Why name some poems 'Flickers'? What's in the word? The word is not imposing, especially if compared with some of Adriano Bulla's previous poetry ('Orphalese', 'The Pillars of the Bridge', the Miltonic and somewhat pretentious 'Heaven from Hell'); on the contrary, it is light, brief, almost ephemeral, like the poems themselves. But 'Flickers' is not just a title, it is a genre. Although these poems appear to be less experimental than one would expect from the Italian born author, they create a completely new style of poetry. These poems have no titles and, like sonnets, they are numbered. Like sonnets the are brief, yet, unlike sonnets, they do not seem to follow a rhyme pattern. Or do they? Adriano Bulla certainly knows Milton backwards, he undoubtedly knows Christopher Ricks's 1963 essay 'Tincture or Reflection':
'...other instances of Milton's seeing a scent, and the general fluidity of his syntax, persuade me that we are meant for a moment to believe that half spied follows the fragrance, just as it follows 'he spies'. Of course it in fact anticipates the roses, but the deliberate 'flicker of hesitation' [bold mine...] Milton says something which would be impermissibly far fetched, and then has it struck from the record. But his skill has lodged it in our mind or feelings.'
Like Milton's 'flickers of hesitation', Bulla's poemettes confuse the senses, have far fetched images, stop in mid air to enhance the synaesthetic effect of the imagery. Like Milton's poetry, 'Flickers' point to the soul as the reader of verse, no longer the mind. Like Milton, Bulla is synaesthetic.
So, what is it that makes these flickers a new genre? Whereas in previous poetry the author always looked back through tradition, in this series he looks back through sensibility. 'Flickers' are tiny emotional sparks that explore the soul in detail, and only leave a delicate feeling. They do not experiment as much with the syntax of poetry as with its subject-matter: emotions.
One could say that they are pathetic fallacy ridden spiritual landscapes, and in a way, they are. But they are not just that.
Against the bloody sun
On tolling waves
On white sands
The swollen eye
Of a flayed sky
That lightly ripens
On marble ripples.'
('Flicker nr 5')
This is not just a poem, this is a song. The quality of the sounds, the echoes in this small poem mean that the atmosphere is not set by the signified, but by the signifier, which acquires its own meaning. 'Twigs' 'Twitch' and hit uneasy chords in the soul. These apparently sweet sounds have a sinister brevity in the vowel. They are curt yet feminine, they come in isolation, yet as a pair. Like the ripples in the last line they repeat themselves rhythmically, almost menacingly. The reader will hear these words throughout the poem, they are the reading clef, and it is not clear-cut. It's a high pitch, yes, but a minor key.
Metaphysical in a way, although these poems mainly draw on natural elements, the images in them juxtapose, and create a 'conceit of distance'. The 'Twigs' on the trees are set against the remote 'bloody sun', like fingers delicately mauling the eye of the world, which is lost, 'Adrift' on 'Abyssal skulls'. In a few words, the eye is taken from the sky to the depth of the ocean. A tiny emotion is for a moment the whole universe.
Yet, there is some sort of consolation in this poem. It is a complex poem in terms of emotion. It is too peaceful, movement is light, almost imperceptible ('Twitch') and serene ('Adrift' and 'Ripples') yet sinister ('flayed'). The peaceful waves are 'tolling', which of course, soften the primary key as it echoes with 'lulling' (and like 'Adrift' reminds us of 'Twigs' and 'Twitch', 'swollen' reminds us vaguely of 'tolling' and 'Lulling'). Darker sounds in the vowels here, yet softer consonants.
It is as if the poem has found a balance, between quick, high -pitch pain and slow, mournful consolation. The last two lines present us again with an echo, yet 'ripens' has a slow vowel, while 'ripples', similar with consonants, has a short 'i'. It is this play with sounds that functions as a balanced palette for the colours of this poem. It starts with black (twigs against the sun), moves to warm, very emotional colours (the red and yellow, 'bloody sun') and softly moves to the greens and blues of the sea, which of course, are broken by 'marble ripples', marble, in colour and texture similar to the 'abyssal skulls', yet also, to the 'bony fingers'. We can see the white lines of the fingers turn into skulls then ripples that ripen (therefore turn red) with the blood of the sun.
It would be foolish of me to try and pinpoint the emotion described in this poem. It is too subtle, too evasive, too soft. This is what flickers are all about: we can spend pages trying to understand how they work but we'll never understand them, we can only feel them. In this respect, 'Flickers' are the quintessence of poetry. The poetry that experimentalism has forgotten, the poetry of the soul, not of the mind.
'Flickers' are available in Adriano Bulla Ybo' and Other
Lies, 2005, Poetry Monthly Press, ISBN 1-906126-19-0