Pier Paolo Pasolini was a critic, philologist, film director, playwright, translator, and novelist as well as a poet. His first novel, Ragazzi di vita (1955; The Ragazzi, 1968), based on rigorous sociological, ethnographic, and linguistic observation, chronicles the wasted street-life of shantytown adolescents through dialogue, flashbacks, and direct intrusions by the author; Pasolini makes original and abundant use of slang and street language. Within three months after the book appeared, the prime minister’s office reported it to the public prosecutor in Milan for its “pornographic content,” and Pasolini was brought to trial. Similar controversies recurred throughout Pasolini’s career as a writer and film director.
Outside Italy, Pier Paolo Pasolini is better known as a director of films than as a poet, and even within Italy, it was not until nearly a decade after his death that his poetic talent was fully appreciated. His poetry is considered the most important in Italy after Giuseppe Ungaretti’s generation and ranks with the work of Bertolt Brecht and Pablo Neruda as among the most powerful political poetry of the twentieth century. At the time of Pasolini’s early education, a triad of nineteenth century poets (Giosuè Carducci, Giovanni Pascoli, Gabriele D’Annunzio), fond of artificial language and classical literary convention, ruled Italian letters; they were followed by the hermetic school of poetry (Umberto Saba, Ungaretti, Eugenio Montale), which emphasized personal expression and symbolic density.
Both schools were disdainful of social commentary in poetry. After the fiasco of Italian Fascism, however, the politically responsive Neorealist was born in Italy, and it was within the framework of Neorealism that Pasolini worked. When Le ceneri di Gramsci (Gramsci’s ashes) appeared in 1957, it broke a long line of pure lyric and hermetic poetry in Italy: The poet described his own inner conflict between reason and instinct, between nostalgia for the past and the need for a new order, using a straightforward Italian diction free of the Latinate loftiness to which his poetic predecessors had necessarily been bound.
Baranski, Zygmunt G., ed. Pasolini Old and New: Surveys and Studies. Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts Press, 1999. A collection of biographical and critical essays on Pasolini. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
Gordon, Robert S. C. Pasolini: Forms of Subjectivity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Gordon analyzes Pasolini’s intensely charged, experimental essays, poetry, cinema, and narrative, and their shifting perspectives of subjectivity.
Pasolini, Pier Paolo. The Letters of Pier Paolo Pasolini. Edited by Nico Naldini. London: Quartet Books, 1992. A collection of Pasolini’s correspondence translated into English that provides invaluable insight into his life and work.
Rohdie, Sam. The Passion of Pier Paolo Pasolini. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. A critical study that is primarily concerned with Pasolini’s work in film, but provides valuable biographical information.
Rumble, Patrick and Bart Testa, eds. Pier Paolo Pasolini: Contemporary Perspectives. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1994. A collection of essays that explore the work of Pasolini, his time with the Communist Party. From the 1990 conference, Pier Paolo Pasolini: Heretical Imperatives, held in Toronto.