Hawaii Pacific Review: HPR 2012 Book Reviews

Serial Phenomenologies
By Caterina Davinio

Campanotto Editore, 2010
ISBN 978-88-456-1188-9
Reviewed by Kate Kincaid

 Caterina Davinio, from Rome, Italy, was a spearhead for digital poetry (ca. 1990) and net-poetry in Italy in 1998. She has published numerous poetry collections, and her mixed-media works have been featured across Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Australia (jip.javamuseum.org). Serial Phenomenologies is a collection of Davinio’s poetry from 1993 to 2008. Most of the pieces have been previously published in various anthologies, though some appear for the first time in this compilation.

Caterina Davinio’s collection begins with an author’s note. Davinio sets the stage for what is to come, describing her poetry as “a story fragment that continues elsewhere.” She indicates that her pieces are mere blips in time; they occur as part of a far grander scheme. The stage darkens as Davinio adds, “…we should have no illusions: this is a tale of empty space…” Though the outlook is bleak, readers need not be deterred. Beauty is to come.

The somber content of Serial Phenomenologies is both skillfully and artfully crafted. Davinio plays with the construction of words to fit the needs of her pieces. In “Cocaine,” the reader is offered “intotheteethintheskull” and various “mystery-ous” things throughout the poem. The minimalist structure and fragmented syntax allow audiences to dabble before committing entirely.

The collection exists in two distinct halves – Serial Phenomenologies, comprised of poems from 1999-2003, and Squeeze, poems from 2004-2008 – and all of Davinio’s poems are presented bilingually. The original Italian is printed first, and the English translation follows on the opposing page. Davinio did her own translations, with help from David W. Seaman. The author’s direct involvement in the translation process ensures audiences that the English-version poems remain as true as possible to the intended meaning and flow.

The first section, Serial Phenomenologies, is a set of twenty poems, simplistically titled with Roman numerals. They detail the course of the writer’s love affair. Her companion barely graces the page, and is only referred to in parts (hands, pupils, breath). The poet gives herself completely to her companion, allowing herself to be sacrificed for love.

In the culminating poem of the section, XX, the poet’s epitaph reads dramatically: “She consumed by living all the words/ If she had touched the world/ There would be flames.” On first reading of the set, the narrator is tortured by her love and the trials of her situation. On a second pass, however, the poems shift in meaning. The narrator becomes the suffering poet, striving to understand the power she holds in the world of words. Finally, the narrator internalizes all that surrounds her, and nothing can resist the combustion of her touch.

The second half of Davinio’s collection is titled Squeeze and is comprised of ten poems. They convey similar emotion and angst, but with far less violence and intensity. The mood is more wistful and evocative; at moments it is even tender. Many poems in this section carry a sense of dubiety. The narrator is wary and unsure, and is nearly drowning in the ambiguity that surrounds her.

Davninio’s poems become even more inventive in the second half of the compilation. In “chat_love,” internet-based relationships are brought into the content. “Colon parentheses/ (I smile)/ tears, as apostrophes and commas,/ smiles as brackets and landing places.” Davinio pulls poetry together with the digital age of online communication, resulting in a unique and surprisingly accessible product.

Davinio’s Serial Phenomenologies is a complicated delight. Her distinct rhythm and form present readers with abrupt moments of truth. Seaman, Davinio’s co-translator, takes an opportunity at the end of the collection to offer insights and details into the collection. He closes by readying audiences for Serial Phenomenologies: “Be alert, all who enter here.” Seaman’s words are sound advice for Davinio’s readers.