21/10/1918 - 16/12/1972
Santo Calì was born in Linguaglossa, on the slopes of Mt. Etna, October 21, 1918. He studied in Rome, where he received a degree in literature. Having joined the army during W.W.II and a veteran of the Greek front, he devoted himself to teaching (he taught classical literature in high school) and political struggles, siding with day laborers and farmers. He was a city councilman and was even put to trial for his political passion.
His poetic works are: Mungibeddu, 1947; Frati Gilormu, 1966; Canti Siciliani, 1966; Répitu d'amuri pi la Sicilia, 1967; Josephine, 1969; they were later collected in the two volumes entitled La notti longa [The Long Night], published in 1972 by the Centro Studi Santo Calì.
He was also a keen essayist, and has left a vast body of critical work, among which: Folklore etneo [Etnean Folklore] 1959; La pazienza dei contadini [The Patience of Farmers], 1959; Cento lire al giorno per morire di fame [One Hundred Lire a Day to Die of Hunger], 1962; Frate Feliciano da Messina, il Raffaello dei Cappuccini, 1968.
He was included in Mondadori's anthology Le parole di legno. Poesia in dialetto del 900 italiano, 1984, edited by Mario Chiesa and Gianni Tesio.
He died in his Linguaglossa the night between the 15th and 16th of December, 1972.
Criticism: B. Piccitto, in Corriere di Sicilia, June 23, 1967; L. Sciascia V.Di Maria, Almanacco siciliano, Catania 1971; L. Patanè, Preface to La notti longa, Linguaglossa 1972; M. Cavallaro, Santo Calì un uomo scomodo, Catania 1979; Santo Calì, Yossiph Shyryn, antology edited by N. Scamacca, Trapani 1980; Santo Calì, Acts of the Convegno Nazionale di Studi, Linguaglossa, 16-19 december 1982.
For Santo Calì (1918-1972), the Linguaglossa dialect the language of his hometown becomes his idiom and the idiom of his land: ancient and new, its virginity constantly reborn, like the houri of Mohammed's paradise; he inserts jargon, current and obsolete expressions, digging deep to bring back to light linguistic vestiges of Sicilian history. A language of the underclass that, taken back to its roots, turns out to be more cultured than he had imagined. Rosario Contarino has spoken of the linguistic stance of Calì's poetry as "a memorial residue, almost a language of childhood, of the archaic, of the mother," at the same time definable "as a recovery of the living dialect (though the patrimony of a minority) on which can be brought to bear the shaping action of the cultured craftsman."
The dialectized insertions, derived more from foreign languages (brisci, slippinu, giubbòx, tenchiù, etc.) than from Italian, have entered common usage and been assimilated into Sicilian, according to an ancient tradition of the Sicilian people, as it had happened with Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Arabic.
In his search for a national Sicilian identity, Calì looks to Arabian civilization, more than the Magna Grecia, also in homage to the economic and cultural splendor the island experienced under Arabian domination. Saraceni di Sicilia [Saracens of Sicily] are the men of his land; this, writes Giuliano Manacorda, "is something more than a metaphor, it is a real link of history, blood, names, (...) it is the option for the marginalized part of his people."
In Calì there is a true process of identification: "My name is, if memory serves, Abdùl Kal. I was born in Linguaglossa, on the sulphurous slopes of Mongibello, October 21, 1918. Or 1128. Or maybe 1848. here in the Islamic island, devastated by the springs of the Prophet, the centuries don't count, time slides imperceptibly over the Mediterranean, without any sense. here everything is Arabian. Even the cramps in an empty stomach..."
The typology of the "Saracen" belong the characters of Calì's poetic world. As for example Ciccio Bagongo, Frate Gilormo, the narrative voice of Lu lamentu cubbu pi Rocca Ciravula [The Solemn Lament for Rocca Ciravula] and all the "sgranci," [crabs] like Yossiph Scyrin of the omonymous posthumous ballad, written this time in an Italian that both assimilates and parodies the expressive patterns of the neo-formalism of the Sixties, with a strong undercurrent of irony. Master Giuseppe Cirino, from the county of Màsqalah in Sicily, becomes having emigrated to Kansas City, Detroit, Los Angeles Mr. Yossiph Shyrin Abdùl Nàsseri Idrisi; his story affords the poet the opportunity to fire broadsides against neo-colonialism ("you are free to choose the type of slavery you want"), but also against the exponents of Gruppo 63 in Sicily and the Sicilian writers and poets more famous at the time, accused of receiving honours and profit from the cultural establishment, target of the Antigruppo, which he had joined.
Calì's work is a great poem of love and death. The eros finds his most significant exempla in the splendid lyrics of the "corpus" devoted to Jajita Azzola (Blue Agate: the name given by the poet to a passionate love he had in his mature years), pervaded by a constant sentiment of death. Tànathos, present in many texts and particularly in the famous Lamentu cubbu pi Rocca Ciravula, becomes heartrending (and even redeeming) in the Jajita "corpus."
It should be noted that Calì output, with the exception of the youthful sonnets of Mongibeddu, in the late Forties, becomes dense and impetuous between 1966 and 1972, the year of his death.
.: la notti longa