Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Writing Tips from Italy: Guest blog by Giulio Mozzi and Laura Pugno

A friend gave me a copy of a wonderful manual for writers by the Italian authors Giulio Mozzi and Laura Pugno. Their book is full of great ideas and prompts.
Link to: Oracular Manual for Poets
Though the book is particularly for poets, I’ve translated three sections that I think are of interest to all writers. Grazie, Giulio and Laura for giving me permission to reprint these!
Co-author Laura Pugno

Co-author Giulio Mozzi
Do words have souls?

A poet considers every word and every thing as if it were alive. They might actually be alive. What do they want to say?  


A good poet is an animist who looks at things as if they were saturated with life, death, stories, and words. And in the same vein, a poet looks at every word they hear, read, say, or write as if it were a living being. Not only that: a good poet is a matchmaker who brings together words and things based on their affinities and preferences. To sum it up: a good poet is like that clever servant who pretends to do the bidding of things and words, but who in reality is the one in charge, the one who masters them, and bends them to meet a particular need in a piece of writing.


Who lives in your poems?


The “us,” that unknown. How many homes can you make in it that you’ve never even thought about? Collective poetry, choral poetry. There’s a whole world out there: the others.


With your own voice, unique and private, you, as a poet, are the founder of a community. But how is it possible that poetry, which is such a lyrical and solitary form of expression, can create a community? Well, each of us is a person who belongs to humanity, so in each of us there’s something shared or held in common with others, maybe with a few others, maybe with many, or maybe even with everyone else. When you speak as a poet, with that shared something, you’re speaking the ”us.” Even when you use the “I.” Even when it seems you’re speaking completely impersonally. As the philosopher Rocco Ronchi once said, “Communication…is not a form of transmission. At its root, communication means to create a common ground, to fasten together a community, even if it is a minority, and to give that community identity and recognizable traits. Communication is the creation of a sense of community.” Poetry does not communicate by transmission, it fosters commonality, founds a community. To quote the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska: “[Jean-Paul] Sartre said one of the most horrific things ever uttered: ‘Hell is other people.’ («L’enfer, c’est les autres) What does that even mean, that hell is other people? In fact, I would say that other people are the true paradise. Doesn’t ‘other people’ include loved ones, neighbors—not just anybody? And I’m not only referring to lovers here, but also to relations, friends, the care of a neighbor, etc. Where would we be without others? Who would we be? Nothing. A hell.”


Rearrange the poetry books on your shelves.


Discover the books you forgot you had.


When you’re a new employee in a bookstore, the first day on the job you’re taught that you have to dust the books. Every day, when there aren’t many customers in the shop, you run a cloth over one, two, or three shelves and give them a good swipe. Romano Montroni, the founder of Italy’s Feltrinelli Bookstore chain, explained why, in his book Selling Souls: The Bookseller’s Profession. Montroni said that this is useful for memorizing each book, the author, the title, and a couple of sentences from the back cover. Similarly, if you have a few shelves of poetry books at home (and I certainly hope you do!), take the time every once in a while (maybe once a month?) to rearrange your books. You might reorganize them by author, or maybe chronologically, or by the colors of their spines, or by their size, or by when you bought them, or according to which ones you like the most or the least. This will help you (you’ll see, it works!) to find forgotten books, to resume interrupted readings, to read again passages you  haven’t looked at for ages, to discover that, just as you have changed over time, so have your books.


From Oracolo manuale per poete e poeti, @2020 by Giulio Mozzi and Laura Pugno, published by Sonzogno di Marsiglio Editori. Reprinted by permission of the authors. Translation from the Italian © 2022 by Zack Rogow.

Zack’s most recent book of poems, Irreverent Litanies

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