Dear Richard --
How many questions! I'll be happy to answer them (as far as I can)...
> Is there a "War Poetry" genre in Italian literature?
Yes, there is. For example, Giuseppe Ungaretti and Eugenio Montale (who won the Nobel prize) are the most important writers.
> How mutually intelligible are the Italian dialects? Are they more like
> independent languages or more like accents? Can a person using a dialect
> from southern Italy readily understand a person from the Veneto without a
> lot of arm waving?
Italian dialects are hardly mutually intelligible -- I couldn't understand a person from Sicily or Naples speaking their dialects. As a person speaking Venetian dialect, I can somewhat understand those from the regions arouns mine (Lombardia, Emilia-Romagna, Piemonte, Friuli and Toscana), since they're similar. Yet, I couldn't perhaps understand a whole discourse spoken in such dialects. There're many differences even within the same dialect (there are tens of varieties of Venetian dialect, depending on the city or town you happen to be).
Italian dialects are definitely considered neolatin languages as much as French or Italian or Spanish can be. The only difference that there exists is of a sociological kind -- i.e., the latter where chosen as official languages, whereas dialects achieved no official status. They cannot be considered mere substandards -- they're different languages. I can be considered bi-lingual myself, since I speak Italian at university or within statal institution, but usually speak Venetian dialect at home or among friends.
Arm waving... god bless arms! They're the best way to communicate! :)
> Is the dialect simply a pronunciation difference of are the vocabularies
> different? How relected is the dialect in written Italian?
The lexicon is different, and sometimes dialects are more productive than Italian itself, since they're widely used. No dialects in written Italian -- it's two separate things altogether. One of the main concerns of old teachers from the 1940s and 50s was to make their students forget their dialectal background and learn a new official language, that is, Italian.
> Can you tell which dialect Pound used for his Italian Cantos, Cantos 72 & 73
> (also known as "the Lost Cantos")?
Unfortunately, I do not own a copy of it. I'll check out tomorrow at the university library and I'll let you know.
> I had thought Dante basically established a literary language for Italy by
> using the language of the people of Italy. From what you say I guess this
> is overly simplistic. What dialect did Dante use in his work? Is there a
> accent which makes Dante's work more pleasant (real) to the Italian?
> If you read Dante aloud do you find yourself using another accent or dialect
> from your own.
Dante used the Tuscan dialect, the kind spoken by the aristocracy. You see, between Dante and the 20th century many things happened -- Italy was divided into a dozen different states ruled upon by the French or the Spaniards... the cultural influences were so many and so different... Italy was unified (completely) only after WWI. During that period for the first time many soldiers from all over Italy (the parts that had been unified before WWI) joined to fight in the North and there they began to learn to understand each other. They sounded like foreigners to one another. Italian was mainly cultivated by upper-class people, whereas the others kept speaking their own dialect. In 1840 a famous novel by Alessandro Manzoni (entitled 'The Betrothed') was published and he found it so hard to exploit a single dialect -- he'd tried with the Milanese, then had tried to mix some up, and in the end he opted for the Tuscan variety (as Bembo had done in the Renaissance).
If I read Dante aloud, I tend to read it in my own accent. Yet, some time ago, an Italian comedian from Tuscany (he's called Roberto Benigni, the one who won the Oscar prize for his movie La Vita è Bella about WWII) read the Divine Comedy using the Tuscan accent and it sounded fantastic.
> Rick Seddon
> McIntosh, NM