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To relieve the world and my own kind

“We shall be listening as pilgrims / at the crossroads between stars and clods of earth / where the elusive whispers / and darts elsewhere”. Thus, in Le giovani parole, Mariangela Gualtieri invites us to emerge from the same old story of suffering. Her fifth collection published by Einaudi (2015) is a book that dares to address the joy of the world.

Although the language of poetry, as Agamben writes, developed in the 20th century, it develops in the force field between the hymn, whose content is celebration, and the elegy, whose content is the lament, this is poetry which dares to express the “wonder of feeling good, a hymn that contains “the ancient musical vibrance / perhaps the first, when from the motionless darkness / through brimming happiness / a throw made a graft on Creation”.

Here is the code, no longer current, of Mariangela’s poetry, as in her preceding collection, which we in the West have lost. It is a term that bears a lofty theological shelf-mark: “Sacred Scripture” is what she calls poetry. And it is with the sacred that the poet builds a bridge, “to relieve the world and my own kind”, as she writes. This is the great task, as Simone Weil expressed it, that of “being nothing other than bridges”, mediators between man and God, between one human being and another, between man and the secret rules of nature.

It is poetry which picks the high law that operates in the stars, just as in the wings of an insect – but does so “beautifully”.

Here is the key to that simple style cited on the back cover, which should be understood radically as that unity which constitutes our vocation and our supreme good.

For Mariangela, it is the “concordance of being with all the rest” in a Franciscan simplicitas which in the world’s song of celebration combines care for the world and all its creatures.

Here paying attention, to cite Cristina Campo, perhaps attains “its purest form, its most exact name: it is the responsibility, the ability to respond on behalf of something or someone, which nourishes in equal measure poetry, the understanding among human beings and the opposition to evil; to oppose evil, to name good. “Which”, Weil continues, “is alone ‘sacred’ to man”.

However, this is not enough. The poetry of Mariangela who, together with Cesare Ronconi, founded the Teatro Valdoca, “wants breath, saliva, body and voice. It wants to come out of the dust of the written page… to drip from a mouth that bears a clear imprint of the land in which she was born, the bread she has eaten, the wine she has drunk”. It wants “to become music”. It is the uniqueness of a poet who was born reading Rilke aloud during rehearsals in the theatre.

It was Ronconi who asked her to read the Duino Elegies over the microphone, more and more slowly, while the actors warmed up; until the disappearance of the self which speaks and the appearance of the self which remembers.

Then there is the school of poetry which Valdoca set up at Cesena, the meeting with some of the most important contemporary figures of our times, and an impenetrable passage of existence, a crossing of the desert from which Mariangela emerges with the gift of her verses, almost as if dictated by another force. She produced Antenata (Crocetti, 1992), which gives a voice and vertical language to the Teatro Valdoca in a ritual of consignment which endures over time, the composition of verses on a body, a voice, poetry incarnated rather than spoken, a breath (pnèuma, ruach) captured.

There is a precise relationship between the “anti-narrative and a-projectual” theatre of Teatro Valdoca and Gualtieri’s poetic words. “The theatre”, Mariangela wrote, “is a most beautiful rite for poetry: there is a small community that listens and there is a living presence that emits sound and words. Lastly, there the verses do not reach you from the written page but are heard, together with others, and this is what makes the difference.

Today it is what nourishes her essentials, the very frequent “sonorous rites”, such as the most recent one, Bello mondo.

Poetry spoken aloud, spoken or rather re-membered from memory (par coeur / by heart), in order “to enter into the music of my verses and keep the words in the state in which they were born”.

The apprenticeship to this form of speaking releases the words from the narrow mental cage. It makes them fragrant as if they were composed here and now, as if here and now they passed through those who spoke them and listened to them, making possible through a double release a song of celebration and grace, that of the I who writes and of the voice that speaks, not reading, but, precisely, a sonorous rite. It is a rite because it “reactivates that symbol which is the word”, as Gualtieri wrote, and is sonorous because it is through the oral/aural that it is possible to make the depths of each person enter into resonance.

The amplification which allows them a particular “state of breathing, of listening and of the mind is fundamental in order to enter into the melody of the verses to find their rhythm, to enter better into the immense sonorous architecture which the microphone, like the ancient cathedrals, contains”.

As regards ritual, every reading of Mariangela has the exact care of the liturgy, that “freely given splendour, delicate excess, more necessary than merely useful”, and regulated by “harmonious forms and rhythms”.

The spectator’s experience is that of a rite of healing from his or her “hard incrustations”.

It is a catharsis in the deepest sense which Mariangela has fathomed in recounting her work for the trilogy of Valdoca, Paessaggio con fratello rotto: “Everything in those rehearsals led me to weep. I then rediscovered this weeping on the faces of many spectators. It was not the inward-turning weeping of self-identification but rather the weeping of pietas. It was a cleansing which purified me from the many bloody words and images which the world screamed at me at almost all the time”. As for the temporary community gathered in listening, it offered a possible transfiguration of the “pain in piety and of the piety in atoning energy”.

Lorella Barlaam




St. Peter’s Square

Jan. 18, 2020