He began to write poems very early. In 1928 he collaborated to the Gazzetta di Parma, where his friend Cesare Zavattini was editor-in-chief. The following year Bertolucci published his first poetical collection, Sirio.
In 1931 he started his studies of law in the University of Parma, which however he left soon in favour of artistical and literary studies. In the following year his work Fuochi di Novembre gained him the praise of Italian poets like Eugenio Montale.
In 1951 he moved to Rome. His marriage with Ninetta Giovanardi had given him two sons, Bernardo (1940-2018) and Giuseppe (1947-2012), both future film directors. In 1951 he also published La capanna indiana and won the Viareggio Prize for literature. In this period he cemented a friendship with Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Viaggio d'inverno ("Winter Voyage") of 1971 is one of Bertolucci's finest works. This work saw a noteworthy change of style in Bertolucci's poetry: while the first works were, according to Franco Fortini, characterized by "the choice of a humble language for pastoral situations", his works were more complex and marked by unsureness feelings. From 1975, together with Enzo Siciliano and Alberto Moravia, he directed the literary review Nuovi Argomenti. He won another Viareggio Prize for the narrative poem Camera da letto (1984–1988).
His last work was La lucertola di Casarola (1997), a collection of works from his youth and other unpublished poems.
Bertolucci died in Rome in 2000.
- Sirio (1929)
- Fuochi di novembre (1932)
- La capanna indiana (1951)
- The bedroom (La camera da letto, 1988, English translation by Luigi Bonaffini); ISBN 9780982384930
- Viaggio d'inverno (1971)
- La camera da letto (2 vols., 1984–1988, poem-novel)
- Aritmie (1991, essays)
- Verso le sorgenti del cinghio (1993)
- Una lunga amicizia (1994, letters)
- La lucertola di Casarola (1997)
- "Sunshine and Shadows" (2010, English translations by Allen Prowle)