According to the cover of her book, My Poems Won’t Change the World, every Italian man, woman, and child adores Patrizia Cavalli and I would believe it. Her poetry is the perfect combination of witty and poignant, delivered in an iconically dry, sardonic manner.
My Poems Won’t Change the World is a comprehensive collection of five of Cavalli’s books of poetry (My Poems Won’t Change the World (1974), The Sky (1981), The All Mine Singular I (1992), The Forever Open Theater (1999), and Lazy Gods, Lazy Fate (2006)) translated into English by a group of talented, American poets. I picked it up purely by chance, in search of some classic works of poetry that I still have yet read.
Born in Perugia, Cavalli has been living in Rome since 1968 and it shows in her poetry. Her mildly caustic tone, coupled with the romanticism of her verses, reminded me of a real life Gep, of La Grande Bellezza. She’s dark, but not bitter. She writes about love, and the foolishness of people in love. She honors the day to day living of Roman life, while still capturing the boring tedium of average days.
Her straightforward writing style is more philosophical than poetic, and almost childlike in its honesty. She’s wise, but she doesn’t adorn her truths in fancy words.
Life goes on like before —
people standing, sitting,
The simplicity of her verses can’t be taken at face value. After finishing her poems, which are frequently just a few lines long, the white space forces the reader to pause.
During that quiet moment before turning over the page, the larger meaning of her observational pieces sinks in. It’s obvious she’s not just talking about cooking pasta (“Throw in the pasta, I’m on my way! / Oh bliss, I’ll be fed. / But the water doesn’t boil, not yet.”) or shopping for produce (“When I buy fruit I have to taste it / right away out on the street.”)
At the end of each line is a pristine period. Her sentences are confident, understated. Even without physically hearing it, her voice becomes vibrant in its deadpan timbre.
It’s all so simple, yes, it was so simple,
it is so clear I almost can’t believe it.
Here’s what the body is for: you touch me or you don’t touch me,
you hold me or send me away. The rest is for lunatics.
What’s most beautiful about her poetry is the quiet connection to the changing seasons. There’s a subtle earthiness to her reflections. As the seasons change, so does life. And yet, as Cavalli notices, so much stays the same, year after year. We eat, we sleep. We fall in love, we pass away. All this quiet living, she captures it.
Her poignant simplicity is a quality I admire, and would love to be able to capture on my own. Throughout the entire book, it’s impossible to not imagine Cavalli leaning back in an armchair, reading the poems to you with a sly look on her face. Don’t take yourself to seriously, she seems to say, or you’ll miss all the heartbreaking fun of living.