Frederick Seidel on Massimo Tamburini


In Memoriam


The Ducati 916, designed by Tamburini. Photo: ScuderiaAssindia, via Wikimedia Commons

Massimo Tamburini died last Sunday, at seventy. Tamburini was an Italian motorcycle designer; his work for Ducati, Cagiva, and MV Agusta set the standard for art and style. The journalist Kevin Ash said that Tamburini’s design for the Ducati 916, which debuted in 1994, “moved it forward, personalized, and Ducati-fied it, in particular the blend of sharp edges and sweeping curves, which, like most innovation, broke existing rules.” And this week’s obituary in the Times found many enthusiasts who were unstinting in their praise:

For decades Mr. Tamburini reigned as “the Michelangelo of motorcycling,” as The Sunday Express, the British newspaper, called him in 2010, and his work exerted a pervasive influence on the look of motorcycles in the late 20th century.

“He always gave great élan to the shapes,” Bruno dePrato, the European editor of Cycle World magazine, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “This élan is not aggressiveness, with very edgy shapes and other excesses in styling. His bikes were just shaped by the wind.”

As it happens, Frederick Seidel, whose readers know him as a Ducati aficionado, had paid homage to Tamburini and the Ducati 916 in his poem “Milan,” from the 1998 collection Going Fast. (Curiously enough, Jonathan Galassi also read the final lines of “Milan” in his salute to Seidel at our Spring Revel on Tuesday; read on and you’ll see why.) In memory of Tamburini and his legendary designs, we’ve reprinted the poem here.


This is Via Gesù.
Stone without a tree.
This is the good life.
Puritan elegance.
Severe but plentiful.
Big breasts in a business suit.
Between Via Monte Napoleone and Via della Spiga.

I draw
The bowstring of Cupid’s bow,
Too powerful for anything but love to pull.

Oh the sudden green gardens glimpsed through gates and the stark
Deliciously expensive shops.
I let the pocket knives at Lorenzi,
Each a priceless jewel,
Gods of blades and hinges,
Make me late for a fitting at Caraceni.

Oh Milan, I feel myself being pulled back
To the past and released.
I hiss like an arrow
Through the air,
On my way from here to there. I am a man I used to know.
I am the arrow and the bow.
I am a reincarnation, but
I give birth to the man
I grew out of.
I follow him down a street
Into a restaurant I don’t remember
And sit and eat.

A Ducati 916 stabs through the blur.
Massimo Tamburini designed this miracle
Which ought to be in the Museum of Modern Art.

The Stradivarius
Of motorcycles lights up Via Borgospesso
As it flashes by, dumbfoundingly small.
Donatello by way of Brancusi, smoothed simplicity.
One hundred sixty-four miles an hour.
The Ducati 916 is a nightingale.
It sings to me more sweetly than Cole Porter.
Slender as a girl, aerodynamically clean.
Sudden as a shark.

The president of Cagiva Motorcycles,
Mr. Claudio Castiglioni, lifts off in his helicopter
From his ecologically sound factory by a lake.
Cagiva in Varese owns Ducati in Bologna,
Where he lands.
His instructions are Confucian:
Don’t stint.

Combine a far-seeing industrialist.
With an Islamic fundamentalist.
With an Italian premier who doesn’t take bribes.
With a pharmaceuticals CEO who loves to spread disease.
Put them on a 916.

And you get Fred Seidel.