Interview with Giovanni Darconza

What is the situation of poetry in your country?

I have the impression that in Italy poetry is a prerogative of a selected minority of people, among readers and writers alike. There are poets worthy of note, but their fame is often confined in the narrow national spaces. Poetry can't manage to be a “mass” phenomenon, able to involve a large public. One might say that this is the norm and that this situation isn't different from that of the rest of Europe. But what's also true is that there are realities far form that of Europe in which the poetic word still holds a charm capable of involving many enthusiast fans. I refer to the case of Latin America, which is a reality I know well for work related reasons ( I am also a translator into Italian of Latin American poets of the 1900s). I have assisted to readings with hundreds of attendants, of all ages ans social extractions. I have learned that in the most disadvantaged suburbs of some big metropolis there are poetry and writing laboratories being held to help young people escape the squalid reality marked by misery, violence and narcotraffic. For these people the role of the poet is not marginal, but alive and determinant, since poetry still preserves an important social function. The conviction is still there that one can actively change things through words. On the contrary, among us the prejudice that poetry is something accessory, useless and infertile reigns sovereign. And in a society based on materialism and consumerism, if you can't see the utility of something it is abandoned for other, more practical activities. Naturally what I'm saying isn't just valid for poetry, but extends to all activities pertaining the human sciences. And it is a dangerous concept, even more so if we think that Italy is the land of Dante, Petrarca and Leopardi. I believe that instead of closing in on itself, Italian poetry should open up more to other cultures and languages. The solution to this problem exists: we must encourage the creation and diffusion of poetry journals (even digital ones) and augment the number of international events through poetry Festivals. But in order to do this it's necessary to have founding, be it private or public. And unfortunately Italian society, other than two or three bestselling authors (and I don't think there are any poets among them), doesn't seem interested in favoring the diffusion of its culture.

Do you think poetry is an instrument that can bring different cultures and religions nearer?

I am persuaded that poetry, whatever its message or the language in which it's written might be, is an act of peace and tolerance. Peace, Neruda said, goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread. There is a nice Mexican anecdote that shows very well the thigh link that there is between poetry and peace. In 1490 Tecayahuatzin, Sovereign of Huejotzinco, called a meeting of all the wise men of the Nahuatl world, after a massacre of 80000 (it's not a mistake, they really were eighty thousands!) people sacrificed years before to celebrate the inauguration of the Grand Temple in the Tenochtitlan complex (on which Mexico City would have been built later). The reason of the meeting was to answer a fundamental question: what is there that's really important on earth? The wise men gathered in that occasion arrived to the conclusion that - over every pleasure, wealth or power - poetry was the only thing that was worth cultivating, because it constituted the most precious treasure of the pre-Hispanic populations. Poetry was the only shield to guard from violence and death. Today more than ever we should recuperate this message, because poetry, like music, is an universal phenomenon, well above racial, religious and cultural differences.

Today language is becoming impoverished: can poetry return value to words?

Somebody said that in the modern word the pact between word and world has broken, so often words are used to to deceive and confuse more than to illuminate the truth. But it's probable that the pure word, if there ever was one, was that of Adam in the Garden of Eden, when he decided to give a name to all the things in Creation. However, Adam is dead and dead is his garden. The story of Genesis isn't just the parable of man's fall from his state of innocence, it is also the parable of the word's fall from its state of original purity. I believe that the poet's task is that of looking for that ancient, mythical purity. The poet must be a new Adam who goes back to naming the things in Creation as if it were the first time, while knowing well that he lives in a world that isn't that of Eden anymore. Poetry helps to look for the reasons of things behind words. Poetry not only makes richer inside, but outside too. For every word that gets forgotten or isn't used anymore, we lose a fragment of the universe. Because language is the tighter link we have between our interior selves and the universe that exists outside us. Poetry is determinant in favoring a privileged contact between those two realities.

It's for this reason that I especially love metaphors that refer to the world of modern mathematics and physics. Because they too, just like poetry, investigate reality. These two cultures, far in appearance, are actually, if one analyses the issue with attention, not so far at all. A poet like Sinisgalli comes to mind, when he compared the discovery of imaginary numbers in mathematics with poetry. Like the imaginary operator “i” ( a purely “fictional” entity in mathematics, but with notable real consequences in the field of physics) gave a meaning, an inclination to the number that by itself was inert and horizontal, translating it into a force. In the same way words must, in order to form a verse, have a particular “inclination”. In other words the imaginary operator becomes a perfect metaphor to indicate the change provoked by language on reality, the relation between “thing” and “image”. Calvino too maintained that literature feeds on science discoveries, becomes richer with a patrimony of metaphors that allow us to get closer to reality.

Poetry in the world of young people. Does it have a future?

Language today finds in the social media and mass communication means so well loved by young people a great risk and danger: that of becoming impoverished, stereotyped and repetitive. I'm not against new technologies, that should be clear (I don't know if I could do without a computer). I only spoke of risk. The fact is that new generations seem to be using more and more of the common currency, the currency of the ephemeral. Poetry moves on the opposite ground. It looks, in the middle of what's fleeting, for what isn't so in order to give it space and make it last. For this reason I believe that the new generations have to approach poetry without any reverential fear and without any prejudice. I have assisted to poetry festivals in Latin America and I realized the great value poetry has for young people there. In Italy one has to the impression that, in general, poetry isn't read by young people, being considered difficult or useless. That depends, in my opinion, on the education received in schools. I believe reading poetry should be taught already from primary school; we should shape young minds to capture the beauty of a verse, the sound of a word, the elegance of a metaphor. To read a poem is not simply to make a parafrasis to understand its meaning. Sometimes it's preferable not to explain the meaning (if there ever is a single meaning: the best poems are ambiguous and polysemous) and let ourselves be transported by the sounds and images that a poem evokes. For this reason I don't consider it excessive to have children read poems by Montale, Neruda, Dickinson in primary school. I am convinced that the awakening of an interest for poetry in young people is in great part in the hands of their teachers.

For what concerns the presumed “utility” of poetry, I think that often the things of everyday life arrive to occupy inexorably our thoughts, so much so that many important things of our experiences are eclipsed in our conscience. However, there are experiences that , for how much time may pass and how many things may happen, we can never completely forget. These events remain embedded inside us like milestones of our life's trajectory. Poetry implicates the recovery of those fundamental moments of existence in the construction and growth of the self. I believe that one of the principal reasons of poetry is to confer a special meaning to certain memories, a meaning that maybe was missing when the events happened. The meaning of such moments doesn't happen immediately, but in a second time, when thanks to memory one impresses it on a page trough writing. Moreover, I agree with Seamus Heaney when he says that the end of poetry is also to channel (in the poet and in the reader alike) a feeling of harmony, to give us the impression that for the length of the poem, our perception of the world is in the “right” order, even if after that the world should follow a chaotic and disastrous course.

Poetry on social networks: quality or rubbish?

The internet and social networks are just means , and as such they can reveal useful or damaging depending on the use one makes of them. I'm of the persuasion that social medias are a resource to take advantage of, since, in an editorial situation as complicated as the current one, they can expand considerably the reach of poetry. There are online magazines that are now essential, in which authors, already affirmed or still unknown, are presented every day to an ever vaster public of readers (I think for example to the Mexican Círculo de poesía). So the internet can be a precious and unreplaceable window, especially for those who still have to make a name for themselves. It's true that there is a lot of trash, but I tend to be optimistic and I confide in the ability of the reader to find, amidst the trash, the jewels hidden in the virtual pages. As for books, in the end it's the reader that must select and make his choices, based on his taste. In this sense the internet and social medias have enormously expanded the possibility to choose.

Foto di Giovanni Darconza
The poet Giovanni Darconza