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Body in Languages: Compagnia delle poete – Mia Lecomte

Nov 12, 2021 | Non Fiction | 1 comment

The Compagnia della poete (http://compagniadellepoete.com) is a poetic theatre group made up exclusively of women. Founded in 2009, it is devoted to communicating transcultural and translingual directions in poetry and to the hybridization of artistic languages. There are presently eighteen poets from various continents in the Compagnia, united by the fact that they all write in Italian. Each has her personal history of migration and her own competences which, apart from poetry and literature, also embrace theatre, dance and the visual arts. From its first performance years ago, the Compagnia has grown greatly and has created four different stage productions – Madrigne (2010), Le altre (2011), Novunque (2012), La casa fuori (2018) and Lezione respirazione (in process) – three of which are still being performed in Italy and abroad. A growing number of university theses and publications are being dedicated to the Compagnia and the group is more and more often invited to take part in international events.
In its simplicity, the project constitutes a challenge that can be summed up as an attempt to defy the idea of distance itself: first of all, the distance between different languages, cultures, and national canons ; then, the distance between various forms of artistic expression and poetry; and finally, from a practical point of view, the geographical distance that separates the Compagnia’s poets, who are scattered all over Italy and abroad and so are obliged to alternate their presence on stage. So, while the performances all start out from a seminal scenario, at each event they propose different poems and atmospheres, depending on which poets take part in a specific event.
The Compagnia is a kind of orchestra that harmonizes the poetry of each poet, influenced by their various linguistic and cultural traditions, in performances where the spoken word is supported and deepened by other artistic languages. This can be accomplished thanks to the ‘modular’ structure of the production, whose basic formula is adapted each time to the specific occasion and the poets who appear on stage. Ours is a fluid collective project, always in progress. In a certain sense it is a necessary response to the editorial and critical issues that distinguish the reluctant acceptance of Italophone poetry. At the same time, this project represents the most highly structured and self-aware instrument created, till date, to highlight the fundamental characteristics of contemporary Italian poetry being written by non-native poets, especially its feminine and corporeal nature, and its integral metrical and rhythmic logic.

Collectivity is the outstanding feature of this workshop of poetry. But this is a collectivity conceived in a new, totally apolitical sense, where the collective itself is surpassed, or better, is concretely realized in a group whose single individualities are guaranteed and promoted precisely through their relation to the whole. This collectivism is the first and most evident result of the fragmentation of identity that underlies the poetics of the writers who compose the Compagnia. Indeed, their transitory, perennially shifting identities foster a flexible, dynamic relationship among the elements involved in the creation of our performances. This has a clear and important influence on the relations created among the texts of the poets of the Compagnia. Put to the test by this new formula for sharing, their texts are exposed to the ‘reagent’ of the collective: they relate to one another in a segmental continuum linked by a thread that unites them in a single text functional to the performance. Finally, the fact that this new idea of collectivity has been conceived as wholly feminine contributes to making it sort of a family, a maternal community devoted to caring for the new poetry and its de-mothered languages, and so giving rise to one of the meanings of the neologism, Madrigne.
Certainly, it is inappropriate to use gender categories when speaking about transnational literature and poetry, because the de-territorialization of the migrant subject constantly shifts the borders that normally define belonging until they disappear altogether, whether these borders be geographical, cultural, linguistic or sexual. The ‘gender studies’ of Anglo-American derivation are essential to post-colonial studies, which derive from and are broadened by them, when applied more generally to migrant women authors, the ‘femmes oiseaux’ (Assia Djebar) writers and poets, a concept which like that Spivak’s subalternity is not univocally comprehensible. Rather, it fluctuates and reshapes itself in accordance with the countries and cultures that migration increasingly puts into contact within the borders of Europe.
What identifies the particularity of the Compagnia as ‘feminine’ is the use of the body in the performative universe. The body is the distinct connotative element of women’s poetry, and in the case of writings ‘in exile’, which have undergone the journey of translation and thus inevitably involve a close confrontation with different languages, the body becomes particularly focal. As a catalyst of female poetic feeling in women’s poetry, the body is a privileged medium of resonance, and in the case of these trans-lingual women authors it becomes the absolute protagonist of performances where a very material kind of poetry is given life, a poetry physically devoted to translating words and sounds. What is more, in the poems in movement on stage, the iconography employed in the Compagnia’s performances gives even more importance to the body. The bodies of the women poets – the profiles, gestures, voices and accents of women distant from one another geographically, generationally, culturally and artistically – reunite on the stage in a single body, a sounding body in which the collective, as has already been said, takes on the deeper significance of the harmony of parts that remain independent though interconnected. Fundamental here is the function of the music performed – musicians and instruments also change with each representation –, the construction of the musical texture that interacts with the voices, sometimes also as a support.
And the theatrical space is the place where this osmotic combination of all the elements present comes to life. From the stylistic point of view, the use – common to all Italophone migrant poets – of a sort of free verse whose rhythm is often deeply influenced by the orality of the country of origin, has naturally led transnational poetry to propose itself as ‘spoken’ even before it is ‘written’. This underlying thrust is reinforced by a certain narrative quality characterizing the texts, in which sharply etched stories and ideas, dialogues and humor are sustained and justified by profound ethical commitment and in the end form a theatrical design embellished by other artistic languages. The Compagnia’s performances therefore follow scripts, texts conceived according to theatrical criteria: the thematic nuclei linking the texts, the alternation of long and short poems, the modulation of vocal timbres in accordance with musical principles, the rhythms of recitation and the juxtaposition of accents connoting different languages, the linguistic interweaving. And, finally, the main thread that provides the foundation for the multiform declination of the voices, which is the plural and at the same time single, profoundly corporeal, representation of identity. This is not a narrative thread, but it becomes so at the very moment when all the elements of the performance are organized around its aggregating strength, the possibility of becoming a narration.
The Compagnia delle poete is the authentic representation of transnational feminine voices, the ‘mobile place of creativity and concord’ according to Armando Gnisci’s definition, where Italophone poetry, always in transit between the ever-changing boundaries between being and staying, finds its freest and most representative collaboration.

(Here is one of such performances by the group)

Mia Lecomte is an Italian poet and writer of French origin. Author of many publications, her poems have been translated into several languages and appear in Italy as well as abroad in magazines and collections. A translator from French, Mia Lecomte is especially known as critic and editor in the field of transnational literature, to which she dedicated essays and anthologies. Among others, she is on the editorial board of the anglo-french poetry festival review La traductière and is a contributor to Italian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique. She is the founder and a member of the Compagnia delle poete (www.compagniadellepoete.com) and of Linguafranca (www.linguafrancaonline.org).

Photo by Dino Ignani

1 Comment

  1. Helene Paraskeva

    I am really proud of being part of Th CdP founded and guided by Mia Lecomte. I hope we willi soon meet and perform again.

    Reply

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