Poetry as the locus of taumazein

1. Prologue. Where the light of consciousness falls, red-hot and taciturn, poetry manifests its ultimate transcendence. There Annamaria Ferramosca discovers beauty in a solemn, calm lyricism and treads the path of naturalness and interior freedom. Hers is the slow work of accumulation; each day one detects another layer of meaning on the page. In her hands the deaf and squalid material of the world gradually wakens, receives life: something begins secretly vibrating in the molecules of the words. At that point her writing reveals itself simultaneously in both its simplicity and its articulation: one knows what it represents, yet it remains obscure to the insensitive and hurried reader. Reality loses its harshest aspect and acquires a dimension of distance, the voice of memory, the fascination of the primitive and primordial. Annamaria Ferramosca rests assured of her fidelity to literature; she is one of the few writers who one may say keeps the keys to the kingdom of poetry in her pocket.

2. Celestial and earthly journey. Published last year in New York, this anthology of Ferramosca’s work (Il versante vero, 1999; Porte/Doors, 2002; Curve di livello, 2006; the more recent Inediti, composed between 2007 and 2009) presents itself as a twofold book with facing text in Italian and English, and is given not only to tracing the perimeter of the author’s poetic existence, but above all to establishing a relationship between multiple languages and therefore also multiple existences. Other signs, other circles sets up a conjunction, a coexistence, a synchrony (ideal and real) between the writer and the reader of poiesis, not just a consumer à la page of any old work of prose or poetry. With this irreducible sense of being a poet, Annamaria Ferramosca throws herself body and soul into versification ontologically (solemnity, as I’ve said, is one of her most common characteristics), not merely existentially, in the manner of one who assumes that poetry is like a game of golf, or a walk in the center of town in order to fill the disastrous empty spaces of isolated and desolate lives puppeted by the media. In her scores Annamaria Ferramosca uses multiple registers to give shape to the same observations at different levels of expression; in this way she attests to the fact - among other things - that forbidden certainties don’t exist (the absolute); that the most ancient problems are still valid (humanism), which are otherwise assumed to be antiquated; and that we must reestablish the urgency of ethical questions so as not to fall into insatiable and oppressive relativism. Skimming her work, we find ourselves face to face with naked, disarmed words plucked from the interior magma of the author and disclosed to the reader through an often moving lay ritual. Annamaria Ferramosca comes forth to offer her testimony coram populo, authorized by the rigor of her search and an almost total commitment to writing: she doesn’t hesitate to make the secret dealings of her mind public, so that her travails and emotions might assume the value of a paradigm (of comparison and eventual maturation) for her readers. Other signs, other circles refers us to a pattern, if not definitive, then certainly harmonious with the poetic output of Annamaria Ferramosca, thick with themes and variations: the educational journey (bildungsreise), the careful observation of the everyday, the Other as a kind of wonderland, disappointment for a society cast into the arms of Technology and the Void, the salvific force of emotion, the need for a new moral order, desperation mitigated by a realistic hope for the future, the continuously hinted-at theme of death in relation to the stratagem of being alive. Who can say if this attempt to recompose the oneness of being through poetry is successful? The imagination creates and redeems time; therefore, the reader must simply let the energy of these verses flow through him and perhaps enter into contact with the deepest part of himself, regardless of the obtuse little ditties blaring from a thousand sophisticated loudspeakers and headsets, without losing the opportunity to comprehend that contemporary existence is wrapped in a splendid and festive cynicism around which hovers a hallucinatory and baleful air.

3. Even in the inevitable ingenuity of all debuts, Il versante vero (1990-1999) sets out from a strong, compact nucleus, culturally and spiritually; a solid sense of self dominates, the hinge upon which layers of meaning are formed and derived from individual and collective occurrences. We trace, with the author, the crest of Orphism (the ancient doctrine of the soul’s return to oneness) and descend the slopes of realism, marked by actual trips in the subway, in airplanes, towards Istanbul. The thousands of life’s voyages lead us back to Arachne, a character in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The girl, daughter of the dyer Idmon, had dared to challenge Athena at weaving. She won; but the goddess, resentful, destroyed her cloth. Wounded, Arachne hung herself. As a further punishment, she was transformed into a spider, then sentenced to spin and weave with her mouth for the rest of her life. Who doesn’t see in this myth a glimmering metaphor for poetic composition, leading us back to another mythic narrative, this time about Ariadne? The daughter of Minos had given her lover Theseus the thread with which to find his way out of the labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur, the diabolical monster that had imposed a heavy blood-tax on the Athenian youth. Ariadne had defied the paternal authority and had unraveled a thread of passion which, unfortunately for her, had gotten lost in a gloomy and unjust betrayal after Theseus had seduced and then abandoned her on the Island of Naxos. Annamaria Ferramosca harnesses the evocative power of these two myths and channels it in La piazza delle vinte tarantole, where the mad dance communicated the need to override the fear of living and to free oneself from indomitable daily anguish (“We have the dawn/beating a sarabande on taut hide,/…Feet/marking the rhythm of love on the ground/And thunder claps/dispelling all aracnitudes”, p. 29). The result is that the identity of each individual and the efficacy of literary discourse are proportional to their ability to inhabit otherness: in relation to the Other, the ethical thrust consists of the recognition and respect, as well as the capturing of sense, that happens in poetry by means of a conceptual and emotive web, and serves to transform the abstract practice of writing into an existential practice. Otherwise we remain stuck, in our social relations, to a boorish racism; and in the poetic universe, to our usual, saccharine self-referentiality. To inhabit the Other and interrogate it (Socratic eironeia) impedes the dispersion of signs, eliminates the risk of reducing things and events to a phantasmagoric virtual phenomenology. It isn’t the anonymous individual in the partial state (Gabriel Marcel) who constitutes the horizon of literature, but the person who sees the Other appear in his own existence, or rather he who lays the foundation and determines the roles. Unlike today’s solipsism, Annamaria Ferramosca maintains that each aspect of life is marked by the presence of a you . Only in dialogue, in opposition, in the tension towards new communication the consciousness of the I is created; that is, the capacity to choose meaningful relations (“There are so many of us alighting/offering continuous cloaks/of fire and solitude/Their edges/embroidered with questions”, p.63). Each text in this section takes shape in perspective like an incontrovertible presence, functioning as a historical index of attainment, the transmission and management of truthful communication. The poetry of Annamaria Ferramosca implicates (it’s worth re-emphasizing) a constant ethical curvature through the difficult crossing of the present-day moral desert, subjecting us to a risky test - not always understood or accepted - of the sharing (“You lift your gaze a little,/just enough to allow me/vividly imagine your story,/journeys, plans/together with…/An amazing woman/I’d love to admire her in the flesh/touched by a fate that comes but once/sweet Andromache/she too of the magical lineage”, p. 43). Il versante vero marks the coming of age of solitude: the abyssal nature of a similar exploration doesn’t end until the individual has begun to reckon with the secret nucleus of another in an exciting and desperate game of facing mirrors. The author doesn’t conceal the difficulty of accepting the Other in these times of passivity, cynicism and indifference; to the contrary, she exalts the obstacles in the quiet movement of the texts, patiently revealing themselves to the world, which foster a different form of Husserlian epoché: not the complacent suspension of judgement, but rather the suspension of prejudice, the rejection of fads (above all intellectual) in order to enter into the incandescent sphere of pain with revealing effect.

4. The passage from the Other as individual to the Other as civilization signals the poetic aspects of her second published work, Porte/Doors, 2002. With a knowing lyricism (think Rilke) Annamaria Ferramosca inaugurates her bilingual editions, concentrating her reflections on the theme of oikos (home) - here meaning entrance or crossing - in accordance with the horizontal movement of the discovery of new values (the answers that intellectuals must give to the upheavals of globalization and the migration of wretched and outcast peoples); analogously, we see the vertical vectors, ascendants and descendants when we attribute to occupancy the transphysical dimension of the soul’s abode. Once again transcendence (above) and internal excavation (below) represent the two extremes of an indefatigable linguistic search, stylistically and morally: from the house of Language to the clearing of Being, from the sky of Precision to the Interior Continent, the author embarks upon a highly personal voyage towards the origin in order to find the adequate strength with which to descend without horror into the present and try at last to ascend the steps of the future. New resources are located beyond the threshold of the West, in that Eastern civilization so impregnated with perfumes and spiritual essences (“and a silk pupil penetrate mine/searching for me/- a moon behind the clouds -/Searching/ for my piece of the East/I just want to get closer, I, a confused cloud/ longing for lotus/without overlapping/To offer you my motionless figurines/Emily, Simone, Cristina, Amelia/The flesh of my own lotus/ in exchange/for your whiteness”, p.73). In Porte/Doors, Annamaria Ferramosca highlights the geological character of her writing (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, p.104), finding an extraordinary objective correlative to her states of being: the layers of soil (nitrogen, benzene) recall an analogous experience of a scientific descent to the underworld (I refer to the unforgettable peat-bogs, so obsessively omnipresent in the work of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney). In the time of the third or fourth scientific revolution (we’ve lost count by now), the underground becomes the objective correlative of intelligible interior space (as Dostoyevsky teaches), while since the romantic epoch the depths of consciousness had been assimilated into the nocturnal dimension (among the many works I’d cite are Novalis’ Hymns to night). Annamaria Ferramosca brings to light archaic sediments, sending us back to a common historical-anthropological foundation: in her verses mysterious connections of the world-factory surface, the nerves of reality through which nature’s elementary sap runs as humanity fusses over its own divisions and dividing what is in the end deeply united (“But these are voices/of remote cells, disinterred/from ancient seas/little ghostly petroleum souls”, p. 105). Having abandoned some of the intellectualism of her first collection, the author cultivates a personal style I would define as mystical-scientific, precisely because the two linguistic worlds (science and literature) are kept distinct from one another, though recombined in various ways, in order to produce an alienating effect, startling to the reader, with the aim of avoiding pointless imitations and unalterable content. Everything in her poetry moves, albeit slowly, across space; it consumes time and endures like ancient Egyptian civilization (“Blessed was I/bandaged /emptied yet replete/embalmed/I would even intimate /the indulgent smile/of an exact god deposed/at the point of intersection/where heavenly geometry used to console/the stars' nocturnal wail”, p.93).

5. Recalling Emmanuel Lévinas, we may repeat with him and Annamaria Ferramosca that man is an existence which speaks and rolls himself up in his own reflections: when car drivers appear simultaneously with trucks, radio waves and megalithic dolmens, then the metaphor of the eternal return is essential, which in poetic terms translates into a hermeneutic circle full of meanings (I refer to the author’s third anthology, Curve di livello, 2006). In the name of a renewed humanism the infinite gaze of the poet embraces all epochs, all religions, all nationalities (“I enter Jemaa el Fna/almost stumbling on dry earth/re-enacting the delivery/of an ancient foetus, my African self/My nostrils inhaling earth magic/made of mintrootswornbones/The amnesia of the distant/white tribe, sterilized and mute/is already sorcery”, p.131). Annamaria Ferramosca turns toward the infinite and pits herself against excess, aware that language comes into view only in terms of an approximation of the whole. In the distribution of the experiential finite she chooses the themes of diachronism, non-coincidence and dispossession; in her race for the absolute she is sustained by intentionality and the progressive drawing-in, experienced as mystical-secular inspiration. The energy of aspiration recalls a deeper, more archaic disposition than mere intellectuality: the author grasps the infinite in its reciprocity with the finite, feeling herself a hyphen with the derelict earth when in her solicitude she gives and forgives (“Give me words, so, and signs/cry on my shoulder, or laugh/offer me joyful scenes/find me”, p.125). There is something sumptuous in this writing, connected to greeting and prayer, in accordance with a feeling of oneness and election. It gives voice to open constituent tones, never choked back, structurally and topically inventive because the vertical dimension of spiritual longing is joined to the horizontal perspective of human justice. Annamaria Ferramosca doesn’t ponder commonplace matters, nor does she shout hypocritical invectives which conceal, almost always, a subtle acquiescence to reality; on the contrary, she lets her voice play like silence, an elementary yet decisive timbre, anachronistic and contemporary (apropos of the hermeneutic circle), able to gather the concreteness of what has already been stated (tradition) and the ethical thrust toward the still-to-be-comprehended, the unreceived (the biting contradictions of modern life). Her poetry - rhythmic rather than rhyming - is generated by the continual irregularity between two orders (past and present), gathering energy from waste and using it to speak - actually, to speak for herself - while assuming the responsibility of testifying to the immensity of the gift (life) within every syntagm, even the most insignificant. The condition of poetry consists of just this homogeneous lack of homogeneity, in its ability to interrupt itself at the ideal point of equilibrium in order to provoke the emergence of rending and reshuffling. Annmaria Ferramosca reintroduces, in eschatological terms, the question of human destiny, trusting in a potential solution which appeals to the overcoming of extraneousness inside and outside ourselves. Through a metonymic and allegorical dictation, she suggests the origins of our anxious aphasia and at the same time presents us with an unheard language, whose rectitude beats time to the extreme sincerity of the texts under examination: in Curve di livello a full, round, meaningful word recurs; a carnal, physical medium sonoro between itself and the Other; a sacred, unrepeatable yet repeated word, which gathers the individual and collective bowels; in the end a baptismal word, a basin of indifference, a power which transcends and realizes the contingent (“We rise unsuspecting along threads/tensed between earth and moon/the fossil echo in space is already singing/a renewed victory over the spider/bread has defeated iron/blood has re-entered the veins/ High up, our indelible sound/the offer of a quantum hand/oscillates”, p.143)

6. In the Inediti, composed between 2007 and 2009, the opening words immediately stand out (“I want to tell you [plural] - no - rather, you [singular]”) with their definitive focus on the relationship between author and reader: Annamaria Ferramosca doesn’t intend to address an anonymous public, indistinct, generic, and therefore abstract and inconsistent; she desperately rouses the actual reader, who is also a castaway in the sea of social networks, though inclined to receive the extreme letter which arrives in a paper bottle. Like two authentic castaways - one a writer and one a reader - exchanging piercing messages, acute and pointed, due to the tender and heartbreaking character of their ineffable conversation. More than ever in Indediti, Annamaria Ferramosca restrains herself from taking the stage and performing, working instead toward a more complex language on a syntactic level, richer with metaphor and more evocative: an uninterrupted stream of consciousness in which past and present are fused and historical disappointment is elevated to the present in a type of writing which, beyond the emotions it arouses, pits itself as an exhaustive and coherent system of knowledge (“on your head you sport/ not an ancient laurel wreath, of course/but a bright technocrown/barbarous, dazzling. The mind/- not having asked for a prosthesis -/ boggles”, p.173). After having peeled her verses and extracted their juice, we deduce that one of the most recurring linguistic figures, fleshing out the idea of koinonìa, of communion with the Other, is agglutination: from the title Bionanostructures, to the lexemes happyobese, honeywheat, wombtemple. This is neither conventional necessity nor rhetorical ease, but rather a personal harmonic circuit which passes through the word and renews it, referring directly to reality and not to the closed world of falsely consoling poetry. It’s a question of abandoning pseudo-objectivity as a writer (refrains of cute poetic slang) in the name of a constituent subjectivity which draws the reader in and calls for reflection, responsibility, freedom. Beyond the success of each single text, and beyond occasional preferences (passing moods and dispositions), the poems of Inediti affect us through their fecundity, their desire to plant the seeds of hope in our metropolitan labyrinths, heaps of ritual violence.

7. Speaking of taumazein. Poetry, for Annamaria Ferramosca, corresponds to the mirror into which we look and through which others see us; it makes the page coincide with the surface, unmasking us and laying us bare. Essentially, versification pertains to our capacity to feel wonder and admiration (the taumazein of the title), concerns the sense of mystery surrounding life, regards our sense of piety, refers to the irrepressible certainty of solidarity uniting the solitude of infinite human destinies, the ideality of dreams, joys, aspirations and fears, and finally regards the possibility of eroding, verse by verse, the inexpressible. From Plato’s Theaetetus comes a current of meanings which feed Annamaria Ferramosca’s work, articulated around reattempts at wonder, understood as seeing things immediately as they are. We are dealing with a primitive vision: something breaks in to the everyday, an unsophisticated yet mysterious presence, from which questions flow forth. Wonder exacts a response, but not of an explicative nature; otherwise, rational certainty annuls the whole emotive-intellectual process. Annamaria Ferramosca brushes against the opaque side of things, locates undiscovered ledges, mows paths which surprise common sense and catch it off guard (“- he’s three years old, my son/and breathes resin in his sleep/now he’s suckling on my ashes/on the palms of our hands we have the flaming/mark of pine nuts and holly berries/yesterday we were laughing as we collected them, /fighting off the blackbirds- ”, p.201). The polysemy and metaphorical quality of the language impose an infinitely expressive aperture, unusual perspective distances, tuned to locate an inexhaustible reserve of possible sounds, never wholly made explicit, that the words guard within them: the original meaning is antecedent to every attempt at classification and every defining concept in the official register of common speech. In the archetypal elements, timelessness and the mechanical temporal dimension intersect and allow for small, explosive, dazzling epiphanies within which open the Jungian clearings (lichtung) of interior subjective mythography and of superindividual memory. Annamaria Ferramosca doesn’t fear transcendence; rather, she situates each object of her investigation in a latent Elsewhere, which reverberates in the actual and reveals much of its own grammar and ontological syntax (“ and I don’t know why everything/about this cloud-cutting bus moves me:/the speed the breaks the jolts the contrasting air/the reflection of wailing stars on the glass/the swirling of blood under the skin/- a hankering for the big bang- while my heart/is thinking of slowing down, preparing for the journey”, p.215). The disconcerting strangeness of the world gives way to wonder, which translates into dry significance that produces incredible auroral strokes: Annamaria Ferramosca is constantly searching for a verbal gesture which will transform turn the unspeakable into the speakable, give depth and meaning to superficial perceptions, to lighten and make conscious the full and battered interior dimension. With Heideggerian keenness the author connects gratitude with the act of writing poetry and comes to a new beginning with respect to the emotional poverty of our times: in Other signs, other circles things stop functioning and appear as they are, they open up and question truth. Annamaria Ferramosca resumes (for us) her faith in the world, encounters the Other, sure of her own rectitude, to grasp an authentic feeling of existence. She gives us, as Bergson would say, a supplemental soul (“a languagesilence long and happy rains/penetrates petalsongs inside in the/innocent inside, bloodlymphhumus/permeates meaning with without/metal that might resound”, p.219).

8. Epilogue with a few clarifications and thanks. Other signs, other circles seems to me a kind of chrysalis book, a fruit-bearing cocoon ready to give birth to stories which unravel among the blandishments of illusion and the blade of time; to this I might add that it emerges as an acropolis book, in the sense that it isn’t afraid of appealing to an authoritative voice, at times sententious, while inevitable doubts and irrepressible uncertainties are never lacking. I could go on by stating that this is a prophetic book in which rigorous, precise, rational visions fling themselves into the irrational realm of the visionary with a spontaneous leap. This happens when the author claims to watch a train pass through the pupils of the person in front of her. I can’t omit the baedeker aspect, because it is there that we frequently see stations, buses, trains, airplanes, and ships as if the author constantly needed to transport her soul elsewhere, beyond the physical, in the search for a foothold and metaphysical meanings. Annamaria Ferramosca always travels with concentration. She doesn’t miss the details, and reality for her assumes the form of a gigantic map which must be deciphered in order to allocate a credible foundation for the existential fulfillment of each individual. Finally I’ll mention the syncretic aspect, based on the fact that science and poetry osmotically exchange language, forming the basis of a different comprehension of experience (wasn’t it while reading Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake that Niels Bohr discovered the term quark?). In conclusion, we must be thankful to whom, dazzled by the need to write, remodels the space of her own existence, touching upon the sense of friendship and hospitality inherent in language.

Nereidi, July 23, 2010

Translation by Marc Alan Di Martino
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