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Amelia Rosselli reviewed

Amelia Rosselli — Hospital Series

(Trans. Deborah Woodard, Roberta Antagonini, and Giuseppe Leporace. New York: New Directions Poetry Pamphlets #19, 2015. Paperback, 64pp., $10.95)

Reviewed by Dan Disney

By an experience impossible and dauntless
we laboriously ruptured isolation, but
the wagons carried us like fruit to
market were gloomy automobiles white
if it snowed, infernal in the rain. (7)
Thus begins this translation of Amelia Rosselli’s Hospital Series (Serie ospedaliera), the poet as if lost but blinking heroically across the real. Rosselli describes herself as a “poet of exploration” (78); she is a translingerer (28) who scours events, their places, and populations for the ardor of possible connection. Rosselli wrote Serie ospedaliera in 1969 during a period of hospitalization, her translator Roberta Antagonini tell readers, for “a mental illness she suffered from for most of her life” (79). Here is a poet who “penetrate(s) into rooms furnished for a truer life” (8), and these texts are (in her own words) traumatological  (36), the poet’s “petrolific/ imagination” (43) lighting across vestiges which swarm with appearances and objects taken as unreal.
Indeed, these poems echo with the even-handed dealings of a loneliness that is perhaps maddening and certainly metaphysical –
Beware the medusa: white slightly livid, the Guilietta
Alfa Romeo heads past you, quarrels the golden
silence and kindles in your faith a hope of
disappointment. Without paradise we were, castrated, in the unknown
faith in a tomorrow that doesn’t want to appear vain but shoots
buds upon your sleeping-pill-addicted head. (39)
The poet pans the mise-en-scène continuously and unconditionally, where poppies “Spiritualize/ the grass” (41) and hearts “are frightened of air” (66). Rosselli fashions her own heart as if an –
old mustached sentinel, corrupt,
drunk, tenacious, without hope yet expecting the whole
curved sky on its sleeve (9)
and she talks of owning a “figurative/ mind” (30), the objects apprehends as if metaphoric (or perhaps versions of Plato’s universal forms). So often these poems are mapped with the glimpse of evanescent connection, causality as dissociative as a downpour in which “it’s raining like hell now that you’ve smelled/ the full scent of the flowers” (41). At work in these poems there is a synthesizing intersubjectivity, in which things are apt to take up significatory prescience –
Innocent rivulets, half-empty boats, large lakes in the mountains
premise my being yours, and obedient. (10)
In Rosselli’s worldview all seems uncannily connected, and this is a logistical poetics in which random visions are distilled into streamlined narrative. So often the texts are kinetic, the poet roving toward meaning –
[…] Hills
then green horses, their gallop an imbroglio,
a stratagem for self-oblivion. It’s still hot, and the sky
is stained with unmarked graves. (12)
Rosselli’s watchfulness is an unfolding of experience into deeper modes of responsiveness, and these texts act as observations in which meaningfulness is read as random, a perhaps wondrous arrival. These are hardly coolly philosophical thought-experiments though, and Rosselli is ever-present, a “would-be sleeper” (21) situated as first-person narrator kept up by the “sleepless night owl” of her emotions (15). She is a persona wandering her own poems as if they are “little sleepless dreams” (20), bedlams, dispatches from an affectively engaged wanderer wondering like a see-er and seer, divine or madly-inspired as Plato would have us believe of all poets, pre- and post- agon. Rosselli is mindful of “the eternal reiterating of things, objects” (33) as if she sees as deeply beyond the 3D wallpaper of the real as Plato purports to see in his allegory of the cave.
In the Afterword to Hospital Series, Antagonini asserts that Rosselli is “one of the major European poets of the twentieth century” (78), and that her “poetic language is a trilingual hotchpotch, a constant drift from one tongue to the next” (79). The poet characterizes language as a “Quivering tongue in one’s mouth, a wing-beat” (48), as if proposing to speak in transcendentalizing gestures. In his essay “The Task of the Translator”, Walter Benjamin speculates that a pure language exists abstractly and “no longer means or expresses anything but is, as expressionless and creative Word, that which is meant in all languages”. Rosselli’s texts are essentializations, the “images elemental” (70), and these desperate ontological manouvres are as if antagonisms, hallucinations, epiphanies, discourses toward that all-encompassing extra-linguistic silence awaiting us all. Benjamin also posits a meta-language containing all possible expressions of nuance, gesture, and trope echoing inside each living language. The task of the translator is to shift toward trans-linguistic universalism: no poet and no language is hermetic, and all remain (as Benjamin avers) “interrelated in what they want to express”. What Rosselli expresses in these texts – so skillfully transferred by Antagonini et al – is an often-wrenching cri de coeur situating a continuum of affectivity. Rosselli and her translators seem engaged in a “union/ of two souls one tarantella” (9), and these English-language versions move across vistas of love and despair and hope and insanity, in a dance toward newer orders of weird reckoning.
17 May 2015