A Violent Life: The Prophecies of Pier Paolo Pasolini

In the early hours of 2nd November 1975, a mutilated body was discovered on the Lido di Ostia, a district of Rome by the Tyrrhenian Sea. Badly beaten, burnt and crushed, having been repeatedly run over by a car; it was a violent and ignoble end to the life of a man whose artistic and intellectual valour had made him an Italian cultural icon. Pier Paolo Pasolini was born in Bologna on 5th March 1922, his mother was a teacher and his father an Italian army lieutenant with Fascist sympathies, who was credited with identifying and capturing Anteo Zamboni, a 15 year-old anarchist who attempted to assassinate Mussolini during a March on Rome celebration parade in Bologna on 31st October 1926. The shot fired by Zamboni missed the Prime Minister, and the teenager was set upon and lynched by a Fascist squad. Today, the Mura Anteo Zamboni a street in Bologna, bears his name, and a plaque marks the spot where he was found.

Like many scholars and poets before him, such as René Daumal and Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, Pasolini idolised Arthur Rimbaud and began writing poetry as a way of coping with the family’s frequent relocations. Returning to the city of his birth to enrol at the Literature College of the University of Bologna in 1939, Pasolini developed a passion for the cinema as well as poetry after attending a film club. Failing to establish his own poetry magazine with his friend and fellow poet Roberto Roversi, Pasolini self-published a volume of his own works in 1941, entitled Versi a CasarsaWritten mostly in Friulian, a language spoken in the Friuli area of North-East Italy, where his family were then living in the commune of Casarsa, Pasolini developed a lifelong affinity with the unique identity and culture of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

A trip to Nazi Germany in 1941 gave Pasolini further cause to question the political regime in Italy, and he concluded that his own outlook was best represented by Communism. In September 1943, Pasolini was drafted and taken as a prisoner of war by the Germans. However, he soon escaped and made his way back to Casarsa. To make ends meet, he began tutoring students whose educations had been disrupted by the war, and it was with one of these students that he engaged in his first love affair, having previously suppressed his homosexuality. Continue reading

So Far And Beyond: The Style Of Til Brugman

Mathilda Maria Petronella Brugman, known as ‘Til,’ was born on 16th September 1888 in Amsterdam, the eldest of nine children. The Brugman family were strict Roman Catholics and their first-born daughter’s assertiveness and sexuality would become a source of domestic conflict. At the age of 11, Brugman was sent to a Catholic girl’s boarding school, having already shown an aptitude for languages, encouraged by her mother. In 1911, Brugman found her own apartment in Amsterdam, taking a job as translator.

Always acknowledging that she was attracted to her own sex, Brugman fell in love with the opera singer Sienna Masthoff in 1917, and the couple moved to The Hague, where Brugman worked as a foreign languages tutor. At the same time, Brugman started to write poetry, inspired by her friendship with the avant-garde painter Piet Mondrian.

By 1917, Modrian had become affiliated with the recently formed collective of artists and architects, known as De Stijl. Founded by the designer and painter Theo van Doesburg, the group considered that art should be stripped down to the bare essentials, favouring simple bold lines and mainly black and white colour schemes. Others associated with the movement included the Hungarian painter, Vilmos Huszár and architect and furniture designer, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld. Additionally, a journal of the same name was produced in order to publicise De Stijl’s abstract notions and concepts, with the first edition proclaiming, ‘There is an old and a new awareness of art. The former focuses on the individual. The new focus on the universal.’ Continue reading

This Side Of Paradise: Rupert Brooke And The South Seas

‘I want to walk a thousand miles, and write a thousand plays, and sing a thousand poems, and drink a thousand pots of beer, and kiss a thousand girls,’ and, added Rupert Brooke as he made plans to leave England in May 1913 ‘– oh, a million things.’ Seduced by the lure of  far away and exotic lands, Brooke would travel thousands of miles, write several poems, and meet many girls, but only one would truly capture his heart.

Brooke’s often dramatic and largely unsatisfying romantic entanglements, frequently a source of great anguish to him, had contributed to his decision to seek pastures new. His most enduring attachment had been to Ka Cox, whom he met at Cambridge, along with Noel Olivier, yet both women were drawn to other suitors; in Cox’s case, the painter Henry Lamb, and in Olivier’s, the dashing Hungarian poet Ferenc Békássy. Upon learning that Cox hoped to marry Lamb (she did not and would go on to wed the civil servant Will Arnold-Forster in 1918), Brooke suffered a breakdown, whilst visiting Lulworth Cove in Dorset towards the end of 1911 and start of 1912, and a period of precarious mental and physical health ensued. An offer from the Westminster Gazette to pay his travel costs in exchange for a series of articles about America and Canada, appeared to be just the tonic he needed. Perhaps glimpsing the foreboding clouds of war gathering across Europe, Brooke decided to extend his journey to include New Zealand and the South Seas.

Sailing from San Francisco, Brooke arrived in Waikiki in October 1913, before travelling on to Pango in Samoa a month later. Enchanted by the islands, he exclaimed in a letter to his friend Edward Marsh, ‘it’s all true about the South Seas! I get a little tired of it at moments, because I am just too old for Romance, and my soul is seared. But there it is: there it wonderfully is: heaven on earth, the ideal life, little work, dancing, singing and eating, naked people of incredible loveliness, perfect manners, and immense kindness, a divine tropical climate, and intoxicating beauty of scenery.’ Departing for Fiji on the SS Torfua in mid-November, Brooke arrived on the 19th and quickly immersed himself in Fijian culture, even attending the funeral of a Fijian princess who had died from pneumonia. Just before Christmas, Brooke boarded the Niagara and sailed to Auckland, with a trip to Tahiti planned for the January of 1914. Continue reading

A Man Of Dust: The Battles Of Keith Douglas

The Second World War is seldom feted for its poetry, despite producing poets whose talents rivalled those of the 1914-1918 conflict. Though he remained relatively unknown until the reissue of his work in 1964, of all the later conflict’s poets, the most striking was Captain Keith Douglas, with poems such as The Knife, and How to Kill hinting at the great promise that had barely begun to surface before his death on 9th June, 1944. In Desert Flowers, written in 1943, Douglas freely admits, ‘Rosenberg I only repeat what you were saying’ and he made no secret of how he looked to the earlier soldier poets, such as Isaac Rosenberg for inspiration, claiming their poetry was enacted ‘everyday on the battlefields’ and admiring how they communicated their personal experiences of battle.

Born on 24th January 1920 in Tunbridge Wells, Douglas’s childhood was marred by the illnesses of both his parents, which led to financial hardship for the family and the breakdown of their marriage by 1929. Douglas’s father later remarried and subsequently distanced himself from his young son, who was sent to a boarding school near Guildford. Douglas later recalled how his father’s rejection led him to retreat into his own imaginary world, which was ‘so powerful as to persuade me that the things I imagined would come true.’ In 1931, with his mother no longer able to afford his school fees, Douglas was sent to Christ’s Hospital near Horsham, where assistance funds covered the costs of his education.

Douglas left Christ’s Hospital in 1938, to read History and English at Merton College, Oxford. At Oxford he encountered the war poet, Edmund Blunden, who was his tutor and a profound influence upon the young man.  It was at Oxford that Douglas’s love of poetry was fostered, he also met the only woman with whom he would fall deeply in love, a Chinese student named Yingcheng, who turned down his proposal of marriage, a rejection that, like that of his father, he would never quite get over. Though he would go on to have other lovers, he would tell Yingcheng, you, however cheaply you behave…will always be the only person I love completely – you’ll become almost a goddess or a mania if you go away… If you ever can decide that things could be all right… please have the courage and confidence in me to come back.’ Continue reading