Miriam Montani

Getting Out Alive (Again) – Four Poems by Carmen Gallo

Poems by Carmen Gallo translated by Livia Franchini with artworks by Miriam Montani

#23 Guardie e ladri

A differenza dell’Italia, sono molti i paesi in Europa che non considerano un reato l’evasione dal carcere. Come se in Germania, Islanda e Danimarca si riconoscesse legittimo il desiderio della libertà e dunque quasi un diritto tentare di riconquistarla. Anche a chi ha violato la legge. È certo compito della polizia catturare con ogni mezzo gli evasi e riportarli in carcere, ma non sono previste pene aggiuntive. Non si punisce il desiderio e il tentativo di essere altrove. Lo stesso principio è riconosciuto anche in Cina e in Corea del Nord ma non in Italia.

#23 Cops and Robbers

Many European countries do not consider jailbreak a punishable crime. As if in Germany, Iceland and Denmark the desire for freedom was recognized as legitimate, and therefore any attempt to regain it a fundamental right. Available even to those who have broken the law. It is at any rate the police’s duty to capture the fugitives and bring them back to jail, yet no further punishment will be added to the original sentence. The desire isn’t punished, neither is the attempt to exist elsewhere. The same principle is followed in China and in North Korea but not in Italy.

#24 Caratteri mobili

Passarono alcuni anni prima che qualcuno si accorgesse che nella Bibbia di re Giacomo, la prima traduzione in inglese autorizzata dalla Corona, compariva un disdicevole refuso. Nella composizione tipografica del
testo era saltata una parola – not – proprio lì dove si elencavano i dieci comandamenti. Quello sull’adulterio compariva infatti in una versione inedita, permissiva e imperativa a un tempo: You shall commit adultery. L’intera tiratura era stata poi ritirata e bruciata, ma undici esemplari continuarono a circolare diventando noti come The Wicked Bible. Pare che l’errore, insieme ad alcuni altri, fosse riconducibile ad atti di sabotaggio di uno stampatore rivale.

#24 Movable Types

Only after several years did anyone spot the ludicrous mistake hidden in the newly published King James Bible. A word had been left out of a typographic line: ‘not’ was missing from one of the Ten Commandments. The line on adultery appeared thus in an unforeseen version, both lascivious and imperative: Thou shalt commit adultery. The whole print run was later withdrawn from circulation and burnt, but eleven copies remained in existence, becoming known as The Wicked Bible. The mistake, along with some others, could apparently be traced back to a series of sabotage acts committed by a rival book printer.

#25 Nascondino

Durante la seconda guerra mondiale il materiale più prezioso dell’archivio di stato di Napoli fu trasferito in una villa a San Paolo Belsito, vicino Nola, per proteggerlo dai bombardamenti alleati. Dopo l’8 settembre, nei vari atti di rappresaglia compiuti dai tedeschi in ritirata verso il Volturno, fu dato fuoco alla villa. In seguito, forse per giustificarsi, i tedeschi rimproverarono il comando italiano di non aver segnalato la presenza di documenti di inestimabile valore in quel sito (ma è probabile che invece sapessero).
Il resto dell’archivio rimasto a Napoli sopravvisse miracolosamente ai bombardamenti che pure distrussero gran parte della città.

#25 Hide-and-Seek

During World War Two, the most precious items in the Neapolitan state archive were moved to a villa in San Paolo Belsito, near Nola, to protect them from the Allies’ bombing. After September 8th, however, among other acts of retaliation carried out by the Germans as they retreated towards the Volturno line, the villa was set on fire. In the aftermath, perhaps as a way of justifying their actions, the Germans complained that the presence of such invaluable documents had not been appropriately flagged by the Italian military (though it is likely they did know what was there). The rest of the archive that had been left behind in Naples miraculously survived the bombings, even as a large area of the city was turned into ruins. 

#26 To the lighthouse

In passato, ogni faro aveva un sistema girevole che permetteva di trasformare la luce continua in segnali intermittenti con una loro peculiare portata. I fari moderni invece non ruotano più, ma emettono lampi luminosi omnidirezionali attraverso pannelli a LED. Ancora adesso, però, il colore e la sequenza di luci ed eclissi determinano le caratteristiche per cui ogni faro può essere riconosciuto. Ogni faro ha insomma un linguaggio che, in mancanza di altri riferimenti, racconta a chi naviga o si trova in mare quale è la costa più vicina dove potrebbe riparare.

#26 To the Lighthouse

In the past, each lighthouse was fitted with a rotating system that allowed it to transform a continuous light into intermittent signals with their own specific reach. Modern lighthouses no longer rotate but emit luminous omnidirectional flashes through the use of LED technology. Even now, however, the color and sequence of lights and eclipses determine the unique characteristics by which a lighthouse can be identified. Each lighthouse, in other words, has its own language, which, for want of other reference points, tells sailors and those who find themselves at sea which is the nearest shore upon which they’ll find shelter. 

Carmen Gallo – Getting Out Alive (Again) – A Critical Essay by Pietro Cardelli and Francesca Santucci

Uscirne vivi, in English Getting Out Alive, the third and final section of Carmen Gallo’s poetry collection Le fuggitive (The Fugitive Women, published by Aragno 2021), consisted of twenty-two numbered prose texts followed by a single titleless poem and presented a structure akin to that of a fractal: within each fragment, you could discern the consciousness of the whole. Uscirne vivi (ancora), or in English, Getting out alive (again), with a symptomatic addition in the title, resumes the discourse starting from the prose poem number #23. However, whether a continuation or an autonomous segment, Getting Out Alive (Again) is primarily the confirmation of an ongoing exploration that hasn’t exhausted itself. It translates the accumulation of fragments into a potentially infinite variation on the theme of survival.

On an epistemic level, the relationship between fragment and mosaic extends to that of subject and object, meaning to the delicate balance between personal history and myth, if myth is understood as a language that gives shape and meaning to the present. In the twenty-two prose pieces of the concluding section of Le fuggitive, Gallo manages to establish a continuous correspondence between personal information and collective moment, despite the apparent anecdotal tension and seeming reporting-like posture (think of the frequent use of ellipses, asterisks, and abbreviated names to protect biographies). Indeed, reporting itself makes necessary to choose – what to save and what to let go from what has happened – and the apparent extemporaneousness of the anecdote quickly turns into a skillfully orchestrated construction.

Getting out alive (again) starts from there. The prose pieces don’t provide narratives of private lives but anecdotes of a mostly historical nature, focusing on various elements: the proximity of the penal code between East and West (“Many European countries do not consider jailbreak a punishable crime.”; “The same principle is followed in China and in North Korea.”); a typographical mistake that led to the Vulgate of the Wicked Bible; a strategic, albeit unintentional, error during Allied bombings in Naples; the universal and silent grammar of lighthouses for anyone at sea. However, it is in the extreme attempt at estrangement that the trace of a subject is revealed: in the monomania of the sema that becomes a vulnus, almost an attempt to reorganize the present into simpler forms. This is when the fait divers loses its narrative charge and becomes a pretext for the construction of a language.

While some isotopic themes connect the prose pieces on a macroscopic level (the theme of survival and the optative of escape, certainly, but also a pattern of punishment and repression that is the cause or consequence of escaping), two internal movements are particularly noteworthy. The first is the perceptual vice, impersonal yet opacifying, a distance between thought and reality that makes the experience arduous because it hinders control or interpretation: thus, the aberrant diktat “You shall commit adultery” (#24); or the miscalculation that led to the materials of the state archive of Naples being hidden near Nola, exposing them to destruction while trying to save them, and instead preserving the materials left in Naples. The second is the alternation between motion and stasis (considering also some of Carmen Gallo’s other titles that emphasize motor action: such as Le fuggitive or La corsa), which finds a formal counterpart in the temporal spectrum: while prose #23 unfolds in the present, #24 and #25 are set in the recent or distant past, resolving in the concluding prose, To the Lighthouse #26, in which the functioning of ancient rotating lighthouses leads to the fixity of modern ones (“Modern lighthouses no longer rotate but emit luminous omnidirectional flashes through the use of LED technology.”).

Yet, it is in the stasis that a new perspective opens up: a true mise en abyme of the segment, the concluding prose is the first in which the verb “raccontare” (to tell) makes an appearance, the only one lacking a punitive moment, and the one that most forcefully invents – etymologically, rediscovers – a language (“Even now, however, the color and sequence of lights and eclipses determine the unique characteristics by which a lighthouse can be identified. Each lighthouse, in other words, has its own language…”), a path to follow, leading to the verb that seals the entire sequence: riparare (to repair, to find shelter).

Carmen Gallo was born in Naples, Italy, and works in Rome as a researcher in English literature. She has published three books of poetry: Paura degli occhi (Fear of the Eye, 2014); Appartamenti o stanze (Apartments, 2017) and Le Fuggitive (2020). She has won the Castello di Villalta Award for young poets for Appartamenti o stanze and the prestigious Premio Napoli for Le Fuggitive. A selection of her poems has been translated into German, Portuguese, Catalan, and French. She also works as a translator. Her latest books are a new translation of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (Il Saggiatore 2021) and of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Rizzoli 2023).

Livia Franchini is a writer and translator. She is the author of a poetry collection, Our Available Magic (Marina Books, 2019), and a novel, Shelf Life (Doubleday, 2019), which came out in Italian as Gusci (Mondadori, 2020) translated by Veronica Raimo and that won the Premio Pisa Esordienti. Her last translation into English is The Sky Is Falling by Lorenza Mazzetti (Another Gaze Editions, 2023). She lives in London where she is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Miriam Montani is an artist living and working in Milan. She studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti of Venice and in 2016, following the earthquake that struck central Italy on the Apennine side, she founded SciameProject. Between 2015 and 2020, she is among the artists engaged at Progettobrocca, Dolomiti Contemporanee. Between 2019 and 2020, she was artist-in-residence at VIR, Viafarini in Residence, Milano. In 2021, she contributed to the Italian Pavilion of the 17th International Architecture Biennale of Venice. In 2021, she opened the exhibition space Carrozzerie delle rose, Milano.

Pietro Cardelli was born in Mugello in 1994. He graduated in Modern Literature and Italian Studies from the University of Siena, where he was part of the editorial team of the poetry and poetics magazine formavera. An activist and cultural operator, he was among the founders of the collectives ‘Liberamente’ and ‘Connections.’ Today, he is involved in culture and communication for Arci Firenze. He has published the poetry collection La giusta posizione (XIV Quaderno di poesia italiana contemporanea, Marcos Y Marcos, 2019), later incorporated into Tu devi prendere il potere (Interlinea, 2023).

Francesca Santucci is PhD student in Italian Literature at the University of Genoa. La casa e fuori (LietoColle-pordenonelegge 2019) is her first collection of poems. She is the editor of the journals InOpera and Trasparenze, and of the online literary magazine formavera.

This article was first published in lay0ut 0: Com’è adesso.