by Eleonora Lima
The investigation of the close dialogue between poetic and visual language in the Italian panorama of the last seventy years is at the centre of the research project Verba Picta. Interrelazione tra testo e immagine nel patrimonio artistico e letterario della seconda metà del Novecento, developed by a group of researchers at the University of Florence from 2012, coordinated by Dr Teresa Spignoli, and funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (MIUR).
The Verba Picta project takes into consideration both artistic and theoretical works involving poetic and visual artistic elaboration, but limited its research field to case studies in which the literary medium is still clearly predominant, such as artists’ books—or ‘books of dialogue’—and visual poetry. The analysis—be it directed to the works of single authors, the cultural strategies of particular publishing houses, or happenings and events—aims to provide a synchronic and diachronic account of the exchanges between poetic and visual language as well as to define a theoretical framework for such an interdisciplinary field of study. (A detailed account of Verba Picta research goals and criteria may be found here)
While intending to offer a broader diachronic reconstruction, the project focuses in greater detail on three periods or trends in the history of Italian contemporary poetry: the Hermeticism of the years following WWII, the neo-vanguard of the Sixties and early Seventies—especially the Gruppo 63 and Gruppo 70—, and the so called retour à l’ordre of the late Seventies-late Eighties, with the poets of the La parola innamorata anthology. The choice to concentrate specifically on these three moments—while leaving out other artistic experiences and therefore encouraging possible future expansions for the project—allows for a synoptic analysis of the importance of multimediality in contemporary Italian poetry.
For Hermetic poets, accompanying their texts with precious serigraphs or plates was to allude to the common nature shared by words and images, both finite and approximate signifiers of unfathomable and infinite signifieds, an attitude they derived from Leopardi and Mallarmé—Giuseppe Ungaretti was one of the most enthusiastic authors in this sense. The Neo-vanguard poets, instead, used visual expression as a critical reaction to the then new mass mediatic culture, which threatened to annihilate the subversive power of poetry: the poesia tecnologica and the poesia verbovisiva were in fact acts of appropriation and re-signification of the visual language of mass media. As for the most recent period, which includes the poets of the anthology La parola innamorata as well as more recent authors, the interest in multimediality seems to be motivated by the desire to restore a more intimate and holistic creative dimension, in contrast to the market-oriented publishing industry. Hence editorial projects such as Pulcinoelefante and Edizioni da>verso, whose well-finished, limited edition booklets chiefly represent opportunities for artists to develop interartistic dialogues, rather than lucrative editorial products.
The contribution of the Verba Picta project to the interdisciplinary investigation of the exchanges between poetic and visual language has taken many forms: from conferences and seminars, to publications (here a complete list), to the creation of an online database, which constitutes a remarkably useful research tool as it contains information which would be otherwise only available through in through the direct consultation of archive collections. The database (available here) allows for free- and cross-searches and it is organized in six categories—authors, publishers, vanguard groups, works, events, and revues—whose specific content can be easily visualized through a drop-down menu.
The Verba Picta project does not only contribute to the study of the interartistic dialogue between Italian poets and visual artists by advancing its critical understanding, but provides a tool that enables further research and encourages a broadening of the spectrum so as to include more authors, movements and periods and to draw an increasingly detailed map of these artistic interrelations.