Welcome to “Presa d’aria”, a column featuring unpublished poetry curated by Matteo Cristiano, Riccardo Innocenti, Dimitri Milleri, and Noemi Nagy. The first edition is dedicated to poet June Scialpi (born in 1998), who granted us access to her alchemical laboratory and allowed us to share some excerpts from her latest unpublished project, Retriever. She also sat down with Riccardo Innocenti to discuss prose, weird creatures, political engagement, and more.
Three poems by June Scialpi from Retriever
What he craves is a safe space. He is granted a neutral space an uncontrolled territory. Alternatively, he may be granted a non-threatening space beyond the danger he fears. What he craves is a private space. He is granted a common space that belongs to no one. What he craves is a physical space. Let him then be granted an anti-material immaterial metaphysical space. An avocalic space tht brngs prblms of cmmnict if what he craves is a dialogic space. If what he craves is to crave a space then no space is granted to him. The space he craves for might want it big so he will be given a kennel. He may want to cook in the space he craves for and the space will be deprived of cookers and furnishings. What he wants is space for himself and what can be granted is a constant confirmation of the presence of a second person. A functioning praxis of space needs space that is either unsatisfied or satisfied at an intermediate level but never completely in detail. The space that seeks the space of yearning is the space of being eternally in yearning for a space.
If distance is like the wind then distance resembles the movement of an atmospheric air mass. Some remoteness may take place due to atmospheric instability. Remoteness often seems to have to do with issues of impossibility of appearance, or loss of random objects. Constant and periodic and western and katabatic distances are observed. Polar distances, on the other hand, are uncontroversial. When he tries to go fetch, walking backwards, he seems to move further away with the object in his mouth. In this regard, sayings about remoteness are coined, and when people say ‘the wind is rising’ they can also say ‘remoteness is rising’. The problem with remoteness is that it cannot be tested, there is a high risk of losing the subject’s co-ordinates. Conversely: how much distance can you capture with a wind turbine?
Yet there are mimetic beings capable of surviving their own similarities. Yet humans often end up succumbing to the weight of descent. Yet they run the risk of becoming something different: rather than recognising themselves.
Yet the lethality of his efforts does not end all attempts at survival. He has acquired the ability to inanimate himself. Then to speak according to imitation. He has learned phrases, knows commands. He remembers the smell of other people’s things, the outlines of faces.
He would like to be appreciated in astonishing forms. Yet he made himself something unheard of in his surroundings, and even so – or precisely because of this – I ended up not recalling anything. Beings that survive their likenesses and die before they resemble or without resembling at all.
Yet I recognise the places where he has been and where the bodies have been, here is where he has spoken of death as a destination, where he has dropped something from above that makes him groan, here is where I remember him saying so that I would say.
Interview edited by Riccardo Innocenti
R. I: These texts are taken from a book you’re working on, Retriever. Would you like to briefly introduce the project?
J.S: The project is in its larval stage, and it differs significantly from my previous works, both in form and in the practice of writing (if we can even speak of a practice at this point). Therefore, it’s challenging for me to speak comprehensively or meaningfully about it at this stage. I would say that, for now, it consists of a series of texts attempting to provide a theoretical framework for an object, a thing, exploring its many and varied implications: literary, hermeneutic, grammatical, semiotic, and so on, in a playful relationship, where elements constantly define and negate each other and the object itself. The texts have a framework that never works as a bond or limit but as a trace that one can deviate from until it is lost. I’m interested in exploring the forms of a text, its ability to reveal or hide its operative intentions, workings, and (de)activations, and observing its reactions during consumption.
R. I: Compared to those in your previous books, Il Golem. L’interruzione (Fallone 2022) and Condotta del simbionte (La Collana Isola 2023, illustrations by Majid Bita), these texts have both an argumentative and lyrical-expressive dimension. It seems that contemporary Italian poetry is receptive to writings that are both essayistic and poetic, and I’m thinking of the attention given recently to Anne Carson and Maggie Nelson, as well as the translation of “Tonight I’m Someone Else” by Sara Verdicchia published by Pidgin with the title “Stanotte sono un’altra.” In these texts, hovering between personal essays and poetry, things like the author’s subjectivity, the relations with patriarchal culture, derealization resulting from crisis, are extensively investigated in an attempt to build a relational self that is not merely itself. Does your Retriever engage with this tradition? Do you think that an Italian tradition exists/is forming? If so, what are the formal and content-related elements that intrigue you the most in these writings?
J.S: I don’t think Retriever directly engages with this tradition, considering its intention. However, it might happen inadvertently if we consider how texts often build relationships that exceed our projects. It’s also true that I am connected to this tradition and its articulations, primarily as a reader. The books you mention, with their rhizomatic and protean characteristics, have been crucial, especially concerning feminism and queer studies or post-colonial studies. They allowed the return of a critical thought that was genuinely intersectional, capable of not sacrificing complexity while embodying precise perspectives. Moreover, these books tend to dismantle the closed academic form of the essay, unashamedly “mixing” with other genres. From this perspective, they were certainly essential when I wrote things like “Vita sessuale segreta delle donne trans,” feeling the need to start from a personal position to discuss systemic and institutional issues. However, that is more of a small report/essay. It could be that an Italian tradition has been forming around these texts for some time, but I believe it is more easily traceable outside the realms of poetry.
R. I: All the texts in Retriever will be in prose, and you also write short stories (such as “L’animale” and the recent “Bambina”). I find one of the most interesting aspects of our generation’s writings is the complete normalization of prose, perhaps accompanied in the same book by verse. In my opinion, this phenomenon requires a semiotic-formal and aesthetic reflection. Do you resort to prose in poetry to achieve effects that you couldn’t obtain in verse? I’d like you to talk about the role of poetic prose in the context of your artistic practice.
J.S: In the introduction to Prosa in prosa (Le Lettere 2009, Tic 2020), Andrea Cortellessa writes, “And yet prose as a form of limit has been one of the few escape routes that allowed our poetic writing, in recent decades, not to confine itself within its own repertoire.” I have the impression that, in my case, the approach to prose in a poetic context is merely the consequence of something around which I have gravitated for a long time, devoid of an idea that somehow legitimized its practice or research (I’m not saying it’s essential, I’m saying I suffer from imposter syndrome). When I think of prose, however, I generally think of proses, by which I mean the way that a form adapts to a project. The proses alternating with the poems in “Condotta del simbionte” are something entirely different from the proses in Retriever, and it’s even hard for me to group them together. While working on Retriever, I’m trying to reason about post-poetic issues so that the text doesn’t become a means of self-expression, and prose isn’t merely a flattening of language but a project of language capable of functioning not only aesthetically but also pragmatically, in the relationship between signs and their social and communicative context. I think that often we encounter critical issues that tend to fossilize around specific matters (the subject or the lyrical self, for example), assuming them as principal or prominent parts of a discourse or criticism itself, leaving us unable to analyze these parts as equal elements of a larger text-function. From this point of view, I believe that prose can help emerge, in an almost paradoxical way, these pitfalls.
R. I: In his preface to Tu devi prendere il potere (Interlinea 2023) by Pietro Cardelli, Stefano Dal Bianco talks about how, in the great disengagement from politics that struck Italy during the passage from the 1970s to the 1980s, even the most politically active poets shied away from the politicization of literature to focus on existential issues. This left politics, conceived as a daily and antagonistic practice, outside the thresholds of poetry. What do you think of this type of reaction to a historical-cultural change? How do you experience the relationship between political activism and writing?
J.S: I always feel some kind of contradiction when talking about these issues. Partly because I notice that there is often a tendency to think of the relationship between politics and writing as something unilateral, always raising the same questions: What can writing do for politics? When is a text political? I believe activism is carried out through activism, and writing can be, in this sense, a sort of paratext to the practice but cannot replace it. I think it’s more interesting to ask how or what allows us to create our activism practice in the texts. Or not necessarily just our own. I think of No Archive Will Restore You, another text attributable to the personal essay, where Julietta Singh, starting from Gramsci’s invitation to compile an inventory of historical traces deposited in one’s individual life, grapples with the difficulty, if not impossibility, of constructing such an archive. An archive made up of historical and political debris, but also physical and sentimental ones, of which writing can only provide an attempt at recovery, a brief introduction.
June Scialpi (1998) published Il Golem. L’interruzione (Fallone Editore, 2022), with which she won the Flaiano Poesia Under 35 Award and the plaquette Condotta del simbionte (La Collana Isola, 2023), illustrated by Majid Bita. Some of her short stories have appeared in Spore Rivista and Mandos, a supplement of Palin Magazine. She is interested in queer studies and transfeminism. She collaborates with different online realities.