Tonino Guerra and his Romagna
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Honestly, I don’t think many know Tonino Guerra, especially the younger generations. It’s not their fault, of course, but it’s a pity and a lost opportuniy. But we can fix it.
If we just think about modern society, each of us hides his own weaknesses that plunges in the immediacy and in the brutal desire of satisfying any need without hesitations. Here, poetry strives to escape from this attitude, as the poets themselves do, or at least many think so.
If on the one hand, we are living in a time where the words are gradually losing their meaning and communication gets hyperfast, on the other, it is also true that communication forms such as poetry are the only weapons that can defy the depletion of language and mental laziness.
It’s for this reason that it’s vital to know people like Tonino Guerra, a poet, a screenwriter, a teacher, a dreamer, but first of all a man of Romagna with a kind heart.
The story of Tonino Guerra started in Santarcangelo di Romagna, on 16 March 1920, just in the aftermath of WWI. He was the last of four sons, but this didn’t stop him from continuing his studies and go to University.
Accused of being an antifascist, he was deported in Germany and imprisoned in an internment camp in Troisdorf in 1944. He escaped only one year later, when the war was over.
This experience inevitably marked Tonino, who couldn’t stop thinking about his home during his imprisonment years, entertaining his fellows with poetry and stories: ‘I found myself with some other people from Romagna, who would ask me every night to tell something in our dialect. So, I wrote for them a series of poems in Romagnol’.
Even though when he came back in Italy, he graduated in pedagogy, he couldn’t forget the poems in dialect he had written in Germany, so much so that he asked the great literary critic Carlo Bo (who would become the founder of the IULM University of Milan) to read them, and then decided to publish them at his own expenses in a collection entitled I Scarabocc (The Scribblings).
But this was just the beginning. From the Caffè Trieste in Santarcangelo di Romagna (owned by the parents of another great poet from Romagna, Raffaello Bandini, and meeting centre for many young poets—thus also called ‘E circal de giudeizi’ meaning ‘the circle of judgement’), Tonino became more and more famous, experimenting also narrative with his first novel The Story of Forunato (Fortunato’s Story, 1952).
From that, he moved to the cinema and screenwriting almost for chance, after Elio Petri’s invitation. He decided to move to Rome and started to work, despite his great financial difficulties, at the side of many who would have become some of the most famous Italian directors in the following years.
First, the great Federico Fellini, born in Romagna like Tonino: they realize together Amarcord (Amarcord), E la nave va (And the ships sails on), Ginger e Fred (Ginger and Fred). Later, he would work with Michelangelo Antonioni, Francesco Rosi, the Taviani brothers, Vittorio de Sica, Mario Monicelli, Damiano Damiani, Andrei Tarkovski and many others, with whom he signed important films, such as Deserto Rosso (Red Desert), Matrimonio all’Italiana (Marriage Italian Style), La Noia (Boredome), etc. almost achieving an Oscar in 1967 for the film Blow-Up.
But Tonino Guerra’s literary work is unstoppable. Besides his career’s milestone I Bu (The Oxen, 1972), he published many other works for a total number of 50 stories and poems, which earnt him several prizes, such as the Pirandello, the Pasolini, the Gozzano, the Nonino, the Carducci, and the Comisso.
He lived an intense life, supported by his fantasy and most of all, as Pasolini himself underlined, by a vivid realism, which led him to deal not only with words, but also with painting, sculpture, and art in general, driven by an absolute taste for both dreams and insanity. After 30 years spent in Rome, with long stops in Russia, he decided to go back in his Romagna. At first in 1984. Going back in Santarcangelo; later, in 1989, in Pennabilli, an old Malatesta town in the area of Montefeltro, where he used to spend long summer holidays.
Today, in the two municipalities, many places homage this extraordinary poet. Starting from the Museum Tonino Guerra, in the heart of Santarcangelo, which preserved his most artistic and eclectic works (portraits, sculptures, ceramic works, tapestries, printed canvas), and a rich media section; not to forget the big open-air museum, conceived and designed by Guerra himself in Pennabilli.
The so-called ‘Places of the Soul’, seven exhibition sites placed between the village and the precincts, build a bizarre and poetic path with installations, paintings, sculptures, and pottery works.
In Santarcangelo, Tonino died on 21 March 2012, by coincidence—or rather not—on the Poetry World Day issued by Unesco. His ashes were immured in the rock wall above his house in Pennabilli, Casa dei Mandorli, where the mount overlooks the valley.