Poem Strip

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A New York Review Books Original

 There’s a certain street—via Saterna—in the middle of Milan that just doesn’t show up on maps of the city. Orfi, a wildly successful young singer, lives there, and it’s there that one night he sees his gorgeous girlfriend Eura disappear, “like a spirit,” through a little door in the high wall that surrounds a mysterious mansion across the way. Where has Eura gone? Orfi will have to venture with his guitar across the borders of life and ...

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A New York Review Books Original

 There’s a certain street—via Saterna—in the middle of Milan that just doesn’t show up on maps of the city. Orfi, a wildly successful young singer, lives there, and it’s there that one night he sees his gorgeous girlfriend Eura disappear, “like a spirit,” through a little door in the high wall that surrounds a mysterious mansion across the way. Where has Eura gone? Orfi will have to venture with his guitar across the borders of life and death to find out.

Featuring the Ashen Princess, the Line Inspector, trainloads of Devils, Trudy, Valentina, and the Talking Jacket, Poem Strip—a pathbreaking graphic novel from the 1960s—is a dark and alluring investigation into mysteries of love, lust, sex, and death by Dino Buzzati, a master of the Italian avant-garde.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is weird, wild, wonderful.... The images are surreal, sexy and frightening, and the text is both compelling and poetic. There are shades of Fellini, shades of Dickens, shades of the great Italian horror director Mario Bava. A beautiful book."  — Los Angeles Times

"I think I stumbled upon this on late-night TV when I was a kid: Donovan, playing himself, wandering through a neo-Caligari lava-lamp world of writhing Barbara Steeles and Sophia Lorens in search of love and justice and groove.  I’m happy to see it’s on again." --Daniel Handler

“Images of spectres, harpies and symbols of death—out of a Gothic tale—alternate with the luscious nudity of witches and temptresses; Buzzati’s mythological comic strip constantly plays with horror and sex. It is frightening, lyrical and provocative.”
The New York Times

"One of Italy's best-known contemporary writers." --The New York Times

"Buzzati was a master at transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary, fusing the world of nightmare with that of objective reality, and thus creating an ominous universe of ambiguous, allegorical dimensions." --Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature

"Returning to a more experimental narrative style with Poema a fumetti, Buzzati presents a pop version of the ancient legend of Orpheus and Eurydice through the contemporary medium of the comic strip. He transforms the classical singer into Orfi, a rock-and-roll artist, and gives a new twist to the ancient myth." --Cassell Dictionary of Italian Literature

"It is surprising how many forgotten authors have managed to survive in their short fiction rather than their novels, even though their full-length works received critical adulation upon publication. Dino Buzzati is obscure even by bibliophiles' standards, but it's important to include him here because he was an extraordinary writer...Buzzati's greatest strength lay here, in a kind of Italian magical realism that heightened the simple and practical with seemingly fantastic elements...his writing feels timeless...  Indeed, finding his work without paying a fortune for it is a labour of patience." --The Independent (UK)

Publishers Weekly
Italian artist and author Dino Buzzati imagines a modern graphic novel version of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. In Buzzati's version, set in Milan, a singer called Orfi mourns his lover, Eura, and tracks her to the afterlife. Through a dreamscape made up of bordellos, train stations and a soulless Soviet-like bureaucracy, the singer searches for his lover while being schooled in the ways of the dead. The heartbreaking ending opens as many questions as it answers. Throughout, Buzzati, who died in 1972, offers a sumptuous meditation on the ways in which death gives life meaning, focusing on the sensations of music, sex and, paradoxically, mourning. Poem Strip was originally published in Italy in 1969. The text might have lost some of its lyricism in the translation from the Italian, as it occasionally seems stiff. The artwork retains its bold, sensual power, however. Although its psychedelic palette points to its '60s creation, the images are still strikingly modern and erotic. (Oct.)
The Barnes & Noble Review
At the end of the '60s, hedonism and terror collided with each other. All of a sudden, youth culture and the sexual revolution found themselves entangled with mortality and the decay of the flesh, and a lot of that moment's most notable art, from Easy Rider to Bitches Brew to Slaughterhouse-Five, came out of that collision and entanglement. The Italian polymath Dino Buzzati's 1969 Poem Strip is a lost marvel: absolutely of its time in some respects, 40 years ahead of it in others.

Buzzati's best-known novel was The Tartar Steppe, and he also wrote short stories, plays, and a science fiction novel. He was a visual artist of some repute, too. Poem Strip, though, was a unique project, as its title suggests by describing its form rather than its content. There were book-length comics in Europe at that time, of course, but what Buzzati did was something different; it's essentially a long poem augmented, and sometimes dominated, by Buzzati's illustrations, built around the drawing tropes and narrative techniques of comics (contour drawings, word balloons, multiple panels on many pages).

The body of Poem Strip concerns a young Milanese rock star by the name of Orfi, who sees his girlfriend, Eura, disappear into the realm of the dead. (Those names' resemblance to Orpheus and Eurydice is not at all coincidental.) He goes down to the underworld to investigate; he meets an empty jacket who explains that the joys of life are meaningless without the threat of death, and who tries to tempt him with the delights of the flesh that are meaningless to the dead. Orfi sings to the jacket about the world of the living and its ever-present disintegration and despair. Finally, he's permitted to search for Eura, but he's no more successful at bringing his beloved back to the world of the living than his namesake was.

Orfi bears a strong resemblance to another Italian auteur's icon of Eros and Thanatos: David Hemmings in Michaelangelo Antonioni's film Blow-Up. (In the scenes where Orfi is playing guitar, you can practically hear the Yardbirds jamming on the "Train Kept A-Rollin'" riff.) He's also virtually the only character here who gets to wear clothes: the voluptuous women who appear at every possible opportunity are, for the most part, obviously drawn from photos in girlie magazines, with the kind of adoring, objectifying specificity some old men reserve for young women's bodies. Buzzati was in his 60s when he drew Poem Strip -- he died three years later -- and time's winged chariot is palpably close in Orfi's songs about mortality.

But so is the brash newness of the art that was exploding around Buzzati in the '60s. His language, at least in Marina Harss's elegant English translation, often recalls the imagistic barrage of that moment's avant-garde poets: "Strum strum nine gentlemen in the dark of night / In their demonic carriage wearing tails / Leaving the party at the casino going fast / Gliding like spiders down tree-lined streets past mansions." There's something of Pop Art about Buzzati's drawing, too: its pastel tones, its hints of photographic collages re-rendered in cool pen lines. The most resonant images in the book, though, are all Buzzati's own: Orfi, in profile, his silhouette constructed entirely of handwritten script in half a dozen languages; a vision of everyone who has ever lived, "all together in the valley of Jehoshaphat," orderly rows of abstracted men and women and the occasional child, receding into the background until they become tiny dots and disappear; an old-fashioned carriage and driver constructed from pointillist spatter, with a quizzical, cowlicked skull peering out from the inside. The subtitle of Poem Strip promises "an explanation of the afterlife"; perhaps Buzzati could draw the next world as indelibly as he did because he knew he was close to it. --Douglas Wolk

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590173237
  • Publisher: New York Review Books
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Series: New York Review Books Classics Series
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Dino Buzzati (1906–1972) came from a distinguished family that had long been resident in the northern Italian region of the Veneto. His mother was a veterinarian; his father, a professor of international law. Buzzati studied law at the University of Milan and, at the age of twenty-two, went to work for Corriere della Sera, where he remained for the rest of his life. He served in World War II as a journalist connected to the Italian navy and on his return published the book for which he is most famous, The Tartar Steppe. A gifted artist as well as writer, Buzzati was the author offive novels and numerous short stories, as well as books for children, including The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily (published in The New York Review Children's Collection).
Marina Harss is a translator and dance writer living in New York City. Her recent translations include Mariolina Venezia's Been Here a Thousand Years, Alberto Moravia's Conjugal Love, and Pier Paolo Pasolini's Stories from the City of God.
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