Can Europe Make It?

Shakespeare obliterates Greater Rome’s far-right slogans

The surprise was great… yet no one removed the sheets. Needless to say, they’ve now gone viral.

Alessio Colonnelli
1 June 2019, 11.11am
Sandro Penna and Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Screenshot: some rights reserved.

Sprayed-on swastikas and far-right phrases were all covered over in the night between May 27 and 28 in Fiumicino, Greater Rome. The seaside ‘borough’ awoke yesterday in complete bafflement. Its high street and nearby roads appeared whiter than white – dazzling. Anonymous individuals had plastered pavement walls, lamp posts, trees and the iconic pedestrian walkway over the Tiber with A4 sheets.

Entire reams had been used. These manifesti sported rhymes and sonnets by celebrated poets from Italy and beyond, including William Shakespeare.

“How can I then return in happy plight, That am debarr’d the benefit of rest?” The first two lines of Sonnet XXVIII were there too, in multiple copies, accompanied by the very best poetic endeavours of Giacomo Leopardi, Arthur Rimbaud, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Guido Cavalcanti, Nâzım Hikmet and others.

Politically engaged names, then. From right across the centuries. Timeless stuff, with much of it celebrating the sea.

The poems by Sandro Penna stood out, in particular. He was an outcast homosexual writer and a very close friend of Pier Paolo Pasolini – the least known among these spectacular literati. By far.

And so, perhaps it’s worth expanding here a bit, because this goes to the heart of this brilliantly silent – though intellectually loud – civic protest. Penna, a minimalist and a rather quiet man, died aged 70 in 1977 in complete poverty, just over a year after his famous pal’s unexpected death. In the light of this, you could argue that Penna’s verses maybe were chosen also as a homage to Pasolini, who happened to be brutally murdered on a nearby beach 43 years ago, after a brave lifetime spent opposing vehemently far-right rhetoric, in whatever shape or form it came.

But there could be another reason why Penna’s lyric poetry found its way in between near-Nobel Prize winners’ hendecasyllables. Hear this. Reporting from Rome, La Repubblica’s Valeria Costantini wrote: “The authors of this flash-mob [left] neither signatures … nor any claims to explain what for them was, in all likelihood, a clear message anyway: poetry is the best response to hatred. The surprise was great among [Fiumicino’s 80,000] people, yet no one removed the sheets: many stopped to take pictures, and then shared them on social media.” Needless to say, they’ve now gone viral.

Masterly spun verses obliterated far-right crude credos everywhere in town, but they especially concentrated around via Torre Clementina. On March 23 an anti-gay marriage rally by extremists was held there. Esterino Montino, the local mayor, tried to stop it by asking the Interior Ministry (headed by Matteo Salvini) to intervene – to no avail.

The far-right demonstration was also against him and his wife, left-leaning senator Monica Cirinnà, both committed to the civil rights of gay couples. In Fiumicino the green light for same-sex marriages was first given in 2014.

So, no clues whatsoever as to whom exactly it might’ve been. The very politically active National Association of Italian Partisans (ANPI) – founded by participants of the Italian resistance against the Fascist regime and the subsequent Nazi occupation in World War II – told the media that “It’s a terrific initiative and a pleasant surprise. We don’t know who did it, but we’d like to know to thank them for such a great idea.”

The most accredited hypothesis is that the poetic foray was carried out by students from the area. Montino has been quoted in the papers saying that this is an “[original and] sober response to a returning fascism.”

Sonnet XXVIII’s next line – “When day’s oppression is not eas’d by night” – was missing from the scene. It could’ve given us an idea as to what comes next. We’ll wait until the nocturnal poets strike again. Soon.

(Written on 29 May 2019, for the author’s blog.)

Get weekly updates on Europe A thoughtful weekly email of economic, political, social and cultural developments from the storm-tossed continent. Join the conversation: get our weekly email
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData