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Let us start out with this playful run where trees are people are punctuation are something eternal:
Ch. M., J.M.L. and others*
1. Distrust the body every action faint from hunger
Although these bodies, all too terrestrial, all too astral,
might crowd together oh, finally understood, like
TREES with asterisk ( repeated above and below the line
in isolation and in the plot
by millions of eons X millions of mountain eons)…
They (the trees) are cautious ib announcing
themselves and triritri trio
and much slower than I heard them triii triii
oh irradicolarity iniity
All this — even — too will transcend me
Runs like that remind me of bpNichol and the universal thru the personal myth and alphabet. It comes from Fosfeni, a book titled after the phenemenon of seeing patterns and light when you squeeze your eyes shut. It sounds like a warning, a title suggesting being entranced with the illusions of perceptions from your own body by refusing to look. Altrnatively watching the patterns of looking inwards at what is already there.
In the excerpt above, I love the mutabiltity of objects and sounds. At the same time I have sympathetic pain for the translator. If nuance of story is hard to convey in all inflections, how much more so the refractions around in non-story.
*The initials refer to some members of italy’s avant-garde group I Novissimi. They started ib post-war and put out collections through the 60s. They used phonico-semantic performances. The poets responded to the internal migrations of how local dialects that didn’t usually cross paths were at that time and mixed with the jargon of Marxism coming through making new possibilties and relationsups to language and each other.
The poem itself comes, as does the whole book, from primarily between 1975 and 1978. It was written about 30 years into the career of Zanzotto, which so far is 60 years in. It was conceived of as the 2nd piece in a trilogy and is the first full length collection of Zanzotto to appear in English.
The poems are sometimes dazzling runs of sound. The intro explains how the poems were a response to Fascism in refusing the certainty of hard lines, semantics, referrants. Zanzotto is on record as being in favour of poetry that “leaves the conversation open”, a twxt which is not being overly definitive or declarative.
The poems can drift around in abstractions but are served when the subjects are about how water is ice, frost, liquid, gelling, unfixable. There are also more concrete tent pegs about pounding the doors of closed taverns or the art of looking like your glass of wine is your first in case your woman should track you down.
He plays with language. In Italian he mixes registers, dialect, local slang and baby talk. This translation does culturally translate as much as it could. For example “at a supper for everyone named Mario” I suspect Mario is a common name so “John” might have been a better cultural substition and if he meant Mario ad uncommon, a more rare name would makes for less of a jar and think.
The word choice is often latinate. I wish I could read the original myself to see how I would interpret. Each translation is also a work of new writing, remaking. It doesn’t have to match perfectly and can’t.
Z. liked areas of opaque as well tho since he put in poems pseudo-Greek. And pseudo-math (or perhaps more accurately para-physics) such as in the bit below:
and metaphysical are in violent equilibria arm wrestling
they search for each other, in snatches, in immobility, in
in most icethin instabilities
Logos that is not a prescence, but certainly has bases
at the bottom of the coldest creek fingered by ice
but that certainly is Knabe-pebblelog of the icelog snow
or it is Knabe of the bush it is resource of the Gestell
or of the plastic bag
of the balloon in which blows imps
The fish-bone in violent equilibria is such a strking way to encapsulate. It is a moment when practical physical meets mortality and sense of vulnerable if-I-were-to-die-now.
I can’t say I find all the reels moving but they budge and fudge in interesting ways. It’s the sort of thing you can’t apply much rationality to or the effects dissolve.
It is interesting that Z was writing from a cultural context where he felt compelled by the pressures of conformity and political control to shake a resistance to that in the form and subjects of his writing and interesting that the same form would resonate and rise in translation and distribution now in the U.S.
I can feel my own smug resistances to places in pieces which means it is the right poem at the right time to soften me to listening. I know that If I saw any given poem fly in a workshop group I’d probably ask them to find some sensible angle and figure out what they want to say efficiently. Find an unambiguous referent, simmer down on the sweeping drama.
But then I’d be imposing an ideological world view. He is speaking of chaos and change which one can’t do in a wee polite voice in a quiet box poem keeping it under the time limit, peppered with media friendly sound bites. That’s not the shape of what it is about. Reading it is a good antidote to the pendulum swing to valueing overly controlled.
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