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Excerpt from Il miele del silenzio (‘The honey of silence’)
An anthology of young Italian poetry
Edited by Giancarlo Pontiggia, Interlinea, Novara 2009

Critical introduction by Giancarlo Pontiggia
 

Roberta Bertozzi lives and works in Cesena, where she was born in 1972. After having taken a degree in Philosophy, with a thesis on history of criticism, in 2000 she founded a culture association, always based in Cesena, Calligraphie. She has published two poetry collections so far: Il rituale della neve (‘The ritual of snow’), with a preface by Cesare Ricciotti (Raffaelli 2003); and Gli enervati di Jumièges (afterword by Pasquale Di Palmo, peQuod 2007; some excerpts, commented by Matteo Fantuzzi, also appeared on n. 47 of “Atelier”). The importance of the author’s thought and commitment to writing is equally visible in her essay-writing, which includes reviews, critical comments and introductory notes to art catalogues; a part of this production also came out on literary magazines, such as “Atelier”, “clandestine” and “Poesia”.
I have loved ‘The ritual of snow’, her precious and hyper-controlled first collection, because of its steady writing, its naturalistic sensitivity, and its vibrant, yet hidden, dreamlike moments of vividness, as one can observe by reading the following ending lines: «We exit: / you see, we are almost trees / we are / almost the world // the world’s dream / and its deep call». It is a book that opens under the sign of a need, a poetic awareness: «I chose poetry / that has the dowry of / a garden hedge corner / the syllables of barks / the lace of roofs and of railings // a poetry approaching the earth / without impoverishing it / without plundering its respectful and alacritous sleep». The same awareness strikes up once again after few pages: «If poems were charitable / they would fall into the hand / such as flowers in their prime, / such as keys falling from a terrace. But they have a changeable nature / they tangle up like waves / beating and receding / the voices in the lower deck, / throng insomnias. // I always leave them their ever-steady course / I do not force, I tame / the verse and these concerts / lay my hands to rest / and leave my teeth uncovered». After having read such a composed and careful little book, one cannot but agree with Ricciotti’s preface: Bertozzi endeavours in what he defines as «a superior quest, a presentation of details that makes no use of symbols nor magic, but rather possesses a force governed from the inside providing the poetry with a small – maybe even a minimum – yet unbending vision of the subtle enchantment possessed by a great and mysterious harmony».
I eventually found myself reading with astonishment Gli enervati di Jumièges (‘The enervated of Jumièges’) – I first read its typescript first, then saw the reviewed version of the full volume. The title chosen for the volume was originally a direct reference to the 1880 painting by Evariste Vital Luminais, Les énervés de Jumièges, which represents a decadent re-elaboration of an ancient Merovingian myth and is currently kept at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Rouen. Not only is this collection only marked by a general Surrealist and Rimbaudian echo, but it also evokes the sharper and utterly bitter images of the French poet’s writing in Alchimie du verbe (‘Alchemy of the word’), in which Rimbaud expresses its definite and absolute repudiation of all morals, together with a rather ascetic, materialistic, severe and hedonistic tension towards any form of happiness. The author seals her tribute to these resonances in her final epigraph: L’action n’est pas la vie, mais une façon de gâcher quelque force, un énervement. (‘Action does not correspond to life, yet to a way of wasting some force, a restlessness.’).
Bertozzi’s poetry appears to the reader as a true battle of sounds, forms and thoughts, which only partially seem governed by a firm determination, while the rest raucously escapes from one’s hand. Within this perspective, Bertozzi rightfully referred, in an essay published on the literary magazine “clanDestino” (2, 2004) to a poetics born from a Russian-German tradition that predominantly occurred throughout the Twentieth century. Here is what she writes: «The formula of creation corresponds to the individual’s being inside a potential dimension, as the hand that lets itself being worked through corresponds precisely to the measure of that powerfulness. To let oneself being worked through by the word is a declaration of tenacious extraneousness towards all logics of will and duty. There is no actual decision, but rather a strong and unyielding abandonment, an illuminated displacement, a listening attitude towards something that is bigger than us: the power of the word». Thus, there are two opposite drives in Bertozzi’s poetry: on one hand we find a Rimbaudian attraction towards a life adrift (which is also the central theme of Luminais’ painting); on the other hand, there is an equally strong need to create a new order, one that doesn’t apply exclusively to the reshaping of poetic structures, as it also affects the way one reflects on the state of world to the extent that the book assumes a specific political and polemical value. This is also confirmed by what the poet wrote in a letter dated June 2006, as she was explaining the role of the two protagonists in her collection (inspired by the ancient legend about the two sons of Clovis II who were found guilty of having conspired against their father, and eventually condemned to have their tendons burned and abandoned on a raft adrift along river Seine): «Their waiting becomes a form of soothing disease, in which one feels well, wishing it will not change during its completion. The enervated are condemned to adolescence, to an endless apprenticeship – they never become men because of the social sacrifice they are requested to fulfil».
Hence, the oedipal theme is here re-read from a political angle, as it contains a clear reference to the ambiguity of present times without any form of reassuring solution: the result is a raw, sharp, even obscure poetry that includes conceptual ellipses, dissonances, fractures, intermittences, while tending towards an almost hypnotic and quiet composition, as also witnessed by the repeated musical annotations, such as  «lento», «adagio», scattered all over the eighteenth small sections of the poem: «I felt the dilatation of large lakes of stasis and in the stasis, I sensed the occurring of fragments (fragments of meaning, of a chording structure) holding to each other only through analogical means. The strangest thing is that, in spite of all this, the architecture was not motionless – not completely subdued – yet it kept releasing and shaping structures and frames, it kept redefining itself as a point of support and localization. The architecture, the narrative, is a function – and, at the same time, an obstacle» (from a letter sent in November 2006).
Here I include only three sections of the poem, a hard choice to make. I added the footnotes about which I had amusingly asked to Roberta after a first reading, almost following the model of Foscolo’s summary accompanying the Sepolcri: the reader will clearly observe that these eighteen notes, written in prose, have no explanatory function, while they directly compete with each poetic section. Anyway, if one needed  any further evidence of the deep, material, dreamlike, irrational essence of this poetry, we should again make use of the poet’s own writings, written on the occasion of several art exhibitions, but still relevant to her poetics. Just one example: «The effect of these works, their compositional rendering, are of secondary importance; their collision and struggle both correspond to what they keep releasing – “not rendering the visible of something yet making something visible”; they refer to a way of extracting substances that goes beyond the substances themselves, thus enforcing the power relationships that connect them to each other, a way of making the strengths sensitive and the pains imperceptible, telluric forces that are at once asleep and constantly operating» (from the catalogue of an exhibition dedicated to Mattia Vernocchi, Pat de durmi, 20 January - 25 February 2007).

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