Marco Palladini. A proposito di Ezra Pound. Il fantasma di una voce, 54 anni fa.

Review of Enzo Minarelli. Il centro del cerchio. Ezra Pound e la ricerca verbo-voco-visiva.

Udine: Campanotto, 2013. 108pp.


Translated by Claudio Sansone


On the Subject of Ezra Pound.

The Ghost of a Voice, from 54 Years Ago


The Centre of the Circle is Enzo Minarelli’s latest publication, an interesting and composite book with a DVD containing recordings of Pound that date back to 1959; an experimental film made in 1955 by Anna Bontempi, Martino Oberto and Gabriele Stocchi as an homage to the author of The Cantos, who was in an American mental asylum at the time; and, finally, a video-poem based on the sound of Pound’s cough. All this is accompanied by a number of interviews and by precise and concise critical and theoretical analyses on Pound's influence on Italian “verbo-voco-visual” research.


The sixty-year-old Enzo Minarelli has been, for more than thirty years, one of Italy’s most significant and well-known sound poets. But he is also a theoretician and a scholar of avant-garde art and, most of all, an indefatigable researcher in his field. His latest publication, The Centre of the Circle – Ezra Pound and Verbo-Voco-Visual Research (Pasian di Prato (Udine): Campanotto, 2013, pp. 108, € 20,00), stands as the highest testament to this—it is a book accompanied by a valuable DVD that contains a series of fragments of Pound’s voice recorded in 1959, as he is making a set of political, cultural, and literary statements partly in a pretty clear Italian, and partly in English. He also reads some passages from his Cantos in English. In addition, there is also an experimental film, On the Subject of Ezra Pound, made by Anna Bontempi, Martino Oberto and Gabriele Stocchi as a homage to the author of The Cantos, who was in Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Washington at the time, which he was to leave only in 1958 to return to Italy. Finally, the DVD also includes Pound’s Cough, a video-poem by Minarelli himself that is built around the coughs spliced from the 54-year-old recordings of Pound. Radical artist-critic, Minarelli constructs his study on multiple levels. First, he recounts his passionate unearthing of these recordings, his tweaking and digital re-mastering in order to make them fruitful tools once again. But, apart from the historical value, there is also the emotional one—as these are relics of the avant-garde of the twentieth century. Secondly, he develops an exacting aesthetic-logical analysis, in a critical and comparative manner, of the materials he presents, demonstrating how the work of Anna and Martino Oberto, Ugo Carrega, and of the little magazine Ana Eccetera stand at the origin of verbo-visual research in Italy, and how this research was influenced by Pound with the insertion of Chinese ideograms in The Cantos, as a doubling of meaning, but also as estranging graphemes that postulate a sign-as-thing conceived as a bridge between Western and Oriental visions. Thirdly, he proposes a link between this experience and Pound’s overall poetics, interviewing Mary de Rachewiltz, Pound’s daughter, and the scholar Massimo Bacigalupo, as well as older followers of Pound, Oberto and Carrega, who remember how they met Pound at his arrival in the port of Genoa when he returned to Italy in 1958. They also describe the mood of the meetings they had with him later on, in Rapallo, over the course of which they recorded his voice. There is a curious anecdote about the very young Enzo Siciliano, then a student, who translated passages from cantos 91 and 96 for Ana Eccetera--Pound disliked his translations, and was somewhat angry (Siciliano later met the poet, but was intimidated and scarcely able to speak). Finally, we see the authorial presence of Minarelli in the book, not only with the video-poem made in Venice, with images of Pound’s grave, but also in the overall editing of the book that, from the very title The Centre of the Circle, conceives of the American poet and his nostos to Italy as a mythopoetic event, in some way at the origin of the later verbo-voco-visual experimental circles in Italy. This is perhaps the most fascinating point in the text, but also the most debatable in a book that appears to sideline the enormous impact of the Futurist avant-garde on the history and developments in this field. But we know that Pound and the Futurists had little sympathy for each other, and therefore if we are on Pound’s side of history we must somewhat downplay Marinetti and his group. I do not agree, though I do understand.

In any case, the recovery of these oral incunabula of Pound is a fine gift for his admirers. Though scarcely comprehensible on occasion, the ghost of Pound’s voice as he reads The Cantos has a good ring to it, a deep tone, nearly oratory, with a sober progression and a precise musical rhythm, even if quite held back. It is an intimate, meditative reading, I would say, though influenced by the example of Yeats, from whom Pound had learned as Minarelli says, how to give a reading.

On the Subject of Ezra Pound is, instead, a historical short movie, shot in 8mm, on the occasion of Pound's seventieth birthday. At that time the poet had been incarcerated for ten years. It is composed of shaky images in black and white, with quick edits that alternate between Rapallo and Brunnenburg, and captions from Pound: “Omnia, tutto che esiste è luce,” “Avere fatto in luogo di non avere fatto, questa non è vanità,” “Tenero come un terzo cielo.” (‘All that exists is light’, ‘ To have done instead of not doing, this is not vanity’, ‘Soft as un terzo cielo.’) In the flow of the film we see book covers and pages, pictures of Pound, but also of Joyce, Eliot, Faulkner and Hemingway, the beautiful head of Ezra sculpted by Gaudier-Brzeska and various verbo-visual marginalia, music scores and a painting by Capogrossi, the effigy of Dante and the apparition of an enigmatic young woman, newspaper headlines on Pound’s alleged insanity, and quotations from the men of letters who campaigned for his release. The film is not really a professional production, but can be appreciated as a poetic-visual experiment that seeks to merge thoughts and words produced in the Fascist years by the bizarre American poet. In a fleeting frame we also see, in a cemetery full of crosses and numbers, the tomb of his father, Homer Pound. The film is calibrated to the exact duration of 14’19” – equal to the second of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Concertos – a concerto that Pound had discovered in Dresden in 1932.

The Centre of the Circle is an entirely personal book (and the book of a personality); it is both a scholarly study and an artist’s work. The result appears to me absolutely relevant.