Between Destiny and Guilt – 5 Poems by De Alberti

5 poems from Displacing the Conflict

Translated by Jessica Harkins with artworks by Emanuele Resce

Avrei potuto fare di più nella vita
che portare persone su un carretto di legno.

I could have done more with my life
than carry people on a wooden cart.     


Nella sua stanza non vede altro che lische,
strofina una lampada con un calzino.
Si chiede che senso abbia attendere la sfortuna,
formare un talento,
addestrare con metodi educativi una flotta di navi.
Allena soldati a sbarcare,
alcuni hanno un crepacuore,
altri un percorso individuale.
Per non sparire accetta l’abitudine di affermare.
Si domanda senza riuscire a dare una spiegazione
se un’antenna di grillo possa trasportare i ricordi,
se le vittime della natura lasciano un testamento,
confessa di non capirci niente,
sa che un insetto dopo la morte
mantiene la stessa consistenza,
forse per via dell’umidità del suolo.

In his room he sees nothing but fishbones,
he wipes off a lamp with a sock.                                
He wonders if it makes sense to wait for misfortune,
to develop a talent,
to train a fleet of ships using educational methods.
He prepares soldiers to disembark,
a few have broken hearts,
others an individual path.
To avoid disappearing, he adopts the habit of affirming.
He asks himself, unable to answer,
if a cricket’s antenna can transmit memories,
if the victims of nature leave a last will and testament,    
he admits he doesn’t understand anything,
he knows that an insect after death
maintains the same consistency,
perhaps due to the humidity of the soil. 


Il Grande Cavallo beneficia
dello spirito di un guscio,
un mondo che non ha
si sforza di attaccare tutto.

The Great Horse benefits
from the essence of a shell,
a world he does not possess            
strives to attack everything.                                                         


I fiumi sono un fatto di cronaca,
una volta prosciugati non immagina più i pesci
che invece amano il fuoco come gli uomini,
le foglie, la loro castità disarmante.
Nell’acqua prima o poi ci finiscono tutti,
in un calendario di meno.
Si strofina troppe volte gli occhi,
gli piace osservare una libellula su una canna da pesca,
gli piace mangiare il pesce.
Nella parte più profonda del tubo vede le stelle senza trivellazione.
Tutte le vittime cadono di sbieco.
Bisogna credere che ogni cammino finisca nell’acqua,
perché la morale è un obbligo, gli disse il padre.
Ogni informazione privata è storia che si ritira.

The rivers are a news story,
since they dried out, he no longer imagines fish
that instead, like human beings, love fire,
the leaves, their disarming chastity.
Sooner or later everyone ends up in the water,
fewer in a saints’ calendar.
He rubs his eyes too often,
he likes watching a dragonfly on a fishing pole,
he likes eating fish.
In the deepest part of a tube, he sees stars without drilling.
All victims fall sideways.
We must believe that every path ends in the water,
because morality is a requirement, his father told him.     Every private communication is the ebbing of history.


Riusciva solo con grandi sforzi.
Se a uno a ogni passo gli capita qualcosa
alla fine diventa nervoso.
I bambini andavano in giro con bastoni di legno.
Era un bambino al quale capitava sempre qualcosa.
Quando la natura sbucò
dall’altra parte la prese in fronte. Ora.

He succeeded only through great efforts.  
If something happens to a person at every step, 
eventually he becomes nervous.
Children went around with wooden sticks.
He was a child that things always happened to.
When nature popped up
on one side, he took it in the forehead. Now.

De Alberti – Between Destiny and Guilt – A Critical Essay by Demetrio Marra

All poems by De Alberti were translated by Jessica Harkins

We don’t spend our whole lives under shelter,
our desires have cold feet

(De Alberti, “The road to comprehension“, from Dall’Interno della specie)

I first met Andrea De Alberti during an event organized by the Borromeo College in Pavia in 2014. In a small room in the “Gemma” (the corridor that runs, one floor underground, with a barrel vault, on the Richini side of the building), De Alberti was reading – his son sat in the benches with us, freshman Literature students – from the then-unpublished Dall’interno della specie (From within the Species). Immediately, with his shadow covering and interrupting the texts projected on the panel behind him, I had the impression of being facing a whole piece of work [un’opera]. It was absurd: there were only three or four texts at most, in prose, or still in progress (perhaps the title of the meeting was “In the Poet’s Workshop”, organized by the same Jessica Harkins that translated these poems for lay0ut) – with his typical long verse, or rather, his sentence-verse, having yet to establish itself.

Some time ago, in a beautiful bookstore in Milan (L’Aleph, inside the Lima metro station on the red line), I had the opportunity to retrieve his first book, now out of print, Solo buone notizie (Interlinea, 2007; Only Good News): a sort of canzoniere in reverse, where the lyric doesn’t seem to be based on the self, nor on the you: rather on a series, a set, a crowd of benevolent interlocutors who besiege him, to whom he presents himself as an ambassador (of himself). From which he liberates himself and liberates them. In the preface, Angelo Stella, with more expertise, spoke of “lyrical narrativity,”

in the three stages (In presenza del fantasma [In the Presence of the Ghost] – Ancora una presenza [Another Presence] – In tempo di pace [In Time of Peace]) of his cantata for a single voice and a chorus of closed mouths, performed with clear, harmonious, sotto voce tones and not at all strangled […].

The three “stages” mark three different meanings that all turn around the figure of his father – the day of his death in ’99, he recalled in an interview with “L’EstroVerso,” De Alberti wrote his “first real poem” (1).
But anyway: after that meeting at the Borromeo College, I got to know De Alberti as a guest and host, as the center around which many of the poetry events in Pavia were organized (2). His second book, Basta che io non ci sia (Manni, 2010; As long as I’m not there), then comes as a circular memory (but a secret one, he is always projected towards the other and rarely talks about himself) and is infused with that periodicity that felt so much like routine, like a ritual. De Alberti tells us about his parents, the movement from his father to his son, who seems to surpass him in the logic of genealogy. There, the subject is still a participating observer, an anthropological medium y who tries desperately to detach himself but is drawn into it (3).

Dall’interno della specie (Einaudi, 2017; From Within the Species – in between, there’s Litalìa, La grande illusion, 2011) is the opposite attempt, perhaps even vertical, to seek this annihilation of the self. Before, it was a private matter, now it’s a matter of the species: the individual extinguishes itself or lights up, it’s the same in the collective.

A stopwatch for emotions 

A stopwatch for emotions should come with
someone who dreams of you as you will be. 
We were in a bottleneck that became therapeutic, 
we listened more, because everything was a strange 
digression of life towards a moment when, if 
life fell apart, it would take us all with it.
It’s possible a lot of time went by, then it came out:
the story of the two of us who had attached ourselves 
to an umbilical cord so as not to plummet
before the start of the new world. 

Now, in his latest book, “La cospirazione dei tarli. L’universo di Don Chisciotte” (Interlinea, 2019; The Conspiracy of Moth-Eaten Pages: The World of Don Quixote), this vertical passage breaks the sound barrier and becomes rhetorical, allegorical, and therefore literary: yet another biography of Cervantes is confused by design with that of Don Quixote. Everyone goes mad, author and protagonists, to the point that the initial goal is revealed: a schizophrenic Pierre Menard would like to write the life of Andrea De Alberti as Andrea De Alberti lived it, finally finding out that nothing is lived, and every subject only makes sense when thought by another subject that makes sense only if… (When I fell asleep, I saw myself reflected…).

In all these books, it’s enough to read a couple of lines to repeat that original impression: that behind there is a genealogy of meanings, that there is a huge and imposing symbolic construction. A project, to speak with less instinct or emotion (but when he presented the Twelfth Notebook of Contemporary Poetry at the Osteria, he spoke precisely and almost exclusively of emotion, which is the luxury we all aim for, namely to be able to be questioned by the texts without the rest, only with the texts). Andrea De Alberti’s books have a very long, contradictory gestation. One proof is the series of Facebook posts Ho chiamato l’editoreI called the publisher, which humorously retells of the wait to publish in the Bianca Einaudi series:

I called the editor. I asked him: Should we put a binding around the book? He answered me by saying only if it needs a cover [June 13,2016].

A series that lasted for years (since 2014) (4). Or see also the texts already translated into English by Jessica Harkins for “Versodove” in December 2019, from Displacing The Conflict, just a few months after the last book:

The director watched our time. Among all the mammals, only man has ears that do not reveal his emotions, wrote Auden and I thought that this was true. The bank was our cave of Altamira, the one discovered by a child one day in 1878.  Horses, boars, three deer: a long list of expenses painted in red, announcing each day’s end. When we started to ask for broth in the evenings again, we understood that we would be saved.

Texts that seek an evolutionary co-cause in the “economic” value (when I met him at the Il Delfino bookstore in Pavia, he enthusiastically recommended Soldi (Money) by Tarkos, published in Italy by Tic Edizioni. De Alberti as a secular scholar, if you will).

Back to us: the macrotext, the framework of meanings and forms of his books, is alluded to by the individual text itself, included within the text, in such a real way that it also seems to be designed, just like that metonymic search that leads the subject to be a man, his autobiography to become History (and one might say: of course, the macrotext and the text are reciprocally implicated by definition. Okay, but when this mutual implication is visible like the rings of a chainmail, against the polyester threads?). From The Conspiracy of Moth-Eaten Pages, fifth section:

The face of goodness always has something of the sublime,
and so, I was pulled into this tendency to create a frame       
that would satisfy everyone.
The most human of problems can be resolved without struggle.  
I do not know when the war will end,
I only wanted to know how things were done,
but I didn’t manage to figure it out.
I began to walk as though that were
the only gesture of good luck for you.

Tendency to recreate the Frame“. In myth, and in Greek myth, the individual exists because their telos, their end, their destiny exists. Like the primal Don Quixote, the author De Alberti aims for the larger windmill, the Frame (the Meaning, if you will). His goal – even in Displacing the Conflict – is to move on to the next box: from the self for oneself to the self for the son, under the father’s banner. Then Italy, perhaps better the Species. Then Literature; Economics on the one hand, Myth on the other. However, one box never stops containing the other.

In fact: by crossing this bridge between Literature and Myth-Destiny, one returns to genealogy, which is – as Matteo Trevisani would say in his Libro del Sangue Book of Blood (Atlantide, 2021) – a look both into the future and into the past, which, in the account of the dead, is essentially the same matter:

He asks himself, unable to answer…
if the victims of nature leave a last will and testament          

Returning to myth is returning to the father, I believe. Astyanax, son of Hector – with whose killing the Iliad ends. Little is known about the fate of the “lord of the city” (from ancient Greek Ἀστυάναξ, Astyánax); he may have been killed by Neoptolemus, Achilles’ son, who might have spared him. Two sons teetering in the tradition of texts, torn between repeating their fathers’ sins or removing them.

The choice is between destiny and guilt, then. It has always seemed to me that De Alberti wanted to rid himself of guilts he never committed and that, due to their gratuitousness, stick to him like insects to blood or sugar. That’s why I asked him to provide a few texts for lay0ut, which started its own journey this year precisely under the sign of guilt, perhaps echoing the verses of Philip Larkin, from ‘This Be the Verse’ (‘High Windows,’ 1974):

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
and don’t have any kids yourself.

For me, a critic by training (by training!), it’s strange that in this note, I haven’t yet talked about more verifiable matters, like the mentioned verse-sentence (a lightbulb moment of the coincidence between syntactic structure and verse) or the tension between assertiveness and non-assertiveness that repeats the tension between degree zero writing and aphorism (All victims fall askew). But for De Alberti, the stylistic spoiler counts more than the plot, so it’s a mortal sin to cast, a priori or a posteriori, a light or a shadow on his texts. So, I only ask you to take part in my instinct, that I see something much larger than how it presents itself, even just on a quantitative level.


(1) In An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic (Knopf, 2017), Daniel Mendelsohn explains how “sēma” in Greek means “sign” and “signal,” yes, and after that, “tomb” and “sepulcher.” The sign – the oar that Elpenor, in Book XI, asks to be thrust above his tomb, to provide future generations with a sign of his presence in the world – is in the presence of the corpse. Poetry as a word in the presence of the ghost.

(2) “Or rather, an innkeeper-poet [here, in italian we have a wordplay. Oste-poeta is similar to Osteopata (osteopath)], as he began to accept being called in journalistic summaries (for a poet of a poem like Il dolore ai tempi dell’Aulin – Pain in the Days of Aulin it seems sufficiently honest, in its irony). He worked at the Osteria alle Carceri and organized poetry gatherings once or twice a month, on Sundays, on the ground floor. They all inevitably ended in a risotto or a casserole and in wine, in Bonarda (a typical padanian wine), but at a certain point, what mattered more. An atmosphere I haven’t found again, disrupted by the pandemic.

(3) Here is the Telemachy: the homecoming (nostos in greek) of the father that mingles and confuses with the journey of the son, of opposite direction.

(4) I wrote an article about Andrea De Alberti’s social writing for “Treccani” in the series Facebook as a Literary Space (15/09/2020 and 1/10/2020).

Andrea De Alberti was born in 1974 in Pavia. His works can be found in the Eighth Italian Notebook of Contemporary Poetry. He published the book “Solo buone notizie” in 2007 (Interlinea), followed by “Basta che io non ci sia” in 2010 (Manni). In 2011, he released “Litalìa” (La Grande Illusion), and in 2017, “Dall’interno della specie” (Einaudi). His 2019 work is “La cospirazione dei tarli. L’universo di Don Chisciotte” (Interlinea).

Jessica Harkins è nata in California nel 1973. Ha studiato lingua italiana all’università dell’Oregon e attraverso una borsa di studio presso il Collegio Ghislieri a Pavia. Successivamente ha conseguito il suo Master in poesia e dottorato in letteratura inglese presso Washington University a St. Louis. I suoi libri includono The Paled Guest (L’ospite impallidito) (2018, Kelsay Books) e Jukebox (2023, Bottlecap Press).
Attualmente insegna al College of St. Benedict e St. John’s University in Minnesota dove vive con il suo marito e i loro due figli.

Emanuele Resce, born in 1987, lives and works in Milan. After attending the Art High School in Benevento, he dedicated several years to Marxist political activism. In 2019, he co-founded OMUAMUA, a community of artists centered around a 270m2 space. His artistic research develops in parallel with an interest in ancient civilizations and a reevaluation of the concept of primitivism in relation to the contemporary world.

Demetrio Marra holds a degree in Modern Philology from the University of Pavia and has completed the Master’s program in Publishing at the Scuola del Libro. He is the editorial director of lay0ut magazine. He also writes for the Italian Language section of Treccani and for Triennale Magazine. He recently curated the reissue of “Il pensiero perverso” by Ottiero Ottieri for Interno Poesia. Currently, he resides in Milan and works as a professor.