The Eloquent Papers of Corrado Govoni

Written by  Angela Ghinato

We live our lives in pleasure, or write them in suffering. /My harsh fate has been to suffer my life, while living and writing it

It is almost impossible to sum up the archive of Corrado Govoni in a single term. It is an evocative “literary workshop”: an archive of ideas, hopes, affections, where cross-sections of life, memories, reflections, linguistic experiments and literary criticism all meet. With the support of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmia di Ferrara and the Friends of the Ariostea Library, the Archivio Govoni has now been catalogued. The archive is made up of over 5,000 manuscript pieces from his later production (from the 1940s onwards) including prose, lyric verse, theatrical works and all the activities of the poet. The papers reflect the total “author’s disorder” which characterised the collection at the moment it was acquired by the Ariostea Library in 1972, joining the 1,076 volumes of the poet’s private library which were acquired by the Ariostea in 1967. Each of the poet’s writings, however short, is thoughtful and carefully worked, displaying his evident fear of failing to clearly communicate his ideas. In the titles of his works, for instance, one finds infinite variations, the fruit of repeated revisions. In order to instil the necessary overall order to the papers, a grid system has been created through which every single piece can be classified according to five major groupings: poetry, prose (short stories and tales), theatrical works, correspondence and personal papers, each with its own analytical inventory. One section is wholly dedicated to novels. These methodological choices have had to take into account various problems presented in the archive, which have been resolved with the use of consultative tools: detailed indices, lists with the details of published works, an apparatus of notes referring to identification, comparisons and checks carried out while this work was in progress. For poetry, the list of the 2, 234 published works includes the date of composition for each one, to avoid difficulties of identification of works with the same title or whose title has been altered. Rarely dated by the author, the papers relating to poetry date from the 1950s and 1960s, with a few examples from the preceding decade and one unique signed and dated piece from the end of the 1930s, at the foot of the poem Invito al sole, written at San Remo at “Christmas 1939”. The poet’s sparse annotations are interesting, as he looked over works much later on and wrote himself notes (“correct!”), comments or doubts (“already published?”). The same criteria has been adopted for his prose, where as well as the short stories there are numerous fragmentary sections, written between 1950 and 1955, from the unpublished Viaggio meraviglioso in Italia. Here once again, in addition to the 188 short stories published in nine collections, are other titles referred to in passing by the author among the archive’s papers: revisions reworked after many years, or stories already published. There are also short stories with changed titles. Among the rare signed and dated papers in this section is L’urlone, a story mentioned in a programme of work from November 1921. The section of theatrical works is closely connected to the prose area. The development of the writer is illustrated from the end of the 1930s with ample extracts both from the published works La Madonnina dei pastori (1939), Vernice del presepe di Natale (1939), Il selvaggio padrone, and from those published for the first time posthumously in 1984, edited by Mario Verdone: L’ora del pastore (1921) and La sassata al lampione (1947). His letters, collected in the ‘correspondence’ section, includes 123 items addressed to Corrado Govoni between 1915 and 1964; the main body of texts begins in the 1930s. The notes signed by the poet number 45, often without dates, but the date can sometimes be estimated where these pages have been re-used for writing verses. There is also the collection of family letters between Corrado Govoni, his wife Teresa Albisetti, his children Aladino, Ariele and Mario, and other relatives.

The personal archive, finally, includes notes of many kinds, from appointments to shopping lists, lists of books to be bought to lottery numbers, as well as translations of poems, addresses, articles copied from newspapers and a series of 157 photographs, many with their corresponding negatives. There are numerous signed papers in which Govoni discusses himself and his life, fixing his image for posterity along with his history as a ‘peasant-poet.’ Several papers include copies of reviews of his own work, which Govoni loved to transcribe: Umberto Fracchia defined him as “the most extraordinary phenomenon who has ever appeared in the astral skies of poetry”; Silvio Benco said that “perhaps no other of our writers hold eternal youth in them as he does in his happiest hours”; Lionello Fiumi affirmed that “Govoni is worth ten thousand of Ungaretti.” The most valued praise remained that of Luigi Pirandello: “I have admired for years that which began with you, now that everyone does it.” From the many themes of these “eloquent” papers three key aspects emerge: the family home in Tàmara, featured in many poems, and later sold for financial reasons; the difficulties of continuing life after the death of his eldest child Aladino, killed on 24 May 1944 in the Fosse Ardeatine atrocity; the general incomprehension which oppressed him even more in his mourning for the long years spent alongside the banks of the Po, while in Rome he carried out his duties as a state registrar.