The poet comes from a family of artists, musicians and artistic decorators and from his childhood he has lived a life involving concerts, exhibitions and artists’ studios. He keeps his own studies in philosophy and literature wholly separate from his readings in world literature and his personal way of treating the poetic line. He has published a number of anthologies of contemporary writers.
At age 32 he published his first novel, The Green Loves, with the literary publisher Arpa of Milan. It had considerable acclaim from literary critics and won the Lombardy Region Prize in 1972. This novel, written when the author was 25, represents the starting point of his specifically literary life: his representation of society and the quality of his personal technique reveal him as a writer free of any dogmatic scheme or passing mode.
The publisher begins by saying “Whoever opens this book shouldn’t imagine they’ll find, as they might have been led to believe by the title, an easy-read novel of romance. Instead they’ll find a work showing real dedication involved in its creation and its great depth and complexity need to be approached with time and attention while at the same time taking into account certain important features.
The prose is a noteworthy example of the ‘hermetic’ contemporary style where the syntax is freed of the usual grammatical rules and the logical connection is free and spontaneous flowing straight from the ‘I’ of the author without adhering to the traditional patterns of thought. The words are thus freed of their usual semantic meaning and take on an impressionistic value and so more than merely describing happenings move in images calling up sensations, suggestions, visions and expressive relationships previously unknown. Adjectives and adverbs are used with an analogical criteria very different from that of traditional usage and if on occasion they follow conceptual transpositions which can be easily grasped by the reader, on other occasions they remain individual, personal and ‘hermetic’.
The author, who is gifted with a notable linguistic ability such that he is capable of producing a prose that is particularly effective, wins all round with its powerful formal realization. The description of a situation, given with such intensity and vigour through the use of broken and divergent phraseology approached from different angles, is particularly vivid.
In other pages we note the originality of the descriptive technique which could be compared to that of a film director: the camera focuses on a whole scene then, suddenly, zooms in on a particular detail as the centre of attention. Ferrante uses this technique to increase the dimensions of the normal aspects of an action or object so as to render it striking and enormous in being so greatly enlarged. In this way Ferrante concentrates on the unusual and less pleasant aspects of things and uses an analytical method which goes beyond that of impressively used, biting irony and seems almost at times that of a sadistic vivisection. …”
The author began his second novel and at the same time started to condense in short, essential poems the particular feelings, meetings and facts of the Italian ‘Years of Lead’ sublimated and stylised through his own figurative and literary knowledge, but still apart from literary fashions.
With the publisher Vincenzo Lo Faro of Rome he published, in the series ‘Prize’, a poetry collection entitled The Alabaster Dream where his knowledge of the figurative arts was transposed into short, tight verses which move forward through increasingly complex constructions, but once again standing apart from the external ‘fashionable’ influences taken up by many.
For the publisher The Alabaster Dream “… is immediately seen to be rich in inventiveness and fancy. The book has three parts which are firmly connected by a subtle lyricism which reveals how the themes of meetings, reality, men, and the repercussions alternate and filter into the play of a wider poetical statement which is wholly taken up in stylistic investigations in verses which are drawn into hermetic implications.
The poems are without titles and the theme implicit. From the first to the third part there is a poetic and stylistic progression. Ferrante is an experienced poet and the themes he treats don’t come from his reading or a mix of cultures which, although occasionally present, certainly hasn’t flowed into the stylistic features or, even less, followed fashions. The interests are many and diverse and in each one there is a particular attention, a vision which regards man and his future. The existential problems that are observed and confronted and involve strong emotions of love and wonder, are stripped bare by Ferrante who knows how to separate the essential from the waste. From this poetry, almost ossified yet wholly transparent, he sublimates the course and dictates the happenings.
But all the salvific need of man cannot protect him from his fragility and inconstancy. On this undeniable truth he has forged his life …
It is a positive test … full and vital as the copyist who left his register open for new entries and annotations.”
Ferrante’s successive literary work, done mostly in Milan, was affected by the tragic events of the assassination of Aldo Moro and his escort which shook the city and the entire nation. The work was finished and temporarily shelved in the hope of better times. His decision to retire from a public life in order to dedicate himself to his own studies allowed him to remain in a tranquil oasis in the centre of the Park of the Ancient Olives in Puglia where he was able to revise his poetry, the second novel and write new sylloge which would be published later.
The next collection A Pale Night was published by the Gruppo Albatros of Viterbo. The publisher presented the volume as “ … a stage in the journey that the writer wants to tell the reader about: a work that represents reality through the experience of life. The background scenarios are well-defined but undefined, dream-like settings often alternate with these.
The intention of the poet is to make this journey through places which move out of the city and include much bigger landscapes. The sylloge is, in fact, the starting point for a much larger, continuous research project with dream-like representations, in certain cases, of reality.
The lyrics which preface the collection are interesting: Ferrante, using a tone at once ironic and imposing, puts the reader on his guard with regard to the work he is going to read … All the lyrics of the collection have themes which the author often re-proposes. One element is the ‘cry’ which emerges from a dark, silent scenario …
Images of a landscape suspended in an undefined time are often accompanied by the presence of a hawk which flies about the thinly populated places and scenarios …
... The city also acts as a backdrop for a number of poems in A Pallid Night, and shows some of its particular features: the presence of people who walk streets illuminated by neon lights during leaden days in which the world seems ‘stunned’.
In this grey-toned cityscape which appears monotonous and repetitive Gianmaria Ferrante turns to a friend without name or identity, entrusting him with the mystery in which the world is enveloped.
A female figure alternates with the friend and the poet sometimes refers to her: she is a friend too who in certain circumstances he refers to as the solitary friend, and in others takes pleasure in her presence. Her presence is seen as a force, an important presence that remedies “the earth’s blaze”.
The city returns with its features clearer and better defined at the moment the Cathedral is mentioned. It becomes the background for raw images and dramatic tones: the suffocated moan that comes from an “exhausted bundle under the arches”; memories that powerfully re-emerge in the present and the image of a man who decides to commit suicide. Ferrante depicts this last episode in strong language which gives the vision a very powerful impact …
These characters, who live on the margins of society or rather of the city, are flanked by heroes, men who seem to have features which have been consumed by time and come from another epoch …
At a linguistic level the sylloge presents a language that is very refined and precisely chosen ... The poet calls the attention to the lyrics of the great Italian poets, from Hermeticism to Ezra Pound. There are references also to a more classic poetic current, as has been seen previously in the lexical – all are testimony to the great poetical knowledge of Ferrante who with this sylloge combines the different currents in such a way as to give life to a completely personal and original poetry.
The absence of metrical schemes and the use of free verse gives greater importance to each word which in such a way is given a greater charge and meaning.
The present collection, The White City, represents a further step in the widening of Ferrante’s dream-like vision and technical ability to transpose culture, ideas and foresight into a stylised, literary synthesis leading to the limits of the boundaries placed on present reality, the past and a future already opening onto the present.
The White City, together with the works that follow, carry the reader into an ever wider and articulated dimension where vision and the representation of reality, experience and dream-like messages, beginning at a defined place and time, connect with Italy’s illustrious past and move to an uncertain future, reaching a defined city, the entire nation, the Mediterranean and the nether world of our ancestors. The word is born free, concentrated in its true essence, with all its evocative natural force, able in a few phrases to show history, create visions, recall personalities hidden by time and give life to the ineffable picture of the Universal Painter.
Wherever possible, Ferrante avoids literary-political meetings of all kinds. He lives mainly in Rome, Milan, Bergamo and Ostuni. He meets up with young volunteers, the carriers of the new enthusiasm for nature, who have come from all parts of the world to spend brief periods at his biological farm, a precious refuge in an uncontaminated nature. He can be reached at his web-site.
Introduction to The White City
The White City is a clear example of an effective poetical work. It is not just a collection in that it shows in its articulated complexity a thematic unity which is never disconnected from a similarly compact expressive timbre. It forms part of that rich strand of works which, at least in the twentieth century, have been able to give a distinguished role to poetry by fusing in a unified artistic block the narrative-evocative requirements and the powerful components of rhythmic and semantic musicality. The body of the work is divided into three sections entitled A Cry, The Secret, and Flying Rags, which are a testimony to a solid architecture which draws the poet’s lively inspiration into a reasoned structure pregnant with analogical observations and interior linkages.
The background of a city scenographically perfect and solid together with the allusions to a place which is always earthly but at the same time in the mind, create a rarefied atmosphere in which sounds and colours, voices and lights, all implosive and loaded with tension, seem to be always on the point of revealing their own absolute peculiarities and universal meaning with reference to humanity at one point and to nature at another. It is a city without time in which, passing from lyric to lyric, it’s possible to show all possible times by following the fascination suggested by the things presented, by the tiniest almost imperceptible happenings. But time is also the time of history and includes perplexities and losses of the individual who loses his way, the signs and traces, yet refuses the game of reinventing himself, preferring to grasp the nature of a rapid but immense dream, fleeting but solid all the same. (“Time’s sign / returns/ and breaks/ the nocturnal spell.”)
Synaesthesia, in Ferrante’s lyrics, is an undisputed and sublime master producing highly-wrought, intense, passionate verses in which it guides the outpouring and at the same time dictates the vigour of a continuous, pleasing rhythm running with an expansive throbbing. At other times the images are disquietening and unexpectedly horrible and are of a Protean allusiveness which draws with it an almost infinitely long chain of symbols. For example, the verses “the abandoned cradle rocks sluggishly” gives as a counter-image the wagon, which opens up the lyric in terms of a dynamism which is both Orphean and menacing. In other places the reader finds, in the correlations between objects and their perception, that there are dumping grounds which are the equivalent of interior places, full of the realism of bestial violence but at the same time tender in the recall to the elements of the past which, in being depositories of memories, are in strong contrast with each other and also inside themselves.
The oxymoron, more logical than semantic, bringing together death and the breast (in The Singer of Death) returns at various moments creating a luminous attrition of feelings that never hints, however, at trying to resolve the dichotomy of good and evil; in fact they appear as interpenetrating essences without any breaks or borders, which the reader will search in vain for but will discover instead, with pleasure, the absence in the poet of any reductive resolution in a list or formula.
The dream-like dimensions, strongly pictorial and filled with a multitude of allegories, envelop the reader in a maze of images whose harshness is fed from an expert grasp of onomatopoeia. Internal and rhetorical recalls to the signifier, prevalently through consonant-usage, dictate the depth of anguish in the dream and its extremely visual, richly imaginative component. Only at times does the reader note a kind of Pascoli-like up-dating of the wonder felt in front of natural events but in these cases also the negation of ecstatic abandonment is in hiding and never allows the message to become banal.
The poetic material is everywhere re-elaborated, worked in an internal forge which sometimes creates the form and sometimes produces the loss of the same, like the soul of the poet in front of a rude magic; it is, Ferrante seems to suggest, iron more than stone, and stone more than air which is usually presented in terms of wind and not the quality of breathing.
The manifestations of nature also possess the same deep severity. There’s no peaceful abandonment to the calm of the landscape: sunrise and sunset move anthropomorphically, vitalised by a continuous, effective, ever-new, surprisingly original personification. And if occasionally a timid note of the harmony of things sounds in the panorama of the observations, the peacefulness is not of long duration but is interrupted by cracks and shots, the abundant display of an unchallengeable cosmic ferocity. For that the poet very effectively uses figures like Mario, the madman of the rural hut, Ciccio La Sciaia with his powerful, earthy gesture, a monk, the corpse of a drowned man, a gendarme. Or, there is the interior emergence of the armour-bearer who appears from nowhere, frozen in the silence of his own defeat.
The negation of history and story, even if the atmosphere of the “White City” seems in lyric after lyric to make it more palpable and real, coincides with the negation of narration: the ideas are everywhere uniformly evocative, creating visions and sculpturing images which are so brilliant as, at times, to almost overwhelm the capacity of retaining them. But it is a trick, cunningly manoeuvred from the depths of the poetic ‘I’ which knows how to make the specific place the negation of the place of everything, uniting the particular to the universal in a play mixing presence and absence and permitting immersion in a time which is purposefully vague but which is reinvigorated by the breath of an unquiet spirit that reads hidden signs.
There are recurrent references to the breast as the negation of the carrier of sweet nutrient but rather bringing a distorted, sick, horrible life of which the almost continuous presence of the owl is a sign. Then, there is the movement, sometimes limping or tottering, of various, at times, un-named subjects. Finally, there is the archetypical contrast of white and red, lime and petrol, earth and pain. The cyclical return of the portal, shaken by the violence of impetuous winds, should be noted; at times it is the indicator of unreachable destinations, at other times departures and arrivals, or of reclusion.
It is rare to find references to a harmonious shelter, as in “The Song Trembles”. They suggest the value of brief pauses, the traces of memories of D’Annunzio, which can be approached as an example of magical, far-off messages revealed by the group of centuries-old trees which hide in their own whisperings the mysterious secret of their decisions in an impenetrable code of breathing and shadows. Ferrante’s poetry knows how to create the symbol with each choice of word and for that reason implies an almost infinite number of suggestions advantageous to a deep heart that is able to welcome them not with the curiosity of a search for a message but with the wonder of an unveiling of shreds of the Absolute.