Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Antonio Porchia's "Voices"


I once had two copies of this exquisite little book, translated by W.S. Merwin and published in 1969 by Big Table Publishing Company, Chicago; I gave one to a dear friend many years ago and kept the one signed
in October 1969 by someone whose name is still undecipherable, but whose message is certainly not (see title page).

One can easily see why Merwin was attracted to Porchia's only book from what he has to say of Voices in his translator's preface:

". . .the authority which the entries evoke, both in their matter and in their tone, is not that of tradition or antecedents, but that of a particular, individual experience. Whatever system may be glimpsed binding the whole together, [it] is not fashioned from any logic except that of one man's cast of existence. It is this which makes the work as a whole, and gives some of the separate sentences, elusive, but it is this which gives them their unmistakable pure immediacy--their quality of voice.

At the same time, the entries and the work as a whole assume and evoke the existence of an absolute, of the knowledge of it which is truth, and of the immense desirability of such knowledge. With no doctrinal allegiances, nor any attempt at dogmatic system, Porchia's utterances are obviously, in this sense, a spiritual, quite as much as a literary, testament. And the center to which they bear witness, as well as the matrix of their form, is the private ordeal and awe of individual existence, the reality that is glimpsed through time and circumstance, as a consequence of feeling and suffering. It is this ground of personal revelation and its logic, in the sentences, that marks their kinship, not with theology but with poetry."

As an influence upon my own development as a poet, this small repository of treasured utterances remains one of the most important, seminal works I have been privileged to discover; if you can get a copy, do so--but please don't part with it as did our bitter, unknown reader.


  1. Porchia has been a continuing influence on my thought, if not my poetic practice. I think of this particular one of his aphorisms — "You do not see the river of mourning because it lacks one tear of your own"—every time I hear a late-late capitalist say, "Let the Market work."

  2. I found a copy of this book at the goodwill outlet, ready for the trash bin. I rescued it because it was bold enough to feature one of my favorite magritte paintings as it's cover. Until i read this, i did not know poetry could be one or two lines alone.

    I think I'll keep it.


  3. Good for you, zebra, and thanks for letting me know of your great find!

    BTW, Magritte is also one of my favorite artists.


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