I Battle Unarmed



From Lana Turner:

Sandra Simonds: Reading Jen Scappettone’s introduction to Rosselli (it’s so rich and smart), I was struck that Amelia Rosselli viewed confessionalism as “a great defect of feminine or slightly feminist literature.” That’s provocative. There’s disdain for the “private,” and the private is in some sense synonymous with the feminine. Yet she admired Plath, which seems odd since her poetic is so different.

Catherine Wagner: She spoke of her resistance to writing as an “I” in a conversation about her early poem “The Libellula: Panegyric to Liberty.” Maybe we could relate this to her resistance to confessionalism?:

I try to collapse the division between a writing I and an imagined you. I wanted to create a full identification of the writing I, which is also a you that I address . . . who becomes another I. The sharp difference between an I and a you, present in Montale as it is in other poets, is perhaps a typical feature of masculine language. . . . My passion for [Montale] was so strong in a certain moment of my life that I sought in every way to contradict him. . . . It was a way of discovering myself.

In her work a passage might look like a love lyric but refuse to settle on a love object or stay consistent in its pronomial references — she’s playing with the convention. She wants to “express problems and solutions to problems that are collective,” even when the I is present, rather than to focus on the self; “the I is the public, the I is thing . . . the I is the things that happen.”

SS: She identified with Montale to oppose him, so that the collapse of the I-you is a political/feminist move.

CW: It’s interesting to compare her with Ashbery (who was the first to publish her poems in English): he similarly shifts pronouns, but his pronouns are more passive. Rosselli’s poetry is accusatory toward both “I” and “you.”

SS: Reading Rosselli made me think of Laura Riding, whom Ashbery’s written about—another often-overlooked brilliant woman modernist who tried to kill herself by jumping out a window! and who has aesthetic similarities to Rosselli, a similar urge to rigor. Anyway, in “Document,” Rosselli is saying “I am not like [you],” the other writer, the male writer—she’s “not able to go along with the others / in any way”—yet there’s a sense that there must be “solidarity” with other writers and workers. There’s a struggle not to become  an object.

CW: I think in “Document” (which is maybe my favorite poem in this amazing book) she’s pretty pessimistic about that prospect, and utopic prospects in general.

SS: There’s a melancholy that’s cut off or disjointed from the narrative of the larger political situation—I felt over and over that it was intimacy that could not attach itself to any material thing. It existed, but almost as a ghost. I love the line “like an old sadness the piazza / at two a.m. was deserted and distant / parasentiments.” It captures a sense of a lack of agency, alienation, in the public/political situation.

“Women in the Avant-Garde –Rosselli & revolutions of content”, Sandra Simonds & Catherine Wagner, Lana Turner