Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

"La poesia salva la vita" by Donatella Bisutti (Mondadori, 1992)

A primer that avoids difficult language and asks basic (fundamental) questions. It quotes extensively from a wide range of poets (Achmatova, Blok, Bly, Campana, Caproni, Kavafis, Lear, Liu, O'Hara, Queneau, Silkin, Vernon Watkins, etc) but very few theorists. The title ("Poetry saves lives") sounds over-the-top but the book shows that it's anecdotally true for a particular concentration camper. A pervasive theme is that words are both transparent meaning-carriers and objects/noises whose properties also carry meaning.

  • Rhythms derive from our movements, dance, and breath. On p.160-161 there are graphs showing the rhythms of an Ungaretti poem.
  • Shape and sound contribute to meaning. Onomatopeioa extends beyond words like "farfalla" (Italian for butterfly). On p.137 there are counts of the frequency of vowels and consonants in some poetry by Pavese.

Key ideas are printed in boxes. Here are some quotes (my translations)

  • il «significato» di una poesia sia in realtà una rete sottile di «significati» che si intrecciano sotto la sue superficie ed è proprio questo intreccio a farci dire che «è bella» (the meaning of a poem is in reality a fine net of meanings that interact beneath the surface and it's really this interacting that makes us say it's beautiful) (p.89)
  • quando la metafora apparentemente non c'è, abbiamo visto che è la poesia intera ad essere una metaphora (when there seems to be no metaphor, we've seen that the whole poem becomes a metaphor) (p.96)
  • tutto quello che si ripete con piccolissime differenze, per un curioso meccanismo della nostra psiche, ci dà piacere (everything that repeats itself with minor differences, by a curious psychological mechanism, pleases us) (p.99)
  • La poesia moderna fa molto use della «polisemia» per moltiplicare e anche nascondere i suoi «significati» (modern poetry makes much use of polysemy to multiply and also hide meanings) (p.146)
  • Di tale «oscurità» questo libro vorrebbe dare almeno una chiave: abbandonarsi, come bambini, alle suggestioni, agli echi, ai cerchi successivi che si allargano intorno alle parole (Of such obscurity this book wants to provide at least one key: abandon oneself, like children, to suggestion, to echoes, to the circles that radiate from the words) (p.147)
  • in italiano ... il verso più usuale ha undici sillabe (in Italian ... lines usually have 11 syllables) (p.150)
  • La poesia è un «cortocircuito fra inconscio e realtà (Poetry is a short-circuit between the unconscious and reality) (p.204)
  • La poesia moderna ha cercato invano, sopratutto con i simbolisti, alla fine dell'Ottocento, in Francia, di «decifrare» la realaà rendendola «leggibile» e svelandone il mistero. Tale sforzo doveva culminare con il fallimento del tentativo di Mallarmé (modern poetry has sought in vain, above all with the Symbolists at the end of the 1800s, in France, to decipher reality, make it readable and unveil the mystery. Such efforts surely culminated with the failure of Mallarmé) (p.227)
  • La poesia non riesce a catturare la realtà (poetry fails to capture reality) (p.227)

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