The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford: muses and misspills on books, jazz, poetry, stuff like false flags and smoke screen: is randomly decrepid and is neo-bankrupt: is so analogue it's anal.
A new addition to the Beatnik landscape: Ungaretti’s Typewriter. Customers (all two of them) are invited to type any random thought, flow of consciousness dribble, abstract or recited prose or poetry, scat porn or holy doodle, A4 paper provided at no cost. Its resultant screed might even be published. Its tab-stop is set to allow only a small column of type, hence its name.
Giuseppe Ungaretti was an Italian modernist poet whose complete works languished here in the shop unsold for many years. I guess that means he is yet to hit the big time in Walton Street Oxford, though many books languish here unsold. His poems rarely had much flesh – a few, brief lines was typical fare, but his poetry is held always to be musical and rhythmic, certainly both exquisite and emotional by one enthusiastic Italian, a close friend whose word I trust. My friend once insisted that Ungaretti should have won the Nobel Prize, but Ungaretti’s denial possibly explained because Italy had won the football World Cup in 1934 and 1938. Yeh, that’ll be why, all I’m saying is that I never got the entirety of each poem’s delicacy in its translation. Each poem must have taken Ungaretti ages, at least five minutes, lazy sod, or perhaps his pith encouraged by a typewriter with a broken tab-stop. Hence my ROYAL typewriter, manufactured by Diana Schreib-Maschinenf Abrik in Mannheim, subsidiary of the McBee Corporation of New York. Its green keys sit proud and invitingly, I’ve buggered up its stop-tab to flush out brevity.
Born in Egypt, 1888, his family from Tuscany, his childhood nurse Nubian, schooled in French by Swiss teachers, schizophrenic in his belief (one minute Catholic, the next atheist, so on), a topsy turvy anarchist (aren’t they all?), Ungaretti met and was influenced by Bergson and Apollinaire when at university in Paris. This scrimmage of temperament and identity settled on Italian nationalism: he enlisted in the First World War only to discover he was actually quite bad at fighting, poetry much more to his taste. His subsequent enthusiasm for Il Duce was safer than the rattle of machine guns, and, like his poetry, it didn’t even have to rhyme. He’d done already symbolism and Parnassianism (art for art’s sake brokered intellectually by Schopenhauer), flirted with socialism, hung out with the Futurists, so he turned to Dada with gusto (why not?) whilst working as a journalist in Paris. By the early 1920s his political stock was invested heavily in Mussolini. Ungaretti’s clarion call to literary arms – “this people hungers for poetry,” ffs! – met with favour, he helped to shape the Italian Academy with Fascist contours, and Mussolini even wrote the introduction to a 1923 reprint of Il porto sepolto, his first collection of free verse. Fed up with his artistic meanderings, he had invented the junk poetic style of Hermeticism, which allowed him to do away with punctuation, form and syntax – anything that got in the way of poetic laziness, I suppose. Financial despair pushed him to Brazil where he sat out the first years of the Second World War. Returned to Italy and feted in 1943, his poetry became more formal; like youthful alternative comedians and left wingers (Ben Elton moved from racy stand-up to sitcom land, take any member of the Oxford University Labour Party, idealistic acne on the wane, medicated by banking and successful capitalism), poets too can collapse into conservatism and a more formal style. He also was sort of forgiven his previous Fascist bite, at least he ducked and dived, and he travelled the world with success. No Nobel Prize though: Italy continued to place well in the football, though they lost the World Cup final in the month and year Ungaretti died, June 1970. Suitably it was Brazil who won that year, Jairzinho and Pele rampant, I watched it: 4-1.