The Tough Romance


102 pages
ISBN 0-920717-03-9
DDC C811'.54





Reviewed by Bob Lincoln

Bob Lincoln is Director of Acquisitions at the University of Manitoba


When The Tough Romance appeared in 1979, some reviewers were
disappointed. As Di Cicco continued to publish and gain a wide audience,
reviews were still mixed. Some thought him too commonplace to be
interesting; others thought his poetry consisted of little more than
rampant excesses, with a conspicuous lack of meaning. Other critics have
accurately described him as one of the “troubled men and women
struggling with an irrational world.” In this last decade, Di Cicco
has been widely published, anthologized, and discussed in spite of these

Perhaps he is not the foremost lyric poet of his generation, but he is
significant for several reasons. This reissue of Tough Romance is part
of a series that brings international writers to the attention of
Canadian readers. In Canada today the mainstream English and French
presses are expressing a growing interest in ethnic publishing. Di Cicco
was one of the poets featured in Canadian Literature’s special issue
on Italian-Canadian connections in 1985. He is partly a product of the
turbulent ’60s, when young people migrated freely across international
boundaries, and began new lives.

In one of his early collections, Roman Candles, Giorgio examined
himself and the tensions between life in the old world and the new. His
styles can be terse and compact as well as nostalgic and discursive. In
Tough Romance we see the early Di Cicco: lyrical, emotional, and torn
between heights of ecstasy and disappointment. In his later work, like
Virgin Science, there is a more spiritual leavening, and Di Cicco
appears to be more metaphysical, more like the older John Donne. But
Tough Romance is worth reprinting, because it shows Di Cicco with his
feet on the ground and his eye on his heart. There are hints, however,
that a more spiritual life is possible: in “The Dust I have
Admired,” the spokesman, weary of the tedium of restaurants and the
mutable emotions of women, concludes “but the next time I love I will
become an angel.” There are some memorable lines—such as “Whatever
love could manage it couldn’t / manage itself”—that show Di
Cicco’s facility with language. Some of the stronger poems link family
memories with extraordinary grace: “It is this man who will sit under
his mimosa / by the highway, fifty pounds underweight, with no /
hospital, and look // there are great white roses in his eyes” (“The
Man Called Beppino”).

Life to Di Cicco seems to involve a ritual form of combat, where the
poet dons a persona like a costume and ventures forth, armored against
the world. Life is a tough romance, a trial of name-calling and
disaffection, and to love you have to go on beyond that. There is a
future hope to Di Cicco’s blue nostalgia, in spite of the troubles he
seems to be mired in. He has the ability to marvel at the world around
him, and, in his best poems, to submerge his ego. His footnote from the
poem “Paesani” is as good an ending as any: “the dollar can be
milked the canadian way, / or the italian way, / or both, / making it


Di Cicco, Pier Giorgio., “The Tough Romance,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 26, 2024,