the best Italian poets in their thirties. What is the state of health of new Italian poetry?
There are good poets, especially among those in their forties and fifties. D’Elia just published an important and decisive book, Bassa Stagione (Low Season). Then there are Magrelli, Riccardi, Albinati, are all poets who deal with real, contemporary situations. This demonstrates how important it is that poetry gets out of the ghetto, that it doesn’t close itself off, but that is has a constant and perhaps even political dialogue with today’s reality. Maybe this tension is missing a bit in the thirty-year-olds, who are good at doing their homework, yes, but lack cognitive hunger and rage. For example, quantum mechanics, cybernetics, and neuroscience are all spheres that poetry will have to explore.
How do you manage to reconcile criticism, translation and writing with points of reference that differ greatly among themselves, from Friulano to Latin, from Celan to Pessoa?
I always thought of literature as a continuous circulation, without castrating divisions. My models are the polygraphs and we must go back in time through the centuries: Dante, Petrarch, Poliziano, Goethe, Victor Hugo, but also Manzoni, Foscolo, Alfieri. The last polygraph was Pasolini, who not by chance, is my visceral model. I am voracious. I see it with food and with sex. I think that the same is true for literature, if writing is living.
Friulano and northern literature seem to be experiencing a golden moment with the explosion of writers like Tullio Avedo, Mauro Covacich, Valentina Brunettin, Alberto Garlini, Giulio Mozzi and many others. Is there a common characteristic to this literature?
It’s the confirmation of a centuries-old tradition: from Ruzzanti and Goldoni, through to Nievo, Saba, Slataper, Svevo, etc. It is a literature of things, mainly, of things placed in a relationship with the other that is above all moral.
Your writing is defined as obsessive, visionary, tense, shouted, and so on. How do you define it?
I hate definitions. However, I can tell you what I would like to achieve with writing: the blind and desperate sound of things. I really feel the precariousness of writing, I wish there were a sense of mission, of sacrifice.
What are you working on now?
I would like to begin my third novel, but I have been vampirized by my second one, which combines the material of a Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa with that of Philip Dick. A kind of fantasy-thriller. Shortly, a booklet in Friulano will be coming out. I really should organize my poems in Italian, with a long poem about a kind of disenchanted present-day clone of Leopardi. I should also gather together my essays on the 20th century. And prepare a collection of short stories. I would also like to begin my fourth novel right away. I would like to, I should . . . perhaps then I’ll die tomorrow, who knows?
Translated by Berenice Cocciolillo
First published in Il Nuovo Friuli, n. 48/134, December 12, 2003.