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This review is taken from PN Review 77, Volume 17 Number 3, January - February 1991.

NEGATIVE CAPABILITIES Vittorio Sereni, Selected Poems, edited and translated by Marcus Perryman and Peter Robinson (Anvil) £5.95

Recent Italian poetry has had to make its way, in this country at least, against the imposing figures of two Nobel prizewinners (Montale and Quasimodo) and two poets (Saba and Ungaretti) who could just as easily have been similarly honoured. However, with useful selections from Gozzano, Campana, Pavese, Cattafi, Piccolo, Scotellaro, Fortini, Levi, Sanesi and others, we can hardly claim a dearth of opportunities to round out the more general picture of a rich and various tradition. An Anvil volume of Vittorio Sereni is a very welcome addition to this stock of material, extending what was previously a rather skeletal impression, orientated (in Paul Vangelisti's 1971 translations for Red Hill Press, and in The Disease of The Elm, published in 1983, the year of Sereni's death, by The Many Press) towards poems written during his prisoner-of-war years in Algeria. Perryman and Robinson have added more than fifty poems to their Disease of the Elm collection, from which it becomes clear that Sereni was permanently scarred by his experiences in North Africa, and suffered thereafter from the kind of perplexity which renders impossible anything like fluent or gradiloquent utterance. With a selection now taken from four separately published books (there was an eighteen-year gap between the second and third, and another sixteen years between the third and fourth), Sereni comes across as painfully reticent and deeply troubled as to his ability to fashion a distinctively 'poetic' response to experience. This is a 'poor art', studiously recessed, in its essentials (and ...


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