Valerio Magrelli was born in 1957 in Rome, Italy, where he earned a degree in philosophy. After gaining his doctorate in French literature, he shared his extensive expertise in the language and literature of France as a lecturer at the University of Pisa. He is currently a professor in this field at the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio.
At age 23 Magrelli published his first work, a volume of poetry titled »Ora serrata retinae« (1980; tr: Medical term for the serrated extremity of the optic part of the retina), which caused quite a stir in the literary world. As a translator into Italian of works by French writers such as Valéry, Verlaine and Debussy, Magrelli – in an interpretation by the American publisher and poet, Jonathan Galassi – sees poetry as a transformation of language, which he playfully explores. A connoisseur of the traditions of his craft, Magrelli often writes about writing, laying bare the inner life of words, such as in his characteristically bold acrostic on Dante, who is the »DNA of poETry«, and not just for Italian authors. In addition to collections of poetry, including »Nature e venature« (1987; tr: Nature and veinings), »Disturbi del sistema binario« (2006; tr: Disruptions of the binary system) and most recently »Il sangue amaro« (2014; tr: Bitter blood), Magrelli published a volume of prose in 1992 titled »Il viaggetto« (tr: The journey) and his poetological lexicon »Che cos’è la poesia? La poesia raccontata ai ragazzi in ventuno voci« (tr: What is poetry? Poetry recited to boys in 21 voices) in 2005. With the hope of making the poet’s work better-known in the United States, in 2010 the publishing house Farrar Straus Giroux released »Vanishing Points«, a bilingual volume of poems translated by the poet Jamie McKendrick and selected from all the books Magrelli had published since 1980. The literature critic Daniel Bosch considers this volume the quintessence of Magrelli’s oeuvre: short texts in free verse that is not staged in any way, but rather takes effect calmly and cautiously over time. Despite his stature as a professor, who as a literature critic occasionally fills an entire book in reviewing a single poem by Charles Baudelaire, Magrelli’s artistic stance is not that of the all-knowing poet, but rather the doubting poet, who approaches ambiguity with respect instead of trying to contain it with clear and scholarly terms. Intellectual and emotional challenges are not portrayed as solvable; they are tackled first with words, and only then is reflection accessible.
As an editor at the publishing house Einaudi, since 1993 Magrelli has been responsible for the trilingual series of books called »Scrittori tradotti da scrittori« (tr: Writers translated by writers). He lives in Rome.