Pier Paolo Pasolini occupies a unique place in the history of Italian art, he was both a filmmaker and a painter, but foremost he was a poet. When he rarely appeared on television to promote one of his films, the concentration of his conversation was poetry; not even exclusively his own, (Pasolini adored the works of Ezra Pound).
Pasolini’s first collection published in the United States was an interesting one. Roman Poems collects the pieces Pasolini wrote after his move to Rome, and presents the fruition of his style. Considered by critics to be Italy’s best civil poet, it is in this volume that Pasolini blends his politics with a self-reflection rivaled only by the confessional poets of the 1950s. Roman Poems was published in the U.S. by City Lights, the publisher and champion of such beat works as Howl and Naked Lunch, and it seems here that the controversy continues when they published the politically radical and homosexual Pasolini.
A Sentimental Education is the premiere example of what was Pasolini’s latest incarnation. The poet reflects [I say poet because I believe it is best to separate the aesthetics of Pasolini for this essay] on his life growing-up from child to adulthood. But the piece is not entirely self reflective, he often engages the reader for an opinion or reflection:
“It’s not love. But by what standard am I guilty
Of not transforming my affections into love?”[Page 61]
As rhetorical as the lines may seem, it is their break that re-enforces the former proposition. Pasolini takes one thought, but structures the lines so that the first appears almost as it’s own complete thought. He therefore propositions his readers twice to engage with him in the exercise. The technique emotes an insecurity, a self-evasiveness that scorned Italy in the wake of the Second World War. Even his emotional content becomes steeped in the political upheaval of the times. In fact, a further line from the same poem reads quite overtly:
“there was anarchy
in the new already wretched bourgeoisie,”[page 63].
And it is this that he relates to his political awakening as a teenager. As a poet, a civil poet, Pasolini assumes the role of spokesperson for the working class of Italy, whom he surrounded himself with, never being a man of wealth himself.
These crossovers define the work in Roman Poems, in this text Pasolini voices his concerns, dreams, and observations of Italy, through a confessional format, finally bridging the gap between poet and audience. At this point it is best to introduce the other kind of poem in Roman Poems, the poem of existential crisis. The poems that were intended to be strictly confessional though the confessor’s tales carry with them his political anxieties. Unlike the epic length poems such as A Sentimental Education in Roman Poems, these pieces are brief, and also appear infrequently. The cause for this is open to speculation, but the penning of Roman Poems coincides with a shift in Pasolini’s filmic style, and a change of residencies. Pasolini the activist is opening up, he is transforming from political orator, to human poet [though this analogy may be an extreme one, it illustrates the extremes with which Pasolini lived].
Of the work collected in Roman Poems, The Song Of The Bells is the least political and most reflexive of Pasolini the man. Two nouns a line, and a syllabic pattern make this piece also one of the more accessible, for his long political pieces are very rarely as whimsical. The Song Of The Bells also illustrates more so than the political poems. His confessional pieces find their reflection in the physical description of Pasolini’s environment.
“When evening loses itself in the mountains
my village is a confused color”[page 137].
Observe how clearly and minimally Pasolini illustrates his vision and by proxy emotes himself. His versatility, as far as criticism goes, is highly under rated.
Pasolini’s death in 1975, prompted Kenneth Anger to speculate that there are no films going to be made worth watching, and no poetry worth singing. The international influence afforded Pasolini via his City Lights publication is immeasurable. It is often believed that with his murder, Italy lost its most important poet of the 20th century.
Note: all references to page numbers are from the City Lights edition of Roman Poems.