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. Continue reading “Redefining Poetry: An Interview With Alessandro De Francesco.”

Dennis Brutus- A Simple Lust- The African Book Review
Dennis Brutus- A Simple Lust- The African Book Review

Here’s a poem by Dennis Brutus about the changing of seasons from Autumn to Winter. This is the perfect season to curl up with a mug of hot cocoa or coffee and read an African book! Tell us what you’re reading this season!

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A Mother In a Refugee Camp by Chinua Achebe (excerpt)

Achebe 1This a wonderful excerpt from a poem by Chinua Achebe. The poem is centered around a mother in a refugee camp, most likely during the Biafran war. The link between the past and present and the way war ruptures this is focused so articulately in the mother’s actions, combing her son’s hair. The foreshadowing, ‘like putting flowers on a tiny grave,’ anchors the poem rendering it heartbreaking yet somehow full of hope. Most people know Achebe as a great writer, not necessarily as a poet but his collection of poetry in Collected Poems by Chinua Achebe is a brilliant, tender, and humorous exploration of a range of topics many centered around the effects of war in Biafra, colonialism in Nigeria, and the poets own observations on life.

 

 

The firewood of this world/ Is only for those who can take heart/ That is why not all can gather it...[Professor Dr. Kofi Awoonor - A Tribute] (Songs of Sorrow I)
The firewood of this world/ Is only for those who can take heart/ That is why not all can gather it…[Professor Dr. Kofi Awoonor – A Tribute] (Songs of Sorrow I)

A Simple Lust By Dennis Brutus

Born in 1924 in Salisbury to South African parents, Brutus is best known for his protest poetry which challenged the South African apartheid while celebrating freedoms all men ought to have. He was instrumental in the exclusion of South Africa and Rhodesia from the 1964 Olympics on the grounds of racism. His activism led to his being banned from all political and social activity and in 1973 he was arrested but escaped while on bail. He was later re-arrested and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. He spent those months on Robben Island, in a cell next to Nelson Mandela. Described as “A fearless campaigner for justice, a relentless organizer, an incorrigible romantic, and a great humanist and teacher,” Brutus died on 26 December 2009, at his home in Cape Town, South Africa.

584232-2A Simple Lust is a beautiful collection of Brutus’ poems during his time as a political prisoner and exile traveling the world unable to return to South Africa. Brutus captures the alternating awareness of limitations and challenges such restrictions in his poems about the land of South Africa, “A troubadour I traverse all my land… and I have laughed, disdaining those who banned/ inquiry and movement…choosing, like an unarmed thumb, simply to stand…” (2)

And stand he does, in his resistance to the forces of oppression and his insistence on delimiting the land as his, he captures the emotional gamut of black and colored South Africans, from the desire to fight for freedom, “Sharpevilled to spearpoints for revenging…” (9) to a simple resolute appreciation for just surviving, “Somehow we survive,/ and tenderness, frustrated, does not wither” (4).

Little can match  the well of understanding and emotion Brutus deftly disperses throughout A Simple Lust, yet his writing style and keen sense of observation elevate the reader’s experience even more. Brutus does to words what Achebe did to African Literature, he expands our appreciation of them. With words such as ‘air-live,’ ‘harsh-joy,’ ‘lovelaughter,’ he pushes their limitations past meaning into feeling.

A Simple Lust takes the reader from the darting eyes of a prisoner in his cell describing the effects of confinement on the psyche, to desolate beaches in Algiers, through the sorrowed longings of a wife separated from her husband, presenting cold reflections on ‘Amerika…the home of the brave’ (144), and on. Brutus welcomes the reader into a lush, experienced, understanding of oppression and resistance. More importantly, it offers a profound sense of what it means to carry joy as hope and to, as Brutus, reject desolation as the only reality.

“Peace will come./ We have the power/ the hope/ the resolution./ Men will go home.” (96)

A Simple Lust by Dennis Brutus

African Writers Series | 1979 | ISBN: 0 435 90115 X | HEB 115