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On the pathways of Dino Campana

Between Romagna and "Toscana" in the footsteps of the great Marradi poet

Study of his work has by now cancelled out any such image : next to that "musical" strength which seems to sweep away words and things like a wind, emerges a vast and deep cultural network, which is solidly anchored in the most motivated and aware twentieth century literature. If we really must superimpose a figure on the author of "Canti Orfici", it is that of "traveller", "wayfarer".
Campana was born on 20th August 1885 at Marradi, in Romagna "Tuscany". He studied classics at the Faenza high school, then in Torino passed his final exams. The escapes, the intolerance soon began. In 1903 he registered at the chemistry faculty in "Bologna" ; then he transferred to Firenze until 1907, and then again to Bologna. "I couldn't study chemistry at all" he confessed, "I wrote a little, I played the piano a little". In 1906 he was committed in the mental hospital at Imola ; in May of the next year he interrupted his studies and fled towards Paris. It was in this period that he probably started his literary activity, with texts inserted in the manuscript known as "Quaderno" (Notebook [published posthumously, in 1942]).
One of the fundamental experiences in the Campana biography, the journey in the "New World", in Argentina, can be dated between 1907 and 1908. Starting as one of the "peones de via" destined to work on the railway construction, he soon found himself taking on various jobs : pianist in a Buenos Aires brothel, policeman, fireman, working in an iron forgery. Certain important texts are connected to this period of living as a "free man", among the most suggestive is perhaps the prose entitled "Pampa".
In 1909 Campana came back to Europe. The traces of his "passage " are mostly tied to the places of detention or cure : Firenze (San Salvi asylum, April 1909), Livorno (hospital, September), Paris ("cleaned windows in order to eat"), even Brussels (Saint Gilles prison, December) and then Tournay (asylum, February 1910). This last experience is described in the prose "Il Russo" (The Russian). Towards the middle of 1910 Campana was repatriated. In September-October of that year it is presumed that he resumed the pilgrimage from Marradi to Verna : it is on this occasion that he drew up the "Diario di Viaggio" (Journey Diary) upon which we have based our walk.

He came from far away. His clothes were stagnant with terrestrial smells, of Mediterranean sun, of mountain rains, of nights sleeping in barns and holds” (Luigi Fallacara, Memory of Dino Campana,1937)
It is not easy to extract Campana from the stereotype of "unique Italian poeta maudit", always poised between expressive fury and foolishness.

In 1912-13 Campana again tried to study chemistry at Bologna ; there he published his first texts in two university magazines. After a brief stay in Genoa he returned to "his mountains" and organised part of his works into a book called "Il Più Lungo Giorno" ("The Longest Day"). At the end of 1913 he presented himself, with his manuscript under his arm, to the two principle moving forces of Florentine culture of that time, Papini and Soffici. The events following, as is known, have for years built up the "myth" Campana : the two founders of "Lacerba" not only did not publish, but they lost the manuscript ("the only justification for my existence") ; after futile requests to Papini and Soffici, Campana rewrote his book in a few months, according to his word "from memory", finally publishing it in 1914 under the title of "Canti Orfici" (Songs of Ophic) with the printer Bruno Ravagli from Marradi. It was only natural that the curiosity and regret for the lost manuscript increased, until its rediscovery in 1971 among papers belonging to Soffici. With surprise and "delusion" it was immediately apparent, other than being shorter, the text of the Longest Day coincided for the most part with that of the Songs : Campana used the same paper for the rewrite that he used for the lost autograph (the whole matter is reproduced by Vallecchi in his 1990 criticism of the "Canti Orfici"). Indeed, certain more typical aspects and topics of Campana's poetry - the word treated like "music", the theme of the journey and the everlasting return, the sordid images side by side with fleeting fanciful visions - only in the1914 texts appear complete and developed.

In the summer of that year Campana reappeared in Firenze. A partly anecdotical image portrays his intent to sell the "Canti" (Songs) at the Florentine literary gatherings, tearing out, depending on the purchaser, the pages considered "not meritable". In 1915 he is in Switzerland again. With Italy's intervention in the war he returns to his homeland to enrol voluntarily, but he is rejected and once again admitted to a private sanatorium. In this period some of his texts, the last, appear in magazines, while he tries invain to publish an enhanced edition of the book. In the summer of 1916, he meets Sibilla Aleramo, which whom he has an intense and impossible love affair. More moves : Sardegna, Torino, the prison at Novara. But the force to continue to write is consumed. In January 1918, Campana is rejected definitively and committed in the mental hospital at Castel Pulci near Firenze, where he remained for fourteen years until his death (1st March 1932).
The only news during this period came from the accounts of the disarming "interviews" with which an obtuse psychiatrist, Carlo Pariani, interrupted his silence (published in 1938). With equal obtusity today it is thought, for a belated ostentation and electoral gratitude, to transfer his remains to Marradi, removing them from the peaceful Church at Badia a Settimo, where they had reposed since 1942.
So, Campana, poet and "wayfarer". Pilgrim who noted down in a particular "journey diary" a long walk from Marradi to Verna, creating a kind of extraordinary "excursion guide". To Climb the mountains between Romagna and Toscana accompanied by his verses is like reliving the experience of the poet, seeing again the countryside, the hamlets, the mountains he described and the people he met. It is on this basis that the proposed itinerary is constructed, following above all a fundamental principle of using, whenever possible, those roads which, at the beginning of the century, where the only, or best connections between the locations passed through by Campana. In fact, along these roads it is often easy to find that which impressed the poet, pushing him to record it in his "diary".



Text and picture: Cinzia Pezzani & Sergio Grillo
Translation: Jeremy Carden

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