Mariagiorgia Ulbar

- Italy -

Mariagiorgia Ulbar was born in Abruzzo. She teaches in secondary schools and translates from German and English. She has published the poetry collection I fiori dolci e le foglie velenose (Maremmi 2012), the “Su pietre tagliate e smosse” anthology in the Undicesimo quaderno italiano di poesia contemporanea (Marcos y Marcos 2012), the limited-edition illustrated plaquettes Osnabrück and Transcontinentale (Collana Isola 2013), the collections Gli eroi sono gli eroi (Marcos y Marcos 2015, Dessì Literary Price), Un bestiario (Nervi Edizioni 2015), the poems of the book of illustrations Metamorphosis by Elisa Talentino (La Grande Illusion 2016) and the collection Lighea (Elliot 2018). Her poems have been translated into English, German, Spanish, Polish, French and Bulgarian and published on several foreign literary magazines. An anthology was published in 2016 in the Italian Poetry Review in the USA and in the anthology of European poets Grand Tour. Reise durch due junge Poesie Europas (Hanser Verlag 2019).

On Mariagiorgia Ulbar’s Poetry: excerpts from articles written by Giacomo Pontremoli and Matteo Marchesini ( Il Foglio, 4 July 2015, Gli asini 18 April 2016, Il Sole 24 Ore, 9 September 2018) translated by Marta Maria Ricci


If other Italian poets choose a formalistic, exhibitionistic and arbitrary style of writing, Mariagiorgia Ulbar (Gli eroi sono gli eroi, Marcos y Marcos 2015) focuses her attention on the musical meaning of her verses with great rigour. Her poems combine despair and purity. Still, echoing an inherited classical tradition, they recall a profoundness which could guide us find a way amidst our history, which is a history of orphans after all. Indeed, they create a discourse both crystalline and urgent on the suffering connected to knowledge and the experience of being witness to our unpolitical solitude.


In Gli eroi sono gli eroi (Marcos y Marcos, 2015)  which is not a mere collection of poems but a five-part ensemble, a trauma has killed the myth, the legend of one’s own biography. Driven by a juvenile and noble longing for the domain of epic and by the courage to survive loss, Ulbar writes verses that are airy when trustful, and dark when they acknowledge the impossibility of recovering heroic models that are by now long gone.


Her childlike ability for amazement transforms everything into enormity and wonder and and sends out an echo as if from a poetic underworld. Everything was mysterious for it was wonderful; everything becomes mysterious since it has disappeared.

 However, the poet’s will to preserve the myth is prevented by an evanescence creating a backwash which sucks it down. Ulbar seeks answers and wisdom, but "I can’t hear. You, you are divine / for you do not speak”. Her ego chooses this severe silence which makes objects enigmatic and places consolatory: it’s a brave and hopeful sacrifice.


Rebellions against the modern, categorizing and "bourgeois" mentality usually belong to a romantic-decadent scheme: they focus on a free and uncorrupted child-life, which is mostly a polemical myth for intellectuals, for instance in Pascoli or Morante. 

However, there is a more radical version of it: among others, Sandro Penna seems to come really close to the child, the pagan idol and the animal. (His attempt is also related to the myth since nobody can in fact embody the previously mentioned creatures and give them voice.) Thus, he speaks through metaphors: the metaphor often coincides with the poetry of an artist who is (voluntarily or not) guardian or worshipper of the myth and whose apparent unfamiliarity with human things coexists with a very human bewilderment. We could place Mariagiorgia Ulbar's work in-between these two stances. 


In her latest book (Lighea, Elliot 2018), the whole collection of verses is framed by two short poems: The Invasion and the eponymous Lighea, which alludes to the siren of a novella by Tomasi di Lampedusa (The Professor and the Siren or The Siren; original Italian title: La Sirena).

The poetess is therefore half a wounded beast in perpetual apotropaic escape, half a fallen priestess, who performs theurgical rites according to laws half-blown by time: she imposes her "that’s how it is" to the world with imperative and laconic voice, and seeks saviours like a puppy at the same time. When allied, the two halves create a changing hypnotized and hypnotic language, both stuttering and peremptory, hieratic and dizzy, reinforced by archaic clumps.


Mariagiorgia Ulbar intersects several traditions, borrowing something from each, with her chin imperiously up just like children do when they grab something and blatantly affirm that it has always belonged to them. 

Ulbar moves crosswise to traditions, and rhythms too, with verses which crack the usual gnomic balance. 

Among her poetry's essential traits we must include allegorism, the lightning-quick construction of a biographical legend, rapid transitions between places and horizons of meaning, shadows of Hoffmann's macabre fables, a blatant solemnity as if from an epic childhood game, a laconic and irrevocable resolution to flee; quotations (e. g. Rilke's angel) "stolen" with an en passant irony which is necessary to seize their torturous apocalyptic feature; not to forget, the sacrificial rite and the mythical transfiguration, imposed just as the myth wanes, expelled from a merciless reality.


Never stopping and pretending to be already dead, replicant of a puppet-like recitation is the only way not to be petrified by the reality and to preserve an intact heroic personal legend. So Ulbar's ego wears different masks and plans a never-ending pilgrimage: "disappear then appear over there / in another city / wandering".


If the space constantly changes, so the verb tenses always shift: an imperative will or a future for an unlikely "we" overlap a primitive broadening imperfect (tense), until a punctual past suddenly interrupts it. 

Often, a poem ends where a catastrophe begins: "you know the borderlands / and nearby, meanwhile, around / you let the matchstick fall / on the oil puddle". The landscape burns and you must leave without looking back, while the wind of history already piles rubble behind you.


Ulbar’s ‘lyrical I’ only accepts shelters and feline precarious relationships in order to escape the threat of any supposed long-lasting happiness. 

If a sensible stability of beliefs and affection is not given, if the family due to guarantee an eternal legend is suddenly imploded and we "no longer know about being immortal", we can do nothing but ceaselessly build and destroy our toy-like simulacrum, compulsively reproducing the scene of loss.


Here is another leitmotiv: cave holes. The only thread that links the ego to the others moves "underground". This funereal speleology of affection recalls something. If we relate it to the themes of pilgrimage and regression, to the dream of making Italian a dead and anesthetized language, to the ubiquity of omens and haruspicy, and to the confidence that "a single space occupy the living / but so little is instead never enough to the dead”, we will perhaps have enough clues to hint at Pascoli’s style and subject. In opposition to them however, a virile and martial Goethean mind can be detected in Ulbar. Pascoli and Goethe: as Umberto Saba said, the former was too much a child, the latter too much an adult. According to him, a whole poet could arise only from mixing these two polarities. In the poetess' work, they coexist without mediation as it is for different spaces and times too. 

Ulbar’s gaze is always double and cross-eyed: on the one hand it is childlike and able to transform the most prosaic details into wonderful giants; on the other, it is like a neon light projected from a posthumous space-time dimension. Tout court, a marvelous thus indecipherable world becomes indecipherable since it is buried. In vain we search for its traces in lands and bodies doomed to remain interchangeable Ersatz.