On asemic writing
Marco Giovenale interviewed
1) How long have you been playing asemic poetry? Did it have a place in your creative life before?
I started making asemic texts some years ago: I think the first good (?) works are from the year 2005 ––or a little bit earlier. Then in 2008 La camera verde (http://www.lacameraverde.com) published my Sibille asemantiche (“Asemic sibyls”), as a fully asemic book. But before that (and after, of course) I published a lot of stuff on line and I also spread a lot of asemic installations anywhere, for example on the occasion of the Text Festival in Bury, April 2011, where also asemic pieces by me took part in the collective exhibition. (I often follow the ‘principles’ expressed in http://installance.blogspot.com: see http://installance.blogspot.it/p/host-lost-derive-river-01.html). Another book has been published in 2011 thanks to Dan Waber, in the “This is visual poetry” collection: http://thisisvisualpoetry.com/?p=1019.
I’ve always been drawing, since the 80s, but at that time I wasn’t even thinking of abstract drawing(s). So I didn’t focus on the asemic area before the new century.
2) Is this the only way for writing poetry, for avant-garde positions? Is traditional poetry coming to an end?
I definitely think that asemic writing is not the only path or highway an avant-gard can consider. New forms of textual and non-asemic experimental works are born every day. So we can’t define the borders of the growing and growing experiments in language, art, music, media.
By the way, it is true that ––confronted to glitch art, asemic writing, conceptual texts, flarf, postpoésie, and prose in prose etc–– the traditional forms of ‘linear’ writing are forced to face a completely new situation and landscape. Perhaps it can be said that a kind of ‘traditional’ poetry came to an end (or exhaustion) in the mid-60s, when a lot of new experiments burst out. But in countries like Italy, for example, that is not a widespread obviousness. On the contrary, in Italy we have an evergreen boring mainstream still dealing with pure hendecasyllables and sonnets.
3) In Ukraine asemic poetry is generally perceived as something unknown and strange. Can you explain what kind of practice is it? Is it still literature? Or art?
Maybe it is both. Or it belongs to both, in part. Asemic writing can be considered a kind of writing, without semantic content. It ‘mimics’ an actual writing, an alphabet, calligraphy, text, but it can’t be ‘translated’ into a known meaning, code, text. It seems like it really has no meaning, if for ‘meaning’ we mean the kind of internal translation of concepts and words and images we usually face when talking and writing in our mother tongue.
When we read a known language, we may almost touch and feel some kind of communication stream, the passage of a current of meaning ––grounded in our very roots. Some sort of ‘transitive event’ is taking place into our brain. Conversely, when we look at an asemic text, we realize we feel at the same time the ‘transitive’ condition of our reading and the absence of the stream. We see the shape of a flow of meaning but there’s no content in it. We have the vehicle (what we may call a text) but it is fully taken and occupied by nothing we know. Nothing we will ever know. Nonetheless, we like it, we spend time in watching at the glyphs and signs, we try to balance the fascination given by the simple drawing and the exciting forms of entities resembling some written traces. But we also understand they are traces of the unknown. And we accept that. We are just facing some sort of challenge or game, where there’s nothing to win except for the pure pleasure of a ‘suspended’ meaning that hits us and... tickles our brains’ linguistic areas even if its place stands outside of any language. (And outside of the power of language).
As I told to Dan Waber for the “This is visual poetry” chapbook:
asemic writing is a major path leading out of the western logos legacy. Generally speaking, twisted signs or tiny glyphs like these ones can be left alone on the page, unrecorded or not; and they (try to) bring on — even in this way — their peculiar anti-discourse, set out of the common sense and the shared meanings.
Then they (or their images) can also be involved in a process of further change(s), passing through a thousand digital doors — facing some sort of multiverse. It’s something you can perceive in most of these pages.
Such glyphs seem they want to stand as signs of a possible wider change: a shift in the writer’s mind, and the reader’s eye. The former will be ready to abandon the power of language, the pre-written codes of the meanings’ dictatorship; the latter will try to do his/her best in dealing with such a lack of known coordinates, alphabets, recognizable lines of speech, in order to catch the weird non-melodic phrases in an area of new graphic entities.
Many of the asemic sibyls and glyphs I drawrite fade in the black side of the sheet, they leave the trace of a trace, in the reader/viewer’s mind. He is no more a spectator, nor someone in need of convictions and fixed “omega” goals and targets. He is — we are — free to simply enjoy the faint passing of those traces. (Their fair impermanence).
4) Do you support the creative ties with poets from other countries, and how interesting asemic writing is for the modern Italian poets?
I absolutely support any link to/from other countries; and asemic writing is anything but a ‘national’ (or locally/culturally defined) area of artistic and (post)literary line of research. In Italy there have been and are visual poets, verbo-visual artists, and asemic writers. I think of Vincenzo Accame, Emilio Villa, Magdalo Mussio, to name a few. Irma Blank, who lives in Italy, is also one of my favourite artists (authors). All the Italian poets-poets (or linear writers) I know, I must say, do not work on the asemic path (with the exception of the important works of Mariangela Guatteri, Massimo Sannelli, Riccardo Cavallo, Daniele Bellomi and a few others).
5) Tell us please something about your series "encyclopaedia" and “glyphs”, “sibyls” and “draft 222”.
The project of the Asemic Encyclopaedia is a still-(and-forever)-in-progress project, made of hundreds of slips of paper, micro-sheets, each dealing with some kind of inexplicable thing or item or argument. In these leaflets or sheets I try to do my best to explain some graphic ‘content’ I do not know at all! The Encyclopaedia can’t have an ‘end’, since the world of the known events is an enormous one; but that of the unknown is infinitely bigger.
I wanted to write a note in order to ‘explain’ my works, when The Last Vispo Anthology was out (2012): the note is unpublished, and this is its ‘incipit’:
I started drawing=writing "sibyls" in 2005-2006. They were not imagined as a structured series, but as single messages/leaflets in English. And maybe, at first I didn't think I had to define them, nor give them a name at all. They were born as lines/verses you could actually read. They were arranged in square grids. But I started calling them "sibille" (in Italian), "sibyls", almost soon. This was also due to my respectful feelings of gratitude and admiration toward Emilio Villa's work. He made drawings, visual poems, installations and engravings based upon his multilingual sibylline texts. He also knew (and said) that a sibyl is something you lose. You write it and soon you send it away. It belongs to nobody. (It’s a form of dépense, too: I think so.)
The “glyphs” differ from the sibyls because first of all they’re sort of “block letters” (while sibyls are “cursive”), then I also must add that the blank spaces have a role in the graphic mise en page of the glyphs. They can or cannot work through superimpositions. While the sibyls always stand on the page as superimposed strata of (non)meaning.
Draft 222 was born during the making of a series of new asemic sibyls and glyphs, when I realized I could record a video from slight moves of the sheets I was working on. I made a series of short vids (I always prefer short low-res vids to huge projects), then I choose that ‘video-draft’ as an opus in itself.
6) Is there a question about poetry that no one asks ––but you are thinking of?
Yes: it’s about the space for manoeuvre the reader has when facing a text. A traditional poem, a novel, a linear page, they all give us a predetermined space for us to explore the blurred borders between the specific written ‘thing’ and our general act of reading. An asemic work ––on the other side–– maybe leaves us in full fear of the fully unknown. Is this fear an inviation au voyage, or will some sort of panic prevail on the reader’s curiosity? You may foresee my reply: asemic writing is an amazing invitation. An invitation to open our mind to the abstract shape of a (missing) language, even if it seems it doesn’t work as a language, since it’s void of any already known content. So the further question I'd like to raise may be: why not? Why not try to explore the asemic territory?