Redefining Poetry: An Interview With Alessandro De Francesco.

Alessandro De Francesco

As an artist, Alessandro De Francesco seeks to redefine our approach to life. His poems both illuminate and obscure. What emerges from this is an unrestricted multidimensional art that imitates life itself, rejecting interpretation while pulling the viewer into an intense swirling dance, each step affording insight that underscores the fullness of the dance. To engage with De Francesco’s work is to discard our clumsy pedestrian need to understand and embrace instead, the experience of the dance and the infinite spaces it leads us.

ABR: Most people view poetry through a purely literary lens, reading, listening and attempting to understand or make a text poem relevant to the self. What inspired you to expand that vision? And what inspired your unique approach to poetry?

De Francesco: Yes, I don’t think that poetry is a matter of understanding or communicating, nor is it a direct expression of the self. 
In my opinion poetry is a matter of experience. As you know, poïein in ancient Greek means “to do,” and Dichtung, the German word for poetry, belongs to the semantical field of “density.” So my approach to poetry comes from the making, the density of the experience, and the –sometimes-painful though always joyful – opening to the real. 
Why can’t all this be called an expression of the self? Because this experience multiplies the identity and deconstructs the fictional unity of the subject, that is to say its psychological, social, racial, ideological (etc.) rigidity. Poetry performs a multiplication of the subject towards what the Italian poet Antonio Porta called a “field of tensions”. The self is no more a reflexive unity, but an infinite field of tensions in the flux of experience.

ABR: So poetry and the process of making poetry helps destabilize the notion that each person is one single identity who fits into various social constructs e.g. An Algerian woman, a short man, etc.?

De Francesco: Poetry, or at least good poetry, invites a certain collectivity to make a real and perceptual experience of language. That is why it is not a question of understanding: we have to get rid of this rigid hermeneutical cliché according to which poetry, and especially modern poetry, is obscure. It is not obscure if, as Stéphane Mallarmé stated, we don’t read a poem as we read the newspaper, but rather read to change the reading perspective. Maybe this is what really distinguishes poetry from fiction. For the same reason, poetry is not a matter of communication, because in order to communicate we have to suppose the existence of a codified language. This codified language can be stupid, like in advertising and mass-media politics, or very important, like in the verbal communication between lovers, friends, patient and therapist, you and me in this interview, etc. But whether bad or good, communication doesn’t have a particular relation to poetry. Poetry makes something different, it radically and permanently disrupts the codes in order to produce what I call an alter-legibility and an alter-sayability of language. To sum up what I am trying to say: what inspired my approach to poetry, and I would even say my choice to try to be a poet, is a parallel cognitive and political anxiety against formatted linguistic codes and narratives.

AUGMENTED WRITING – AW0_1 (2013)

ABR: How would you describe the goals of Augmented writing? What are you trying to achieve with such works?

De Francesco: With Augmented Writing I try to create a new language art device, where what I called the alter-legibility and the alter-sayability of the experience of thinking, writing and reading are in a way revealed in their primary matter and chaotic, layered form. Augmented Writing has several sections and purposes but all its different articulations converge towards creating a sort of new literary genre that is able to recreate, redefine and criticize the amount of perceptual data and thoughts we are immersed in everyday… video games, smartphones, 3D cinema, google-glasses, Facebook, but also, mass-media information. All these aim to produce a codified, normalized and pre-defined image of reality on one hand and of our identity on the other hand.

ABR: So things like Facebook, movies, news sources and so on present us with a single ‘normal’ way to view the world and ourselves?

De Francesco: Mass-media information, for example, gives a codified representation of a series of events, selecting information and reorienting a fictional “post-experience” as close as possible to when the event occurred. And it’s strangely easy to forget that this representation is often shaped by a certain ideology and/or by the pressures exerted by this or that form of power.

Augmented Writing is itself modified, perturbed and reshaped by such technologies and narratives, so that this device aims to give a poetical form to the vulnerable status of language in the era of representation.

I used the term language art. In that sense a major purpose of Augmented Writing is also to massively bring text and language again into contemporary art and, by the same token, to make a contemporary art audience aware of the possibilities of language and poetry as powerful artistic devices to question the realm of image and representation.

ABR: In that vein, what do you want the reader’s ideal interaction with your work to be? What do you want them to take away from it and who do you imagine your reader to be?

De Francesco: It is important for me to underline that I don’t think or change my work for a precise reader or group of readers. Nonetheless, if I decide to publish my work it is of course because I want it to be read by other people. In that sense, I would like my readers to be as socially and ethnically diverse as possible, with a desire to really experience my work, in all the senses that I tried to evoke answering your first question. My work is itself a way of using language for different kinds of perceptions and experiences: poetry, Augmented Writing but also what I call the reading environments, immersive sound spaces in which a voice reading my texts is software-processed and diffused in surround sound.

ABR: As a tri-lingual artist do you find that having more linguistic knowledge than the average reader influences your work/ perceptions, and in what ways?

De Francesco: Luckily, I am not alone and a lot of people read and speak several languages, especially in the artistic and literary milieus…To be completely honest, I also don’t think that a lot of people in the literary and artistic milieus have a real sincere and deep awareness of what they do, read and watch, even though they often speak several languages and have a precise knowledge of the conceptual devices.

In that sense, multilingualism is important to my work because it opens the possibilities of language, on the other hand I’d rather orient the question in relation to the reader toward the inner languages that people speak with themselves. 
I mean that a person who speaks only one language or isn’t particularly erudite but has reached at the same time a deep emotional, perceptual and political awareness is more likely to be multilingual in a real sense than a person that speaks several languages but doesn’t go through certain territories of being. 
There are, so to speak, external and introspective multilingualisms. The best in my opinion would be to embrace both. At least, that’s what I try to do.

ABR: Finally, where do you think poetry as an art form is headed and is that different from where you’d like it to be?

De Francesco: I will start by answering the second part of your question in stating that it could be much worse, but it’s not very good either. There’s a lot of good poetry at the moment, but there are several problems I think. A first big problem that we all face is that poetry is not diffused and read enough, and it doesn’t look like it is going to change tomorrow. This is a purely educational problem, it belongs to the contemporary ideological and political worldwide control of education, a question that I won’t develop here because it would take me too far away.

Paradoxically, another major problem is that there’s too much (bad) poetry and there are too many (bad) poets. This phenomenon is also due to the diffusion of small presses, blogs, journals, self-published books and so on, and to a generally wrong interpretation of democracy, which is not only the big political problem nowadays, but also a fundamental artistic issue.Finally, there’s a big mistake, not only in poetry but also in the other arts, consisting in an a-critical use of technology as a way of covering a dramatic lack of ideas.

Luckily, there are also many poets that make poetry enter technology and not the other way around. You ask me where I think that poetry is headed…I don’t think that poetry is dead or that the internet will destroy it. On the contrary, poetry books that are published by well-curated small presses are being done better and better to counteract the average ugliness of web and mainstream printed publishing. This is a good point for poetry, creating a potential new commercial niche in its favour.

Other very good news is that we are now free to use any kind of linguistic and conceptual device, without any particular constraint or ideology. And if we think that modern poetry in the sense we conceive it today was born from people like Hölderlin, Leopardi and Mallarmé, then another very positive aspect is that poetry is a relatively young art, just a century older than cinema. But poetry enjoys at the same time a huge ancient tradition supporting its future development. Finally I find it important to think of the future of poetry, like Paul Celan also used to say, more as an art form than as a literary genre.


Foreign Body in Ascending Motion (Click above to read)

Alessandro De Francesco is an Italian poet, theoretician and artist. Internationally regarded as one of the most relevant poets and language artists of the new generation, Alessandro is the current recipient of the writers’ grant of the French National Book Center. His published books of poetry and conceptual writing include Lo spostamento degli oggetti (2008), 1000m (2009), Redéfinition (2010), Ridefinizione (2011), and Augmented Writing (2013). He teaches at the European Graduate School in Switzerland. Visit him at alessandrodefrancesco.net.

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