To define the syllable as a sound is inexact, however: there are no "sounds" in languages:--in classifications of musical acoustics the vowel or consonant is defined as "noise," and that is natural, given the complexity of our phonetic-physiological apparatus, and the variation from person to person even of the magnitude of vocal cords and oral cavities, so that a phonetic classification system other than statistical has never been reached, until now.
In speaking of vowels, in any case, generally we mean sounds, or even colours, given that we are often indebted to them for "timbric" qualities; and in speaking of consonants or groupings of consonants, we mean not only their graphic features, but also muscular movements and mental "forms."
But if when we vocalize, of all the individuable elements in music and painting, only rhythms (durations or tempos) and colours (timbres or forms) stand out, when we write and read things go a bit differently: we think contemporaneously. In that case the word does not have merely a sound (noise); in fact, at times it does not have one at all, and it resounds only as an idea in the mind. The vowel and consonant, then, are not necessarily phonetic values, but simply graphic values as well, or components of the written idea, or word. We do not even hear timbre when we think or read mentally; and durations (syllables) are elastic and imprecise, according to the reader's scanning and individual dynamics, rhythmicity, and velocity of thought. In fact, at times, in reading without vocalizing, all voiced elements disappear, and even the poetic phrase is reduced to logical or associative sense, perceived with the help of a subtle graphic and spatial sensibility (spaces and forms are the mind's silences and points of reference).
And so, when faced with sonorous or logical or associative material in writing--classified until now either abstractly or fantastically, but never systematically--one speaks to me of "feet" and of phrases, without telling me what a vowel is. Not only that: the language in which I write at isolated moments is only one, while my sonorous, logical, and associative experience is certainly that of all peoples, and respectable in all languages.
And it is with these preoccupations that I set out at a certain point in my adolescence to seek universal forms. To find these I sought from the beginning my most basic (Western and rational) organizational element in writing. And this turned out clearly to be the "letter," voiced or unvoiced, timbric or non, graphic or formal, symbolic and functional at once. This letter, sonorous but equally a "noise," created phonetic nodes (chi, str; stet, bit') that were not necessarily syllabic, and were in fact only functional or graphical forms, and noise. For a classification that would be neither graphic nor formal it was necessary, in seeking the reserves of poetic form, to speak of the syllable, understood not overly schoLastically, but rather as a rhythmic particle. Rising out of this still-insignificant matter, I came upon the word as a whole, understood as definition and sense, idea, well of communication. Generally the word is considered the definition of a given reality, but it is viewed more as an "object" to classify and to subclassify, and not as an idea. (1) instead (and here perhaps I would do well to warn that since my experimentation and deduction are quite personal and in part incommunicable, every conclusion that I might have drawn from them is truly to be taken "cum grano $alis") had very different ideas in mind, and considered even "il," "la," and "come" to be "ideas," and not merely conjunctions or specifications of an argument expressing an idea.' I posited that the whole argument should indicate the thought itself, and thus that the phrase (with all of its functional colourings) was an idea that had become slightly more complex and manageable, and that the sentence was the logical exposition of an idea, not static like the one materialized in the word, but. rather, dynamic and "becoming" and often unconscious as well Wanting to broaden my classification, which was truly not that scientific, I inserted the Chinese ideogram between the phrase and the word, and I translated the Chinese scroll in the delirious course of Western thought. (2)
Later I took to observing the mutation of this delirium or scroll of my thought in accordance with the situation my mind confronted at each turn of life, at each spatial or temporal displacement of my daily practical experience. I noted strange thickenings in the rhythmicity of my thought, strange arrests, strange coagulations and changes of tempo, strange intervals of rest or absence of action; new sonorous and ideal fusions in accordance with the changing of practical time, of graphic spaces and of the spaces surrounding me continually and materially. In conversing and in sensing other mental or psychological presences with me in a space, thinking became tenser, more fatigued, almost complementary to that of the interlocutor, even as it was renewed or destroyed in the encounter with him or her.
I tried to observe every external materiality with the most absolute meticulousness possible within an immediate period of experimental time and space. With each additional movement of my body, I would attempt a complete "picture" [quadro] of surrounding existence; my mind had to assimilate the picture's entire meaning within the period of time in which it remained there, merging with its own interior dynamism. (3)
Until that time, in writing, my complexity or completeness with respect to reality had been limited subjectively: reality was mine, not that of others as well: I wrote in free verse.
In effect, even in interrupting a long line with the termination of a phrase or an unconnected word, I isolated the phrase, rendering it meaningful and strong, and I isolated the word, rendering it its ideality, but dividing my train of thought into unequal strata and disconnected meanings. The idea was no longer in the entire poem, as a moment of reality in my mind, or as my mind's participation in a reality, but was instead torn apart into slow flights of steps, and it was traceable only at the poem's end, or from no point at all. The poem's graphic aspect influenced logical impressions more than the means or vehicle of my thought, which is to say, the word, phrase, or sentence.
As for prosody, being free, it varied courteously in accordance with association or my own pleasure. Intolerant of preestablished designs, bursting out of them, it adapted itself to a tempo that was strictly psychological, musical, and instinctual
By chance, I resolved to reread the sonnets of the first Italian schools; fascinated by regularity, I resolved to reattempt the impossible.
I took up again in hand my five classifications: letter, syllable, word, phrase, and sentence. I framed them [Le inquadrai] in an absolute time-space. (4) My poetic verses could no longer escape the universality of the total space: the lengths and tempos of lines were preestablished, my organizational unity could be defined, my rhythms adapted themselves not to my will alone, but to the space that had already been determined, and this space was wholly covered by experiences, realities, objects, and sensations. Transposing the rhythmic complexity of language spoken and thought but unscanned, through abundant variation of timbric and rhythmic particles within a unified and limited typical space, my meter was, if not regular, at least total: all possible imaginable rhythms filled my square [quadrato] meticulously to timbric depth, my rhythmics were musical in the sense developed by the latest experiments of post-Webernism, my regularity, when it existed, came into contrast with a swarming of rhythms translatable not into sentences or into long or short measures, but into microscopic durations that were only just annotatable, if desired, with pencil on graph paper in millimeter rule. The basic unity of the verse was neither the letter, disintegrative and insignificant, nor the syllable, rhythmic and cutting yet still lacking ideality, but the entire word, of whatever type, indifferently, all words being considered of equal value and weight, all to be manipulated as concrete and abstract ideas.
In laying out the first line of the poem I fixed the spatial and temporal frame [quadro] of the square definitively at once; subsequent lines had to be adapted to equal measure, to identical formulation. (5) In writing I moved from line to line without minding any priority of meaning in the words placed at the end of the lines as if by chance.
In reality, there was always that hidden point of the right margin of my frame [quadro] to aid me in measuring or ending my line; and to close the line, either the whole word, or any orthographic nexus that was meaningful insofar as it really existed as a time of "waiting" both in speaking and thinking, could fall upon it. The empty space between one word and the other was considered rather nonfunctional, and was not a unity, and if by chance it fell upon the right margin of the frame [quadro], it was immediately followed by another word, in such a way as to fill the space entirely and close the verse. The square [quadro] was to be covered entirely, in fact, and the phrase to be enunciated in a breath and without silences and interruptions--reflecting spoken and thought reality, where in sounding we link our words and in thinking we have no interruptions except those of punctuation, which are explicative and logical. I thought in fact that the dynamic of thought and sound would generally be exhausted at the end of the phrase, sentence, or thought, and that vocal emission and writing would thus follow its being born and reborn without interruptions.
In reading aloud each one of the lines was then to be phonetized within identical time limits, corresponding to the equal confines of graphic length or width previously formulated by the drafting of the first line. Even in the case that a line would contain more words, syllables, letters, and punctuation than another, the overall reading time of each line had to remain as identical as possible. Line lengths were thus approximately equal, and their reading times along with them; they had the word and orthographic nexus as metrical and spatial unity, and graphic space or time as a containing form, with the latter laid out not in a mechanical or entirely visual manner, but as a presupposition in scanning, and as an agent in writing and thinking.
I would break the poem off when the psychic force and significance driving me to write--that is, the idea or experience or memory or fantasy that moved the meaning and space--were exhausted. I attributed to the empty spaces between one section of the poem and another the time elapsed, or the space mentally traversed, in drawing logical and associative conclusions to add to any of its parts. And the idea was logical, in fact; but the space, though preestablished, was not infinite, as if it compromised the idea, experience, or memory, transforming my syllables and timbres (which were scattered throughout the poem, like nonrhythmic rhymes) in dense and subtle associations; the sentiment momentarily relived was affirmed through some fixed rhythm. At times, however infrequently, a fixed rhythm predominated and haunted, and in the end I resolved to find the perfect rhythmic regularity of this sentiment, and being unable to, 1 closed the book on its unique attempt at abstract order--that is, the last poem.
In writing by hand instead of on the typewriter, as I realized immediately, I could not establish perfect spaces and perfectly equal line lengths (at least by formula), having the idea or word or orthographic nexus as functional and graphic unity, except if I wanted to write on the graph paper of scholastic notebooks. Writing by hand normally, I could only attempt to seize the established space-time instinctively in the formulation of the first line, and perhaps later and artificially, I could convert the attempt to an approximate form, reproduced through mechanical print. Writing by hand, one also thinks more sluggishly; thought has to wait for the hand and it becomes interrupted, and free verse makes more sense in this form, as it reflects these interruptions, and this isolation of the word and phrase. But writing by machine I can perhaps, for a short time, follow a thought faster than light. Writing by hand perhaps I would have to write prose, so as not to return to free forms: prose is perhaps in fact the most real of all forms, and it does not pretend to define forms.
But to reattempt the equilibrium of the fourteenth-century sonnet is a real ideal as well. Reality is so heavy that the hand tires, and no form can contain it. Memory rushes thus to the most fantastic enterprises (spaces, verses, rhymes, tempos).
(1.) "Il": "the, masculine; "la": "the" feminine; "come": "as/how." Rosselli expands upon this passage in Elio Pagliarani's 1988 poetry workshop: "I have already, by education, learned not a grammatical analysis of the word but an idea in my mind with regard to this phoneme 'il' ... Those who write must reconsider all of this again, asking themselves: why have they told me what this pronoun is?"
(2.) From Rosselli's presentation of "Metrical Spaces" at Pagliarani's workshop: "Do not take the word delirante [delirious] as true delirium. The scroll form suggests the slow raving, the unfurling of the idea. That there is this interruption, then, between phrase and word, through the Chinese ideogram, which is neither phrase nor word alone, except in rare cases, was a need for universality of mine. ... Pound suggested that we read Chinese poems. I studied various languages in my youth, though not all to the point of being able to speak them. I studied German, I studied Arabic, an easy language, Hebrew, which was quite difficult, I had studied Greek and Latin at school, and I had deduced various questions regarding form." From Amelia Rosselli, Monica Venturini, and Silvia De March, eds., E vostra la vita the ho perso. Conversazioni e interviste, 1964-1995 (Firenze: Le lettere, 2010), 235-236.
(3.) The word Rosselli uses for "picture" here is "quadro" which also means "square." The quotation marks surrounding it highlight the extended pun: Rosselli will later duplicate the surrounding "picture" with a "square" on paper. As she explains to Pagliarini's workshop of her process of writing First Writings and Diary in Three Tongues in the 1950s: "I took notes walking through Trastevere with little notebooks that I then transcribed onto paper. ... By night, by day, walking, standing still, just to observe the shifting of my observation and of the encounter with things or people or spaces and movement and time [tempo]. Then I copied it out on the typewriter because gridded paper can achieve results almost like the typewriter. I could transpose the spaces that I had swiftly seized from surrounding space."
(4.) Here the verb for "frame," "inquadrare," contains the word "quadro," both "picture" and "square." She continues to work with this dual meaning of the word--geometrical and conceptual--through the remainder of the manifesto. I place the original term in brackets at points of ambiguity.
(5.) It is notable that, here and in the next paragraph, Rosselli uses the term "rigo" (literally, "line") rather than the traditional poetic term "verso" ("verse") here to indicate the "line." As Florinda Fusco points out, this choice underscores that traditional conceptions of verse are being overturned. See Fusco, Amelia Rosselli (Palermo: Palumbo, 2007), 56.
"Metrical Spaces" ("Spazi metrici") was originally published as an afterword to Variazioni belliche (Bellicose variations, 1964), Amelia Rosselli1 s debut poetry volume. This is the first in a Chicago Review series of previously untranslated essays on prosody by various poets and critics.
Translated by Jennifer Scappettone
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|Article Type:||Viewpoint essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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