Gianfranco Palmery


In English:

Videoclip readings

In Four



Poetry by the same author

Garden of Delights

I Does Not Exist

In Four


Sonnets Under Arrest


Books in English translation

Garden of Delights, Selected Poems. Gradiva Publications, New York, 2010


Books in Italian


Translations by the author

John Berryman

Tristan Corbière

John Keats

Jules Laforgue

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Jean de Sponde

Jude Stéfan


About the author

"Among the greatest poets active in Italy today" –Luigi Baldacci

"Absolutely unique in the Italian—or more rightly, European—context."   –Giovanna Sicari

"Palmery’s poetry sends firebolts, fumes, crackles, like the ember in Dante’s Inferno." –Edoardo Albinati

"One of the only contemporary stilnovisti (true crafters of verse) who currently grace the Italian literary stage" –Barbara Carle



Gianfranco Palmery

Gianfranco Palmery

Gianfranco Palmery, author of sixteen volumes of verse, four books on poetry and poets, as well as translations of Keats, Shelley, Poe, Berryman, Corman, Sponde, Corbière and Stéfan, was born and lived in Rome where he died on July 28, 2013, after a long illness. He was critic for the Roman daily, Il Messaggero, founder and director of the literary journal Arsenale and worte a column for the Pagine magazine. His poems, essays, and translations appeared in many reviews and papers such as Corriere della Sera, Paragone, Leggere, Poesia.



If I name your eyes, these
hopelessly expired objects
of poetry, double gems which the austere
ancient poets set in their verses:
it's not to kindle my own with cold
fire, make them shine with the facile effect
of evoked color, azure is your
case, yet with varying shades shifting
to the greens and greys of the most volatile
beryl, but so that the fire
of my verse may encircle those icy twins,
rouse their elusive brilliance,
and overturn time, reopen beautiful
sleeping crystals as flowers


How many times did I take them
for Minerva's eyes, cerulean mineral
lights that no fire alters
in their stately clarity: intent
on reading or in your tower sadness
of seclusion, if frosty
flashes radiate those astral
globes or if they ignite with the fatuous
dancing fires of smiles: Athena
without her war gear, lost
in your aerial thoughts—you are
my living palladium and the fire and splendor
of my verse is the ray of these
slandered celestial objects

(from L'opera della vita, 1986)



Secretions hair nails teeth skin:
they are advances and announcements, our precocious
pawns to earth, unknowing premature sepultures
or disappearances: scattered
signs of our passage—but also rings
of the opus bringing the four reigns
—with stones leaves branches feathers skins—
to the brightest and most obscure of gatherings.

Where do the nails go? Where goes the hair?
Detached from us they are no longer us but signs
of transience, impersonal appeals
from the part to the whole, so see to it that their loss
engages our mind and is linked to You,
who assigns a place to bodies and dross.

(from Il versipelle, 1992)

These translations by Barbara Carle are from Garden of Delights, Selected Poems, Gradiva Publications, New York, 2010.

Critical Acclaim

“Palmery pushes into the most impervious borderland between abstraction and the sayable. Like in Wallace Stevens, the succession of quatrains finds in the signals of the recluse ‘universal misfortune and grace’.” 
–Marco Caporali, L’Unità

“He is like a novelist, essayist or, better yet, an ancient poet, knowledgeable that is, of the untouchable power that emanates from his chosen material. [...] Palmery’s poetry sends firebolts, fumes, crackles, like the ember in Dante’s Inferno XIII, or like in the mental, rather than optical, pyrotechnies of Milton’s poem.”
–Edoardo Albinati, Pagine

“Palmery’s garden is theater and by right its inventor’s place is, together with Sade, Fourier and Loyola, among the ‘logoteti’, i.e. the founders of language, as defined by Roland Barthes.”
–Fabrizio Patriarca, Pseudolo

“Absolutely unique in the Italian—or more rightly, European—context, poet by vocation, perpetuator of a tradition, erudite translator of Keats, Stéfan, Berryman, founder of the magazine Arsenale, Palmery lives with a rigorous wellspring of tenacity his existential detachment.”
–Giovanna Sicari, Poesia

“An obstinate battle in verse against Nothingness, Death, the Demons of ambition and vice, represented with rock solid thematic and stylistic coherence.”
–Vincenzo Anania, Pagine

“Palmery’s poetry is the mental equivalent of travel to a war zone or the taking up of an extreme sport—every fiber in of our essence will be explored and stretched beyond what we believed possible.”
–Nancy Watkins, author of The Poet’s Room

“Even with every quatrain emitting a suffering need of the absolute, Palmery is animated and animates us, not with that need, but instead with his way of putting it.”
–Stefania Portaccio, Galleria

"Palmery has the same intimacy with night and death as Emily Dickinson. He is cruel and very sweet, heavenly, a San Juan de la Cruz... But mostly he resembles himself, the infinite, sharp selves who transform darkness into something like a sunny threshing-floor on which to beat the grain of existence.
–Domenico Adriano, Avvenimenti

“Finally, after so much anti-poetry and careless verse during the last few decades, in Palmery’s work we rediscover with wonder page after page a profound, liberating idea of that which was, and is, literature.”
–Giancarlo Pontiggia, Testo

“A contagious poetry, strongly rhythmic, enveloping, spiralesque—without doubt the most notable I’ve read in this closure of the millennium.”
–Luigi Fontanella, Gradiva

What first hit me in Palmery was the scandal of the contents. The modern poet is certainly the most prudish of all the generations of poets that have passed on earth; in reality he hasn’t gotten over that reaction to romanticism that consisted in determining what wasn’t right, wasn’t decent, to say in poetry. Palmery instead throws all his desperation at you right away without prudence. Maybe it isn’t a personal sentiment, but nevertheless a faith, a code, a deciphering grid: I was caught by and liked this courage to reveal, as Leopardi had, the hidden hand of the universal executioner.

Palmery is from Cioran’s stock. He himself speaks of slaughterings committed in some metaphysical stockyard. He doesn’t think of Poe as a creator of symbols, but as an inexhaustible source of horrors; he can revisit the Baudelairean Albatros or rewrite a Vie antérieure of his, as in Feria. Well, all this means courage; but I also know that all this – what we have called scandal – would not be enough if the inspection of that supreme degree of matter which is the nothingness, wasn’t physically represented and mimed by the words themselves.
At the foundation of the rhetorical system of Palmery is Dante, a Dante divested of all his meanings and nailed to the evidence of a wording that is generated by itself in perfect autonomy: “But perhaps it’s 89 – 9 and not 3 – / the imminent present: is this the term? / (The 3 while I am watching now turns / into a ring, its head closes into a 9, now it opens, it appears / and disappears: a serpent – it is that which is not) (Le Muse). The word is “between the before / and the after”, it is “ the uncatchable present that already / is not that which it is, eternally / non being, yet the only successor of it // self living and negator of self...” (Il versipelle); so the word is the only reality consented, a fleeting reality that – pressed by the accumulation of the past and the crumbling of the future – supremely is, in its same non being. Therefore the date 1983 can be reactualized in 1989, which is that of today: but above all, this says that of the present – and not only of tomorrow – there is no certainty.
It is also interesting to watch how Il versipelle turns from a human protagonist into the verse itself at the “ point / in which it bends, where with solemn slowness / or quickly it curves and / turns – not the firm line but the uncatch- / able spire. (...)” And so “nothing is left // but to twist in swirls / of envenomed verses that, in violent head- / heels turn, revolt, or / swell, wind and, one / to the other chaining themselves in curved / spires, wrap...”: only to highlight a passage of vertiginous compositive ability that turns a man into a verse and a verse into a serpent: remaining clear that these metamorphoses are the ultimate assurance that neither man nor verse nor serpent exist.

Sometimes Palmery resembles John Donne; but in him there is also a suggestion of the transcendental baroque of Giacomo Lubrano, a religiosity in negative, of a mystical type, as in Maria Maddelena dei Pazzi, that becomes a foretaste of the ecstasy of nonexistence while life, biology still interpose their weak shelter from that full acquisition. As in Pegni (Tokens): “Unghie secreti pelli peli capelli: / sono anticipi e annunci, i nostri pegni / precoci alla terra, ignari seppelli- / menti prematuri o sparizioni (...)”. (Fingernails, secretions, skin, body hair, hair: / are anticipations and announcements, our tokens / precocious to earth, unaware premature/ burials or disappearances...). Which is an excellent way of saying death discounts living, but where above all, that anticipation of nothingness is figured in the cancellation of a lexicon, so that “pelli, peli, capelli” (skin, body hair, hair) annul each other in the same play of rhyme with “seppelli” (bury), which would seem to originate in mere metric necessity, but instead assumes its peremptory significance. (...)

On my part, I prefer to admire in silence this rider of the apocalypse: among the greatest poets active in Italy today. “It is impossible, in the end, to explain a poem.” Francis Bacon said recently in an interview. Bacon, sure, who also belongs to the constellation under whose influence Palmery came to light – or rather to dark. (...)

Luigi Baldacci   From the Preface of Il Versipelle *

Critic Luigi Baldacci considers Dante to be at the foundation of Palmery's rhetorical system. A Dante stripped of all meaning and "nailed to the evidence of a signifier that generates itself in perfect autonomy." (Baldacci, Preface to Il versipelle). The poem which gives the book its title, Il versipelle, is written with terciary "Dantesque" stanzas which realize the serpentine transformations of Inferno XXV: "Fuggire il finito e cercare rifugio / dall'infinito con l'infinito / indugio […]" ("To flee the finite and seek refuge / from the infinite with the infinite / delay […]").

A dominant theme of Palmery's poetry is death. He sings of it in all guises and with all tones as his serpentine verses transform themselves into Medusa who in turn becomes emblem of poetry itself: "luce nera / sulla pagina bianca – e musica / sbilenca sibilante – musa-sibilla –: o infera // poesia! […]" ("black light / on white page—and crooked / sibilant music—Sibyl-Muse—: Oh infernal // poetry! […]”). Mythology is very present in Palmery's poems, though it is not always taken seriously (see Prometheus Housebound). Nor does his poetry offer salvation, rather it exudes "pathos and irony, it is physical writing about passion, evil, and suffering", observes Tiziano Salari (Testuale, 33, 2002). Indeed, as the title of his most recent book suggests, L'io non esiste (I does not exist) the poet lives and represents a sort of absence from himself and at the same time an imprisonment in his own body-sepulcher which is slowly dissolving to dust (See Apotheosis of Dust). This continuous vanishing into nothingness is developed by Palmery in what we could call a contemporary Baroque mode ("Trick, display, fragile semblance / of worked clay, pulp or pulsating / dust, ruin disguised / as victory […]" Apotheosis of Dust) At times the poet himself is target of irony or mockery as we may observe in many poems from In quattro:

Me ne sto su me stesso come un falco
o un torvo avvoltoio su un trespolo:
risibile rapace ormai allo smacco
rassegnato, nel suo piumaggio tetro e crespo.

I'm upon myself like a falcon
or a brooding buzzard on a trestle
laughable bird of prey resigned to mortification
in the gloomy ruffled plumage where he nestles.

The intricate system of alliteration, assonance, homophones, and rhymes create a very intense and difficult to translate poetic network. Palmery was very helpful during the months of writing, rewriting, and revision necessary to translate his poetry. His suggestions, explanations and clarifications were invaluable and all revealed the minute attention he affords to every detail of his each poem. I have been fortunate to be able to work with one of the only contemporary stilnovisti (true crafters of verse) who currently grace the Italian literary stage.

Barbara Carle The Sun in the Sepulcher: Six Poems by Gianfranco Palmery, "Gradiva", 33, Spring 2008.

Books in English Translation

Garden of Delights: Selected Poems, Preface and translation by Barbara Carle, Gradiva Publications, New York, 2010.


Books in Italian


Mitologie, Il Labirinto, Rome 1981.
L’opera della vita, Edizioni della Cometa, Rome 1986.
In quattro, Edizioni della Cometa, Rome 1991.
(Art edition with four ethchings by Edo Janich).
Il versipelle, Edizioni della Cometa, Rome 1992.
Sonetti domiciliari, Il Labirinto, Rome 1994.
Taccuino degli incubi, Edizioni Il Bulino, Rome 1997.
(art edition with two ethchings by Guido Strazza).
Gatti e prodigi, Il Labirinto, Rome 1997.
Giardino di delizie e altre vanità, Il Labirinto, Rome 1999.
Medusa, Il Labirinto, Rome 2001.
L’io non esiste, Il Labirinto, Rome 2003.
Il nome, il meno, Edizioni Il Bulino, Rome 2005.
(artist book with drawings by Guido Strazza).
In quattro, Il Labirinto, Rome 2006.
Profilo di gatta, Il Labirinto, Rome 2008.
Compassioni della mente, Passigli, Florence 2011.
Amarezze, Il Labirinto, Rome, 2012.
Corpo di scena, Passigli, Florence 2013.

Critical Essays

Il poeta in 100 pezzi, Il Labirinto, Rome 2004.
Divagazioni sulla diversità, Il Labirinto, Rome 2006.
Italia, Italia, Il Labirinto, Rome 2007.
Morsi di morte e altre tanatologie, Il Labirinto, Rome 2010.



* Translation from Italian by Victoria Shore


Edizioni Il Labirinto