The poets and the world war. Francesco Tomada in conversation with the landscape of the Great War: "Io vivo qui"

Francesco Tomada
Francesco Tomada is a highly original Italian poet, a charming voice in singing the tiny precious things of human life, as well as in conversing with his land, i.e. the Friuli. In reading his works we oft have the feeling to touch a “primitive poetry”, in which even the most complicated things can be depicted in a plain way. And it is not about gratuitous simplification, nor about naïf superficiality. On the contrary, Tomada succeed in touching and moving his reader because he really discloses the basic feelings of our life – love, friendship, peace, trust, joy, loneliness, desertion – without bypassing the innate vulnerability to which we are exposed in them. A powerful key of his poetical spectrum has to be found in the relational nature of human beings: primarily in the inter-action with “the other” and in the affection that rises from the encounters we can touch our borders, retrace our shape, portray our face and finally recognize ourselves. Lovers and children, mothers and sisters, but also places through which we walk, old rooms and trees in the garden, smells and weights: all specks of dust that Tomada collects to show us where our fading personal cosmos can still find a home and a fragile, yet true significance.

Tomada is an observer, who has not yet lost his child look and his curiosity, a collector, who desperately saves the tiny things to which we are anchored in our natural life, and a witness, who does not fear to show himself and his look on this common world: authentic and thus trustworthy, both when he confesses his life and when he discloses something about ours.

Among his books – the last one, Portarsi avanti con gli addii, has been released few weeks ago – we’d like today to speak about his second work, A ogni cosa il suo nome (Le voci della Luna, 2008), where we find a poem entitled Io vivo qui – I live here, which is divided in two parts, both related to the Great War. Tomada lives in Gorizia, near the former Isonzo front, where the Italian and the Austrian Armies clashed. Nearby there is Redipuglia, where the largest Italian Military Sacrarium is located, and Mount Sabotino (see a picture beside), today on the Slovenian border, which was the scene of bloody battles during the Great War. These two places are at the center respectively of the first and of the second part of this poem and introduce with their symbolical meaning a reflection on the World War One. Both parts swing between past and present, life and death, presence and absence, both try to offer a (maybe) reassuring understanding of the massacre by referring to the mathematical order, which is however doomed to fail, even if it seems to square. By reading these verses, indeed, we are somehow forced to share the author's active interaction with these places and the legacy they preserve: so we add up with Tomada and as soon as we have made our calculation we realize that we necessarily fail in measuring with our human criterions the emptiness that the Great War left in our history.


Una volta sono venuto qui a Redipuglia, tra tutti i nomi ne cercavo
uno per mio figlio che stava arrivando, cercavo un’idea. Poi ho
scelto altro, non volevo che avesse un’eredità così pesante, bastava
già il mio cognome. Eppure qui di nomi ce ne sono abbastanza,
trentamila nomi per intere generazioni di figli del nordest e
settantamila militi ignoti, anche per tutte le volte che si è fatto
l’amore e non ne è nato niente.


Ti voglio descrivere un orizzonte:
dal pendio del Podgora alla conca dove riposa la città e poi su al labbro scuro
del Sabotino saranno tre chilometri in linea d’aria.

Adesso lo voglio misurare:
per riempire il cielo serve un pugno di rondini in volo;
novant’anni fa per conquistare questa terra morirono quattrocentomila soldati.

Gorizia ha quarantamila abitanti, per ciascuno di noi ci sono dieci morti.
Le rondini invece non bastano per tutti.
Per questo, quando ne arriva una, fa primavera.



Once I came here, to Redipuglia: among all these names I was looking for
one for my son, who was arriving; I was looking for an idea. Then I
chose different, I didn’t want him to get such a heavy inheritance, my surname
was already enough. And yet it’s plenty of names here,
thirty thousand names for whole generations of sons of the Nordest* and
seventy thousand unknown soldiers, even for all those times people made
love and nothing was born.

[*Northeast Italy, in particular the regions Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Trentino Alto Adige, which suffered the most during the Great War]


I want to trace you a horizon:
from the Podgora slope to the hollow where the city rests and then up to the dark lip
of the Sabotino it’s about three kilometers as the crow flies.

Now I want to measure it:
It takes a handful of swallows on the wing to fill up the sky;
Ninety years ago four hundred thousand men died to conquer this land.

Gorizia has forty thousand inhabitants; for each of us, ten dead men.
But swallows aren’t enough for all.
That’s why, when one arrives, it does make a summer.