OBITUARY:Dario Bellezza

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The Independent Online
During the last few weeks, the Italian press ran stories about one of their favourite Roman celebrities, the poet, novelist and playwright Dario Bellezza. He was born into the genial chaos of post-war Italy, in a poor working-class family, and lived for the entire 51 years of his turbulent existence in the streets of Rome. In his early twenties, he started writing poetry and stories, a first collection of which, Invettive e Licenziosite ("Curses and Caresses"), was published by Garzanti in 1971.

He was outspokenly and aggressively homoerotic in his sexual orientation, both in his writing and in his daily life. His work naturally attracted the attention, and the admiration, of Pier Paolo Pasolini, who was to be one of the many literary figures supporting him. These included the great poet, also homosexual, Sandro Penna, the novelist Alberto Moravia and his wife Elsa Morante, about whom he wrote a fine love-hate poem, "Canzoniere per E.M."

His relationship with Penna was particularly close, and that old poet's poetic style, lucid and natural as breath, influenced his own. Bellezza's first novel, Il Carnefice ("The Executioner", 1973) was a revelation to Pasolini, who detected in it a violent conflict of emotions that resembled his own passionate urge towards condemnation and absolution. The two writers wrote in the forthright poetic prose of the lower classes and held up as heroes the working-class men and boys so brilliantly portrayed in the neo-realistic movies of the post-war era.

Pasolini's assassination in 1975 by a teenage tough on a dark stretch of beach at Ostia haunted and obsessed Bellezza for the rest of his life. In 1981, he published his first revolutionary work on his dead friend, Morte di Pasolini, and the second, Turbamento ("Disturbance") in 1984.

In 1981, I was writing a series of documentary poems about the murder of Pasolini for my collection Ecce Homo: My Pasolini, and after reading Morte di Pasolini I wrote to Bellezza, who sent me in a series of letters valuable information about his own experience of this brutal and controversial homosexual tragedy. In that first book, Bellezza attempts to relive the drama on his own autobiographical terms, invoking both chance and destiny in its elucidation as a "natural" death subconsciously always desired by his friend. He attacked the brutal sensational coverage of the death in the press, with its crude documentary reportages and pitiless photos of Pasolini's naked body.

These "autobiographical biographies" were essentially extensions of Bellezza's earlier novels, Lettere da Sodoma (1972) and Angelo (1979). He revealed to me the social significance of Pasolini's death: the fact that for Pasolini the contraceptive pill was liberating Italian women and allowing them sexual freedom with the working-class men whom homosexuals had until then been able to call their own. Pasolini was no longer young, though his increasing fame as a film-maker and a writer made him an attractive target for both political and social enemies and sexual hangers-on.

The past was past, the present unlivable: he could not come to terms with it: death became the only solution, ever since the first intimations of old age had begun to torment him. He could no longer find those days of old, in a decade become empty and joyless, and Pasolini was now walking in a desert without mirages.

These books are indeed memorable eulogies for a great man.

But Bellezza was also well known as a poet, and in 1976 he obtained the prestigious Viareggio prize for Morte segreta. Bellezza paraphrased Oscar Wilde:

Love kills the thing it loves:

you - you do not know who said that

you now far away whose memory

assassinates me now, makes me

numb

and sick of everything:

self-slaughter

whose will be the first, yours or mine?

These moving lines written for someone he had loved and lost, someone whose ignorance and indifference drove him to despair, come from the 1990 collection, Libro di Poesia. In 1994, he won the Montale prize for poetry.

In the last weeks of his life, he had provoked excited comment in the press and among his still-remaining, ever-dwindling circle of literary friends, by insisting that he be allowed to treat his Aids by testing a bogus healing machine, "to stimulate the lymphocytes", wrongly claimed to halt the progress of the disease.

After a hard fight, he won the right to test it . . . without result. Then his friends tried to obtain a state pension for Bellezza, who was living in abject poverty. He made some last appearances on TV chat shows. But it was too late. He did not live on long enough to receive the first instalment of his pension.

James Kirkup

Dario Bellezza, poet, novelist, playwright: born Rome 5 September 1944, died Rome 31 March 1996.

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