December 8, 2022

Giulia Nicolai (Italy) 1934-2021

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.

Giulia Nicolai / Photo by Douglas Messerli

     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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