August 1999

Daniela Gioseffi

Buy this book   Addictive Aversions [Le Viziose Avversioni]
by Alfredo de Palchi. 

Edited by Michael Palma. With an introduction by Alessandro Vettori. Translated from the Italian by Sonia Raiziss and others. A Xenos Books Dual-language edition, Box 52152, Riverside, CA. 92517-3152. (909) 370-2229. 
ISBN 1-879378-38-8 (paper) $13.00

Alfredo de Palchi's Addictive Aversions is a series of erotic poems divided into three sections, Moments, Movements and Mutations, but it is more than merely erotic love which concerns the poet. As in the poet's earlier works, the book is one long stream-of-consciousness in the style of a French symbolist poem—with plenty of white spaces between the individual verses which wash through the poet's mind with stark imagery and contemplative clarity. Form follows function as the poems flow in a driven sequence and intensify as one reads towards the conclusion. Again de Palchi's fierce nihilism, and uncompromising lack of sentimentality—as in his other recent books, The Scorpion's Dark Dance and Anonymous Constellations—is at work to challenge our morality and bring us face to face with our animal natures. These poems are about sexual obsession as part of the human condition of an ordinary man, but the question they pose is a deeply moral one which concerns the very psychology of our species. These poems bring us face to face with our existential despair in the midst of a baffling and unanswering creation.

De Palchi is both enthralled by sexuality and its pleasures and repulsed by the addictive grip in which it holds him. He is angered by his lack of control, his driving need, repulsed by his own animal nature. Though the visceral condition of being human holds orgasmic release as a pleasure, it also obsesses us with the need for orgasmic release. Obsession drives us through life more than our human will to rise above our animal natures and yet, as always, de Palchi longs for us to transcend our natures, to be aware. He challenges us to be better than mere procreative animals and longs to rise above his own nature. We will cheat and steal and trespass the boundaries of honor in order to fulfill the addictive need that an enrapturing lover creates in us, he seems to say. But though, yet again, dePalchi's message is that there is no honor among men, only addiction, necessity, appetite, biological drive, there is a slim hope for a finer transcendence, if only one can find the incorruptible lover.

Alfredo de Palchi may see us as creatures in effect "raped" by our own sexual drive. He is both attracted and repelled by the life force—the addiction to the pleasures which repulses him, but there is no prudery here, and no religiousity, as the repulsion is more profound than Puritanical. It is a revulsion which is deeply philosophical as the poet seeks the light of reason in a Dante-like journey through his own pleasures, drives, and appetites, searching for a raison d'etre beyond them.

I specify your body's insolence
sometimes lyrical
subterranean with childlike
subterfuges, even your solar center
devouring me seems to laugh.
my existence interlocks with yours,
morning and night but the intricate mood
scares you because I am what you are
and you are what I am
joined in orgasmic nothingness—

Here again we meet with the existential despair of the poet who literally knew imprisonment and torture under both fascists and communists, finding dilemma at every turn. It is understandable why any sort of fanaticism is repulsive to him, including his own seemingly fanatical need of sexual release. Here is a poet angry and disgusted by the grip life has on him, the chemistry that defines him, the love that compels him. His mood is that of a Don Juan in hell:

let's turn over the stone pocked with scribbles,
worms, blanched with spermatozoa, molecules:
such is the incessant beginning, the glimmer
that locks us between the linear horizon and the leap-

De Palchi pictures erotic love like a rat gnawing at his throat, opening his arteries, causing him to spurt life. The poet wants to bring us face to face with the destruction wrought by man, because of his greed. He doesn't want to be drawn into this corrupted and corrupting world by blossoming life, the fruits of exploding seeds which force their voluptuous life upon us even as greed destroys nature's bounty and beauty.

don't harden me
with the stench of cleared forests
of poisoned water,
the spores mutate from deep within
then burn with pressure
with green threads that I sniff like a sick dog
lapping at their sources
—another ulcerated spring explodes
encircled by toxins, by trunks
uprooted in the flow;
my material chemistry
rushes into yours as they renew themselves
together in the flames that still remain—

The poet has never overcome his existential despair, his nausea at the nothingness we are and become as we encounter ourselves full of appetite and morally imperfect. This is what makes his vision uncompromising and lacking in all sentimentality. He searches for "the perfect Justine" who will play the "masochist" to life as he sees himself a masochist tempted into desire by an unanswering creation which only forces more unanswering creation from us.

There is not one ounce of mawkishness, only aversion to the addictions of being alive, a flame burning with desire for mere desire's sake. Yet, there is a wry smile, a sardonic wit at work here, for de Palchi makes the erotic delectably inviting and pleasurable at the same time that he is repulsed by his addiction to it and thus the apt title Addictive Aversions.

Writing in his native Italian, de Palchi has been translated into sharp-witted English by Sonia Raiziss, Michael Palma, I.L. Salomon, Alethea Gail Segal and nicely edited by Michael Palma. The book is beautifully designed with a colorful illustration by Henri Matisse, "Zulma," 1950, on its cover. The introduction by Alessandro Vettori of the University of Virginia is insightful in its appreciation and the laudatory explanation of the poet's work is well deserved. Notes at the back of the book explain that the last thirteen poems were written much later than the earlier sections which were written many years earlier in the poet's youth, but the poems flow together. De Palchi's work has won much praise for its "dark exuberance, bright anger, cutting cynicism which hammers us to the other side of apathy." That is the very point of this poet's vision, to awaken apathy, to challenge us to a profoundly cosmopolitan view of ourselves in the vast cosmos of creation, so that we might truly become the paragon of animals, if only we will see ourselves for the beasts of prey that we have proved ourselves to be through the bloody course of our history, here on this voluptuous and pleasurable earth, full of human suffering wrought by man's inhumanity to man, his greed and appetite.

This is an epic view, not a narrowly confessional one, but a broadly universal theme that encompasses all creation. If there is a Dantesque harshness, there is a Montalean sorrow, even as there are glimpses of redemption and self-insight that break through with a typically Italian, sardonic tone, but Alfredo de Palchi is original in his voice and style—neither as ornate or Baroque as Dante, not ensconced in a religious motif, nor as lyrical or soft-hearted as Montale. He is a poet all his own in the "anonymous constellation" of his Addictive Aversions—minimalist, stark, uncompromising, and wonderfully exuberant in the clarity of his brief but flowing imagist verses, linked one to the other by his search for a morally perfectible life. A purer love, not merely sexual, in this brutal and savage world, in which we must listen to our own lonely spirit, is the only hoped for salvation.

          .... yours is the voice you hear submerged....
          —here I wait for the coming of an incorruptible Justine.


Daniela Gioseffi is the American Book Award winning author of twelve books. Her latest book of poems is Word Wounds & Water Flowers (Purdue University, 1995.) She has edited two prize winning compendiums of world literature, and reviewed poetry for many prominent publications, including American Book Review, The Hungry Mind Review, and Independent Publisher. Gioseffi edits two e-zines: Skylands Writers & Artists Association, Inc. and Wise Women's Web which was nominated for "Best of the Web," 1998.



Daniela Gioseffi: Book Review
Copyright 1999 The Cortland Review Issue EightThe Cortland Review