The Light and the Cry. Maria Amata Di Lorenzo and the poetry of Elio Fiore
by SIMONA LO IACONO
He was a Christian of the Ghetto, and when asked the reason for this unacceptable mixture between the God of the Jews and that of Christ, he would reply by citing the defenceless reality of Myriam of Nazareth. In her, he would say, a Jew and at the same time the mother of Christ, all disharmony of history would fade into inconsequence such as a plaything or a troublesome bank of fog.
So Elio Fiore lived in the square of Portico d’Ottavia, in the heart of the Roman Ghetto. Of its alleyways named after trades, such as Via dei Falegnami, Street of Carpenters, and Via dei Funari, Street of Undertakers, and of its ancient Roman portico erected in honour of Jupiter Stator and Juno Regina, he loved the silence, a lack of noise that he invested in the search of the meaning of existence and returned to the ear in the sound of verses.
It was a silence that covered like a pitiful tombstone the obscenities of pain, the barbaric assault on the life of man, the violence of the time. He was still a child when, on 19th July 1943, he found himself under the rubble of his bombed home, and though he survived this, he later watched helplessly as Jews were deported to an unknown destination, men swaying in convoys like coffins, already dead without yet knowing it.
From this moment, Elio Fiore became more than a poet, he became a witness, a herald who would not be silenced. He became a cry. Thus it is no coincidence that his collection ‘In Purest Blue’ bears as epigraph the thundering words of Isaiah ‘Go be the night-watchman. Cry out what you see’ (Isaiah 21:6).
Now his parable as poet and man is skilfully brought to light by the delicate pen of Maria Amata Di Lorenzo, who paints his secluded and yet smiling nature, his mysticism tinged with hope and his cultivated optimism in spite of the ‘blood and cry of history’.
Elio Fiore is a poet of the invisible, but of the close-quartered and not so distant invisible, wholly participant, on the contrary, in man’s pain, embodied in his fall and in his desire for atonement. ‘There’, he would say, ‘faith and nothing else is life. All the rest is history’.
– Dear Maria Amata, your essay ‘The Light and the Cry’ (published in Italy by Fara Editore) wonderfully reconstructs the life of a almost forgotten poet, who in actual fact enjoyed the admiration of such great artists as Eugenio Montale, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Mario Luzi and Carlo Bo. Tell us about him and his poetic life.
Elio Fiore, who was born in Rome in 1935, and died in 2002, made his poetic debut in 1964 with the anthology ‘Dialogues so as not to die’, held at the font by the great Giuseppe Ungaretti, almost as a poetic investiture. He lived for work in various Italian cities until he was able to return to Rome as a librarian and to the Ghetto, which played such importance in his poetic and above all human dimensions.
Fiore lived in worship of the poets of the past and of his contemporaries, yet imitated or bore resemblance to none. His artistic journey was thus extremely original and ran for about forty years through themes of prophecy, memory, faith, the necessity to write, to see and to tell, as both a poetic and personal mission.
– The themes of Elio Fiore’s poetry feature memory understood as a moral duty, aspiration for the eternal and the asceticism of living the present through the lesson of the heavens. Could you tell us about when you met and interviewed him at his home?
I have a very vivid memory of that interview, even though it was almost twenty years ago. I remember that hot June afternoon, the sun-soaked streets of the Ghetto, the children swarming around the Portico d’Ottavia having just emerged from a nearby school, the thick and dense silence that hit me as soon as I walked through a wooden and corroded door to a deserted landing and a door that opened to the poet, a humble and collected person, yet full of wit and grace.
The interview went very pleasantly indeed. At one point my recorder stopped working and so I wrote everything down in a notebook. His words were so alive and deep that I could have recited them one by one, impressed on me as they were. That day I realized two important things; that you could love writing and poetry with a pure, unconditional love, as he did, who lived and nourished himself of poetry as plants feed on light, and that you could also be happy believing in God. I did not, at the time, think such a thing possible, as personally I had a rather musty idea of religion, of that heard in childhood catechism, a series of joyless precepts and duties. The poet I met that day for the first time talked a great deal about God and had inside him an overwhelming, crazy joy that was totally incomprehensible to me. I decided that, at all costs, I had to understand where that joy and that fervour came from. Fortunately, that meeting was not an isolated happening. Right until his death, I was able to enjoy his company and friendship, which was very significant for me and gave me a lot on both a human and literary plane.
One day, he made me promise that after his death I would write a book about him, and that is what I have done. With this book, I feel I have maintained my promise.
– The experience of the war touched Elio Fiore like universal enlightenment. These are some of his magnificent lines, ‘Here, in the secret of my home, reveals itself the voice / of memory, in the rumble of the Tiber grows pity, / vital since the 16th of October 1943. When my innocent foot / was awashed with the blood of the just of Israel. / When the wicked shouted, broke down the doors with shotguns…’. The war thus came to stand for him as a symbol of the human condition, of the perennial struggle between good and evil. Is that so, Maria Amata?
You are right, Simona. On the one hand there is the war, the terrible war that, as a child, Elio directly experienced with all its atrocities and horrors, and then there is the other everyday war, that perennial struggle between good and evil as you say, that war within ourselves, in which we are often torn, divided, eager to go towards the light, but more often mired in the depths of darkness. This conflict, to think of it, is eternal. ‘History gives birth to monsters’, said Fiore, ‘but within history, in spite of everything, there is the providential path of Man towards the light’.
– Finally, dear Maria Amata, tell us about the role that Elio Fiore believed a poet to have. One of his verses says ‘Poetry is a call to capture the voice of justice’. Who, then, is a poet, according to Elio Fiore?
Let me answer with his own words, ‘A poet’, said Elio Fiore, ‘is who sees life with different eyes from others and is the holder of a truth that must be passed on to his fellow man. This is the mission of the poet and his message is bear witness to his time, the time of beauty, the time of poetry’.
© Simona Lo Iacono – all rights reserved