December 27, 2008

Giulia Nicolai

Giulia Nicolai [Italy]

Born in Milan in 1934, Giulia Nicolai’s mother was an American and her father an Italian, and, accordingly, she grew up learning to speak both languages. Later she learned German and French.

She began her professional career as a photographer, with works in various magazines such as Life, Paris Match, and Der Spiegel. In 1966 she published her first novel, Il grande angolo (1966) and in 1969 her first book of poetry. Associated with the neo-avanat-garde Gruppo 63, she founded, with poet Adriano Spatola, the avant-garde journal Tam Tam.

Among her many books of poetry are Humpty Dumpty (1969), Greenwich (1971), Poema & Oggetto (1974), Russky Salad Ballads & Webster Poems (1977), Harry’s Bar e alter poesie 1969-1980 (1981), and Frisbees (1994). Nicolai has also been a notable translator Beatrix Potter, Gertrude Stein, and Dylan Thomas.

Her poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals. Her work, influenced by her Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, often bridges her literary and spiritual experiences.


Humpty Dumpty (Turin: Geiger, 1969); Greenwich (Turin: Geiger, 1971); Poema & Oggetto (1974); Substitution (Los Angeles: Red Hill Press, 1975); Facsimile (Modena: Tau/ma, 1976); Russky Salad Ballads & Webster Poems (Turin: Geiger, 1977); Harry’s Bar e alter poesie 1969-1980 (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1981); Singsong for New Year’s Adam & Eve (Mulino di Bazzano: Tam Tam, 1982); Lettera aperta (Udine: Campanotto, 1983); Frisbees in facoltà (Bergamo: Edizioni El bagatt, 1984); Frisbees (poesie de lanciare) (Udine: Campanotto, 1994)


Foresta ultra Naturam, trans. by Paul Vangelisti (San Francisco: Red Hill Press, 1989).

To Gianfranco Baruchello

Strawberry strawberry
holden monroe
bountiful farmington
Minnie plateau.
Emory upton
on devils slide
washington terrace
oh enterprise!
Riverton Vernon
elmo woodsie
strawberry strawberry
lofgreen lakesize

(from Greenwich, 1971)

Rising Star

Home sweet home sugar land
dripping springs of sweet water
golden acres where sudan
glen rose a sunray
cross plain and blooming grove
May the crystal sterling silver rising star
fall on dallasterxas.

(from Greenwich, 1971)

Positive & Negative

Anything may happen
have a meaning or not have one.

It does not propose truth
it keeps the meaning open
the sense of things comes by speaking.

The measure of a page
a communication of forms
the hypothesis of a reality in motion:
a vertigo of infinite
diverse inversion.

And that which is opposed
may be always overturned
to its opposite.

—Translated from the Italian by Paul Vangelisti and the author

(from Subtitution, 1973)

The Subject Is the Language

An idea of vengeance: the retaliation
or revenge of the word which has been thought
(make the gesture of inventing language
perform the act by which you appropriate language).

Though dependent or superimposed
the individual and the word exist as separate objects:
not a mutual agreement of words and things
but the pleasure of interfering.

Things exist to be said
and language narrates. It outrages in turn
a language already violated by others
to possess language is a way of being.

The subject is therefore the language
with which to commit a capital offense.

Translated from the Italian by Paul Vangelisti and the author

(from Subtitution, 1973)

The Lockheed Ballad

The electronic brain’s “subconscious” that had
furnished Lockheed’s executives with code names
for those words, verbs, initials etc. which they
under no circumstances wanted to be discovered
writing or uttering, had, as it should, a weakness
for the great characters of tragic drama, particularly
Shakespearian. In Lockheed’s little black book
(supplement to Panorama, June 15, 1976) we can
in fact discover: Othello, Desdemona, Caesar,
Hamlet, Portia, and many others.
For his part time, Shakespeare instead
employed Rumour* (meaning, in English, chatter,
talk, spreading stories, not holding one’s tongue,
gossip-mongering) who, in Henry IV,
plays the role of the announcer (here we quote
the opening lines of the prologue to part II):


Enter Rumour, painted full of tongues
Rum. Open your ears; for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?

(I think the reader might consult the
following as worth rereading in this
light). From a structural perspective, further
examining the coded terms in the little black book,
we realize they may be subdivided into three other
broad categories: names taken from Flora and Fauna
(antelope, lilac, lion, iris etc.) names with
heroic-epic connotations, (argonaut, cosmos,
gladiator etc.) and words typically anglo-saxon,
monsosyllabic and onomatopoeic which sometimes
correspond to the written sounds of American comics
such as: sob (which in English means to cry, to make
a weeping sound), jab (to knife), tap (to knock on
the door), etc.
Given the richness of the material present in
Lockheed’s little black book, it’s clear
We might obtain an infinite number of poetic

*Rumor: the name of an Italian Prime Minister involved in the Lockheed scandal

Or theatrical texts (epic, tragic, comic, etc.)
And that these texts, with a simultaneous translation
Of the cryptic word into its actual meaning
(or vice versa) offer innumerable possibilities
or wordplay in two or more voices as in a sort
of naval battle of words. But to classify and
elaborate the terms in the little black book
in all their possible combinations
another electronic brain is clearly
indispensable. The text I’ve chosen to write
is composed exclusively of words taken
(in their coded meaning) from the little black book
it uses the names of Shakespearian characters
here present and may be read as a ballad or
an epilogue to a hybrid of tragedies
and comedies.

Othello’s feline ire fobs his granite
Fingers; his vim hath sealed his willow
Goddess’ lips. The flametree’s firethorn
Doth spear the lady’s reb; Desdemona
The jonquil, the ladybird , the opal oriole
Now cold and dab like flotsam upon
The tidal ebb. Woe to Hamlet, the moonbeam
Upon his silver sword, the bleak phantom’s vox,
The prophet’s raven cloak, the hemlock
And the hammer hard. An ode to Juliet
To Portia, to the actors in the barnyard.

Translated from the Italian by Paul Vangelisti

(from Foresta ultra Naturam, 1989)

from Frisbees

for Bob McB,
messenger of the gods of Cazadero Valley

Opening the refrigerator
I too happened to say
“There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.”


One doesn’t play Frisbee with words alone.
It’s good to do it also with arms and legs.


“Beati I poveri di spirto”
ought to come out in English:
“Blessed are the half-wits.”
Instead it’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
(Yet another reason for me to drink a lot.)


Presidents of the United States
(even since television has been television)
when they speak to the American people,
always fix on a spot above the camera lens.
(See: horizon. See: infinite).
But do they have their feet on the ground?

Careful that the Frisbees
May become nauseating.
The order in which they follow each other is important.
Certainly there may be something
Still elusive in all this
Be it for you and for me!
I am becoming a socially committed poetess.
Am I becoming a socially committed poetess?


To be able to establish
the morning after,
in the light of day
that even my own presumption
and stupidity
are bottomless
are limitless…

is a most lovely thing.


I suggest listening to Bach
For arthritics and rheumatics.
Unlike the cold,
And humidity
—and like ultrasounds—
it heals
as it enters your bones.
Holy Bach heals.
Holy Bach makes whole. By Joe!


so as to hear the vibrations
even with the bones.)


Let’s think of the brain
as a shriveled prune.
Immerse it in Bach.
It swells and pulses
like a sponge.


Bach is beautiful to have in the blood.
The organist and clavichordist
Who plays Johann Sebastian
is called Janos Sebestyen.
What else could he do?


I gave myself
a facial
with Bach’s Orchestra
Toccato (in E major bmw 566).


The way I walk
has always made me wear down
the outside edge of the
heels of my shoes.
Playing Frisbee
I wish to begin wearing down a little
the inside too.
To even things out.
I wish also the Frisbees
Might help
Make my mind work
In a new way.
Do I ask too much?
For this purpose
it might help
to start calling them
Frisbeezen or Zen-Frisbees.


So what’s this?
A Frisbee of head or legs?


And why didn’t I write
A Frisbee of legs or head?


(The first steps
are always a little problematic.)
What about a Porno-frisbee?
Yeah, a dirty-minded one.


In any case
and here we’re on easy ground
the Frisbeezen
sound more German
than Zen-Frisbees
which in turn
sound more California
than Japanese.
(We’re still along way from satori.)


I wouldn’t want the Frisbees
To be my last will.
Certainly, they have something
Of the exquisite corpse about them.


I called my father affectionately “Rhinoceros,”
“old yellow rhinoceros.”
Years after his death
I dreamt of a Rhinoceros
Sniffing with his horn
At a poppy in a field.
And he got furious,
he got beastly
and pissed of
because with his horn (plugged up)
he couldn’t smell the perfume.
(I knew, in the dream,
that poppies have no smell
but I didn’t dare go near the Rhinoceros
to tell him.)
The rhinoceros in the distance
fussed and stamped
Then in anger with contempt,
he pissed on the poppy.
He let go on to p of it a long mighty piss.
pop pee
Ciao Sigmund!


Roman Polanski.
And now we have a Roman Polanski Pope.
It was Paul Vangelisti
of Los Angeles
who made me understand
that Poles and Italians resemble each other.
Petrus, where are you?
I missed you at the Pasticceria.
They make an excellent Paradise cake,
Ça va sans dire.


The Goethe-Frisbee.
There was on the window-sill
A can of Oranjeboom beer.
Black can I notice
looking out the window
when the pavement too
is black with rain.
I say: “How much alike
and how beautiful they are
the black of the can
and the black of the pavement.”
Then I notice the little orange tree
and register
the Dutch House of Orange.
But then
(and here I’m not sure if it’s the fault
of Marguerite Yourcenar
whom I’m reading
and who in Les yeux ouverts
speaks of Goethe),
suddenly this demented line
springs to mind:
“Kennst du das Land wo die Oranjeboom.”


I tell the cashier at the Scimmie
I want to pay for two reds.
“Wine?” he asks me.
(He must be very politicized).
Soon after at the bara
I see Pavese’s double
And Sanguineti’s double.
Could these be then
The cashier’s two reds?


And I
How many hours must I stay at the bar
how many reds must I drink
before I see
my own double?


(How about that!
What liberties it takes!
What transformations!)


To explain to her woman friends
American and English
How little she knew Italian,
My mother would always say:
“I give tu to strangers
and lei my husband.”


“Utah” and “Rising Star”
Reprinted from Foresta ultra naturam (Villa, Niccolai and Caruso), trans. by Paul Vangelisti (San Francisco: Invisible City 6, 1989). ©1989 by Red Hill Press. Reprinted by permission of Paul Vangelisti.

“Positive & Negative” and “The Subject Is the Language”
Reprinted from Substitution, trans. by Paul Vangelisti (Los Angeles: Red Hill Press, 1975). Translation Copyright ©19975 by Paul Vangelisti. Reprinted by permission of Paul Vangelisti

“The Lockheed Ballad” and “from Frisbees”
Reprinted from Luigi Ballerini, Beppe Cavaatorta, Elena Coda, and Paul Vangelisti, eds. The Promised Land: Italian Poetry After 1975 (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1999). ©1999 by Luigi Ballerini and Paul Vangelisti. Reprinted by permission of Sun & Moon Press.

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