Friday 3 May 2019 10:08

Preface to Fotografie di Versi (Francesca Pecorella and Claudio Baccarelli)

I have always believed that lyric poetry and photography are perfect companions. They both capture a moment, a mood, a formal structuring of the chaos that is reality, an arrangement of that chaos into a form of beauty. It may come as a surprise to think of photography in this way but it would be wrong to think that a photographer merely captures ‘reality’. A photographic image requires the framing eye, the imagination that selects, the soul that is drawn to that framing, that selection, that scene. But then there are the technicalities of the photographer’s art – light and shade, exposure, depth of field, colour or monochrome – and above all a certain aesthetic connection with the subject matter. If we simply exchange the technical process for a literary one, we find the lyric poet engaged in exactly the same process – selecting, ordering, reimagining and using all the technical skill and grace that poetry grants us.

In the poems of Francesca Pecoralla and the photography of Claudio Baccarelli I find just such a perfect agreement. The blood moon winking at Mars; the man in the station writing a phone number on the palm of his hand like a thread attached to an anchor, as Pecorella says; the houses of the fishermen facing the sea that they love and hate;  the man seated on the sidewalk with his shoes undone in a moment of self-absorption salvaged against a public world; the night sky pierced by a shooting star – these are such moments, seen and described by poet and artist, not so much captured as formed by the eye and the heart out of the raw material of the world.

Certain images attract my eye. In an old house a window no longer looks out through its broken glass. The opening is crowded with ivy. The monochrome treatment emphasises the chaos of decay. These blind houses are everywhere in Ireland too. And in Pecorella’s poem we can hear the closing door creaking on its rusty hinges. We can see the spiders and their webs, the filament that connects the broken glass and the broken dreams of whoever once lived here. As in the photograph so in the poem: ‘Il momento resta sospeso’. Or the wheels of a motorbike foregrounding those of a wheelchair, the sidewalk, the unshaven face of the old man and behind him, in the shop window, an advertisement that contains the words ‘fun games’. In this case, the monochromatic image allows the shapes to speak, and the poem remarks that the spokes divide space into triangles whereas the shadows on the street evoke centaurs. But the man in the wheelchair is no centaur and the liberty the wheels allow him is fake. The huntress and the night-hunter exist in symbiosis, her head bowed in sorrow or pain and the single ferocious ochre eye of a predator ‘in bilico tra restare o volare via’.

I have known and loved Franscesca Pecorella’s work since I first met her in Magione and read with her at the Riflessi Diversi poetry festival. She has that same acute eye for detail that we find in the visual images of Baccarelli, a soul drawn to the truth of small things:

Mi siederò a guardare il tramonto

facendomi, finalmente rapire

da tante piccole gioie.

She sees the ‘vecchio borgo marinaro’ as if it existed in two simultaneous states, two parallel universes – a modern town full of the cries of babies and motorbikes, but also the ancient fishing port in a ‘paese luminoso’ of the imagination. She has that capacity treasured by John Keats, to be in two states of mind at the same time:

Dove inizio e fine coesistono,

ed il silenzio regna,

le grida dei bambini

che corrono tra i viali

è un soffio di vita.

We find this dual state also in Baccarelli’s images. Everything in the frame suggests a coexistence with another interior or exterior world. Art and literature happen where beginning and end coexist, in the interstices of what is known, the shadowy voids where most of us never look or that we turn away from in fear or sorrow or shame. These poems and images draw us back to those forgotten or ignored places; our guide is the imagination and we will know we have arrived when we feel that breath of life caressing our cheeks.