The first thing to be said about this collection of poetry is how pleasurable it was to read. Violi has a lightness of touch which pertains even when he deals with the dark side, as he often does in the long poem Harmatan, a sort of travelogue based on a six month visit to Nigeria in the late 60's. The poem is full of life and energy, written as 'non-judgmental reportage', peppered - as elsewhere - with references to classical literature which are seamlessly woven into a garment which is as lyrical as it is gutsy.
Bags of information about the country, its people, their customs, snapshot observations sharp and direct, full of colour, of sounds and odours, hot and rancid, ever spilling over yet held in check by the easy, conversational style and an erudition and wit tempered just this side of excess. Violi makes it all look so easy! One of his main subjects could be said to be the clash between high art and popular culture, a topic he embraces by avoiding the conflict altogether.
In the section entitled The Hazards of Imagery he discourses on a series of Italian frescoes in a style which is mocking yet celebratory, displaying learning without the least pretension - and amusing to boot. He's a genuine post-modernist, avant-garde and wide-ranging yet popular and very funny. There's a charm in his work which is even evident in the Grand Guignol hilarity of King Nasty, a case of poem-as-film-script where the would-be-scriptwriter ponders the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. Don't let historical accuracy get in the way, gory details are what we want, visual excess and horror treated to hilarity, catharsis as over-the-top invention - "'Now the Sun King gets his. / - No, hold off on that./We need more on Big Boy./The slaughter is incessant./"absolute virtue pursued with absolute terror.'/The horror drags him in deeper./Out of the Pol Pot and into the frying pan." Again, it's the irrepressible mix of colloquial dialogue with historical knowledge (even when this is being played with-Violi here seems to be playing with the stereotype of the American as historically illiterate) which gives such a pleasure rush, possibly also something to do with investigating received power sources but this is only a hunch.
Tryptych seems to be written in the form of a personal diary, split into three sections - Morning; Afternoon; Evening - with the possible difference that each heading and text seems to have a t.v. programme as its source: e.g. " (80) WEATHER. Bleak/snowlight, black/helicopters/to the rescue." Could this be the ultimate 'found' poem, a dawn to dusk resume of an individual's televisual obsession. Whatever, it's hilarious in parts and beautifully put together.
Little Testament, the opener, is the persona's life reflection, an inventory, aged 40, a rip-roaring celebration of cliche, of poetic form, a satire as irreverent as it is gentle and containing some stunning imagery - "One that I remember describes/how in world war 2/the writer Malaparte/while crossing the Lake Ladoga convoy route/during the siege of Leningrad/looked down through the ice/and saw innumerable human faces,/beautiful glass masks,/staring up at him." There are also a couple of more serious love poems in this collection and the cover artwork is thick with fish.
© Steve Spence 2002. from the magazine Terrible Work.