continent. maps a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art.
Issue 1.4 / 2011:

The Poetry of Alessandro De Francesco

Belle Cushing

continent. 1.4 (2011): 286—310.

This mad play of writing
—Stéphane Mallarmé

Somewhere in between mathematics and theory, light and dark, physicality and projection, oscillates the poetry of Alessandro De Francesco.

The texts hold no periods or commas, not even a capital letter for reference. Each piece stands as an individual construction, and yet the poetry flows in and out of the frame. Images resurface from one poem to the next, haunting the reader with reincarnations of an object lost in the grass or a representation of a pear in a Dutch still life, embedded in cycles of cinematic close ups and multiple dimensions. As a whole, De Francesco’s oeuvre suggests, to use the title of one of his works, a redefinition—linguistic, epistemological, personal.

The poem The End (un’agenda) (The End (an agenda)) opens with a quote by literary theorist Maurice Blanchot, which may be translated as follows:

Speaking is not seeing. Speaking frees thought from this optical imperative that in the Western tradition, for thousands of years, has subjugated out approach to things, and induced us to think under the guaranty of light or under the threat of its absence.[1]

In writing, De Francesco seeks to redefine our approach to things. His poems, like Blanchot’s writings, speak to both illuminate and to obscure. The reader hangs in an absence of reality within language that necessitates an attempt at interpretation, yet renders such a search ultimately futile. De Francesco draws the anonymous images that appear in this poem from the city of Paris, his current home. The fragmented narrative depicts an inner doubt of realness, calling for a confirmation of a physical existence beyond verbalization and cogitation. Cyclical references to film throw into question the reliability of the reality he creates. The light, sometimes red and safe, other times absent and murky, cannot necessarily be trusted as a guaranteed means of illumination. Blanchot’s distinction between language and visualization, and the relationship of each to reality, though linked specifically to The End (un’agenda), can be a lens through which to read any of the three works that follow.

assente obliqua (absent oblique) is composed of descriptions of six still life paintings, ranging from Dutch masterpieces of the seventeenth century to 1960s minimalism. The actual images of the paintings are absent, and the text is the sole source and object of a virtual reality created around the artwork. “Absent oblique” refers to the light source placed outside of the frame, which both informs and distracts viewing of the scene. Although mere description can be unreliable and unsatisfying in its necessary limitation, the representational act of description is shown as more than just a human want. It is a need, a means by which to grapple with an unsure reality. As the illustrations progress, they descend into abstraction and chaos. The precariously placed plate triggers the movement: the bottle bursts and the objects collapse into the movement of a tracking film camera.

corpo estraneo in moto ascensionale (foreign body in ascending motion) is prose poetry in action. Its objective tone of description is skewed by the subjectivity of the narrative as horrific images are relayed in fragmented but matter-of-fact manner. A “foreign body” is both a mass of cancerous cells, and a corporeal description, and the poem takes the reader on a journey back and forth between the two, destination unclear. Beyond a questioning of the real, corpo estraneo in moto ascensionale is an examination of the possible.

De Francesco’s poetry becomes a camera obscura through which to observe the constant flux of light and dark that blurs our reality. His work is colored by the idea of apo koinou, a Greek term meaning “from the common” that involves a construction of two clauses with a shared word or phrase. Through such melting of meaning, De Francesco creates a fluid ambiguity that is nonetheless grounded in bodily concepts. In assente obliqua, the reader is confronted with a description of a still life that rapidly transforms into a more chilling scene:

the membrane of the mushroom in the basket emerges behind the white cloth a body could hide itself that asks for help

In the realm of pure description, there is a mushroom that peeks out from behind a white cloth in a basket. Behind the white cloth, too, there could be a body, hiding, asking for help. Such an elision elicits disorienting mistrust in temporality, but also expands the planar possibilities of syntactical meaning. A white cloth is not merely a construct in still life painting, but veil that both shields and reveals potential mysteries. It is a proposed alternative to a traditional Western binary of subjectivity and objectivity.

The apo koinou construction is rare in modern English, having slipped out of use after its resurgence in Old English poetry. De Francesco reintroduces this blur of object and subject relations into a modern light. He draws inspiration from a device used by Gruppo 63 founder and avant-garde poet Antonio Porta tended toward repetition of phrases in third person perspective. In Italian, it is perfectly grammatically correct to omit the subject, including only a verb conjugation. Gender, even humanity unknown, the subject dissolves into the action, thus giving to the poetry the power to change the reader’s perception of who or what is actually acting.

To further push the relative boundaries of experience, De Francesco expands his written poetry into what he calls “reading environments.” In these sound experiments, De Francesco’s voice reading his poetry is manipulated by real time digital voice processing. The written is transformed to the spoken, and then injected with currents of electric sound. “At each activation of word in the darkness,” (from The End (un’agenda)) language is permutated into a nonphysical yet all-encompassing being. In these projects, realized all over Europe, De Francesco continues his examination of the word’s potency beyond the page and into an “n-dimensional space,” where the lines between nature and affect are intertwined.

To publish excerpts of De Francesco’s oeuvre is to show screen shots of full-length film, to read pull quotes from a philosophy treatise. In these poems, there are questions, not to be answered, but to be questioned again. The words will oscillate in and out of the square construction found in his poems, out of the borders of the page, out of the rectangle of the laptop screen.


(1) Blanchot, Maurice. The Infinite Conversation. Trans. Susan Hanson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. 27.



The .pdf above contains about twenty pages of translation and the original Italian poetry. Below we provide only a brief account.




The End (an agenda)

Parler, ce n’est pas voir. Parler libère la pensée de cette exigence optique qui, dans la tradition occidentale, soumet depuis des millénaires notre approche des choses et nous invite à penser sous la garantie de la lumière ou sous la menace de l’absence de lumière.
—Maurice Blanchot

in this n-dimensional space
i could spy on myself from the cracks
while going back and forth
from the summer to the wardrobe
from the night to the parking lot

but something filters in through the half-closed shutters
becomes an event        enunciation

we stay without explanation
like parallel curves on the back of a solid

growing older she enters the garden
always repeats certain phrases
the elevator to be redone
the neighbor’s music
the steps        the pavement
like the leaves of a fern when touched
she is framed from behind while
she moves rocking
she covers distances slowly

a bag overflows from the wardrobe
something stirs inside

but then the suitcase comes open
not even by my hand
it’s the objects that are starting to filter out
the little red haired monster watches idling
the appointments written
on one of your agendas two years old
still seem urgent
each letter holds itself upright
on the page with flourishes and arabesques
each angle has its own geography

i’m trying to describe
the path the fingers trace
on the carpet
the zipper takes the opposite route

we are suspended on the stairs
above the water
in the center is the summer seen from above
the darkness of the city
passes from one headlight to the next

the surfaces of our arms cohere
and are shiny underneath
the blinking of a sign

each pore is an open expanse
the body dreams the hair
gives form to the possible

some daring swimmers
were throwing themselves into the seine
they swam upstream
up to the first quay

look there could exist             behind the screen
a room
where even when the lamp is out
and the curtains drawn

even when the suitcase wasn’t closed

everything seemed red
everything calm

construction of a four-dimensional tetrahedron 


                construction of a four-dimensional tetrahedron


                by R. Courant – H. Robbins, What is Mathematics?

                Oxford University Press, 1941





Blanchot, Maurice. The Infinite Conversation. Trans. Susan Hanson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.