The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Tuesday, October 4, 2022


Overlooked no more: Alda Merini, a poet of mental illness
Countless fans have been intrigued by her verses carrying erotic and sacred imagery, and by her life, from her childhood in Milan to her time spent in asylums.



NEW YORK, NY.- The voice of the marginalized. The lady of the Navigli. The mad poet. Alda Merini didn’t like these labels, but as one of Italy’s most celebrated literary figures, she couldn’t escape them. Countless admirers have been intrigued by her life, from her upbringing along the system of canals in Milan called the Navigli, to her struggles with mental illness as an adult.

Merini found inspiration everywhere. In verses carrying erotic and sacred imagery, a homeless man became “a fiery icicle laying over my warm secret,” the patients of a mental asylum a “herd of hermits” inside the walls of Jericho.

Her struggles with mental illness began in the late 1940s or early ’50s, and her life has been described as alternating between moments of great happiness and deep sorrow. But it stung when people called her mad.

“Many gave a name to my way of life,” Merini dryly wrote in a 1985 poem, “and I was only a hysteric.”

Between it all she achieved mainstream success and became a bestselling author. Even today her poems and aphorisms are widely shared on social media. In one she wrote: “I am not a woman who can be domesticated.”

Alda Giuseppina Angela Merini was born on March 21, 1931, in Milan to a family of modest means. Her father, Nemo, worked for an insurance company, and her mother, Emilia Painelli, was a homemaker. Early on, Alda displayed an aptitude for the written word, which her father encouraged her to cultivate. When she was 5, he bought her a dictionary and would teach her 10 new words a night. She started writing poems at 9.

Alda’s literary flourishing was temporarily stifled during World War II. In 1943, as Milan was subjected to aerial bombing, the Merinis’ home was destroyed, forcing the family to rebuild in the countryside.

“The terrible years of the war brought great upset to my life,” Merini wrote in “Crime of Life” (1994), her autobiography.

After the war, back in Milan, she completed trade school and began working as a secretary. But when her compositions were shared with the renowned literary critic Giacinto Spagnoletti, her life took an unexpected turn.

Merini became a regular guest at Spagnoletti’s home, a gathering place for Milan’s intellectuals, including the writer Maria Corti, who would become a close friend and collaborator, and Giorgio Manganelli, a married journalist with whom Merini, still a teenager, began an affair.

Merini is said to have experienced the first signs of mental illness around this time, and in 1947 she spent a month in a clinic for the mentally ill.

“The Presence of Orpheus,” her first book of poems, came out in 1953. A year later, after breaking things off with Manganelli, Merini married Ettore Carniti, a young baker. She gave birth to her first daughter, Emanuela, in 1955 and to her second, Flavia, in 1958.

Domestic life did not suit Merini. The need to write poetry was all-consuming, distracting her from familial responsibilities.

“When she wrote she entered her own bubble,” her daughter Emanuela Carniti wrote in her book, “Alda Merini, My Mother” (2019), “and we knew that she would get annoyed if we disturbed her.”

Merini’s extravagant spending was a source of disagreement with Carniti. She resented his squandering time at the local osteria. The two would get into violent fights.

At the same time, the literary world’s enthusiasm for her work was waning, and editors started turning it down, as Ambrogio Borsani wrote in the introduction to “Il Suono dell’Ombra” (“The Sound of the Shadow,” 2010), one of the most comprehensive collections of Merini’s poetry.




In 1965, her husband had her admitted to the Paolo Pini psychiatric hospital in Milan, and for years she found herself in and out of asylums, where patients often lived in harsh conditions.

The exact state of Merini’s mental health was never clear. As a teenager she was told she had hysterical blindness, now known as conversion disorder; later in life she was said to be schizophrenic. Those who knew her often relied on euphemisms: Emanuela wrote of her mother’s “ghosts”; her close friend and editor Marina Bignotti referred to the “shadows of her mind,” an expression frequently used by Merini herself.

Bignotti, who is also the president of the Alda Merini Association, which seeks to raise awareness about mental health, said Merini sometimes had violent outbursts, becoming irrational, confused, obsessive or aggressive.

In one poem she wrote: “You go to the mental asylum to learn to die / Nobody brushes my hair as well as the wind / Madness comes to visit me at least twice a day.”

But her life did not come to a standstill during this period of institutionalization. She gave birth to two more daughters and continued to write with the encouragement of her doctor. But the course of her life was altered. “After that first internment, Mom was never the same,” Emanuela wrote in her book.

Merini’s memory started to falter, most likely a result of the electroshock therapy she had received, and her three youngest daughters were sent away to be raised by others.

In 1978, when the Italian government ordered the closing of asylums, Merini returned home to Carniti. After he died in 1983, she reconnected with old friends, including Corti and the poet Michele Pierri, 30 years her senior, with whom she started an intense relationship.

In 1984, Merini and Pierri married and moved to Taranto, a coastal city in southern Italy. That year, with the support of Corti and the publishing house Scheiwiller Libri, Merini produced “The Holy Land,” a poetry collection that, with its raw and spiritual reflections on life in a mental institution, is widely considered her masterpiece.

As her second husband’s health declined in the late 1980s, Merini struggled with her mental state once again. In 1988, she was admitted to the psychiatric wing of Taranto’s hospital. Isolated and in anguish, she turned to Bignotti, who helped her relocate to Milan shortly before Pierri’s death.

There, struggling financially and emotionally, she leaned on a group of friends. Scheiwiller Libri paid her rent; Bignotti also assisted her financially. Corti and the poet Giovanni Raboni shepherded her writing into new poetry collections, which led to her rediscovery.

Susan Stewart, a professor of English literature at Princeton University and the author of “Love Lessons,” a collection of Merini’s poems translated into English, said in an email that Merini had written “without inhibition of her inner life, and she was not interested in fulfilling the expectations of readers.”

“Her work is deeply empathetic to history, to myth, to the emotions and, in the end, to her own fate,” Stewart said.

Merini won two coveted Italian literary awards, the Librex Montale in 1993 and the Viareggio Prize for poetry in 1996. In 2001, she was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature.

In her final years she regularly appeared on TV, unkempt and regal at the same time. She was cheerful and witty, always ready to tell a joke. She was known to fish money from her bra and give it to those in need.

Merini wanted to be regarded as “the poet of joy,” Giovanni Nuti, a jazz composer who set her verses to music, said in an interview.

She died of cancer on Nov. 1, 2009, in Milan. She was 78. Her last wish, expressed to Nuti just before her death, was that her poetry be shared widely. Since then there have been festivals to mark her birthday and the anniversary of her death, as well as theatrical performances based on her work. A bridge in Milan was named after her.

“She wanted to reach the farmer at the market, the milkman, the butcher,” Nuti said by phone. “She wanted to reach everybody, because her language was one of love, speaking to everyone’s heart.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










Today's News

August 14, 2022

After Basquiat raid, Orlando Museum faces crisis of credibility

Berggruen Gallery opens an exhibition of recent paintings by California artist Clare Kirkconnell

Pace Gallery opens a solo exhibition of new and recent work by Kiki Smith at its East Hampton gallery

Getty to return three major sculptures to Italy

Kehrer Verlag publishes 'Oliver Jordan Portraits Band / Volume II'

Casa da Cultura de Comporta presents "I Could Eat You"

White Cube presents an exhibition of recent paintings and drawings by German artist Georg Baselitz

Casterline │ Goodman Gallery presents an exhibition of works by Boaz Vaadia

Tim Ferguson Sauder's Americans Flags on view Cape Ann Museum

Gerald Peters Contemporary opens an exhibition of works by Patrick Dean Hubbell

Passages Insolites: A public art circuit in Quebec City

Museum service unveils fresh look and name to celebrate inspiring culture and art across the city

Bill Pitman, revered studio guitarist, is dead at 102

Review: In a rueful 'Night Music,' the clowns are finally here

Gallery EXIT extends LI Ning's 'Welcome Jon Looka' exhibition until 27 August

Ukrainian Children bring a play from a bomb shelter to Brooklyn

Martos After Dark resents 'Night Fever, One Halo' by Arthur Simms

Too darn hot: How summer stages are threatened by climate change

Overlooked no more: Alda Merini, a poet of mental illness

Summer-fall exhibitions at the University Art Museum presents works by Sara Magenheimer and Chryssa

Monumental watercolours go on display at unique Lake District museum

Anna Laudel Bodrum presents Ardan Özmenoğlu’s solo exhibition 'Bodrumania'

Around the World in 80 Days 150th Anniversary Coin

How to Become an Airbnb Superhost

Sacred Art: Everything about sacred art unfiltered




Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .

 



Founder:
Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
produces:

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.
Hommage
       

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful