David Annwn: Dantesserae

Background to DANTESSERAE

David Annwn: This sequence is ‘illusion. Artifice / as world and vice-/versa’. As usual, I don’t want to make too much sense or imply a rational overall structure because so much here is fragmentary, composed of snippets, dreams and fleeting intuition. It takes a cue from links between Dante’s late period and his viewing of various mosaics in St Vitale and other churches in Ravenna. Most of the mosaics of Ravenna were made of glass tesserae but, at the outset, I imagine the disparate sections of my sequence as resembling coloured stones suspended in space in the kind of buildings designed by Gaudi and Piranesi.
These poetic sections are jagged and uneven, seemingly random in arrangement, perhaps rather like disjecta or misfits taken from different mosaics or Steve Simpson’s accompanying shard-like paintings. As with other after- or fore-images of experience, they are culled from various times and places and don’t add up. At first glance, they might then seem a jumbled mass, yet there are many underlying and intricate connections between them, such as references to the export of violence to other lands, the musician, Nicola Conte’s, mention of Bari being the final destination of Crusaders on the Via Francigena pilgrim-route before they embarked for ‘the Holy Land’ and Cacciaguida, Dante’s great-great grandfather’s, ‘noble’ Crusader status. Fashion and power, both in mosaics and elsewhere, are foregrounded, for example in Christ’s purple robe, Hugo Boss’s creation of fascist uniforms, Alessandra Mussolini’s cashmere and Alessandro Michele’s show for Gucci Cruise at Alycamps, (a location mentioned in the Commedia) which is juxtaposed here with the characters, Dante and Virgil’s entry into the City of Dis, a scene also shown in Howard Munson’s stills and film of this section.

Some sections also contain games of lexical chance: the picking out of the near-anagram of ‘Ante Alight’ in Dante’s name, the punning on ‘andante’ and a slip into an incredulous chaos of particles in ‘the of and to a in for is on s’ after the CEO of the Italian munitions firm, RMW’s shockingly complacent response to the carnage caused by their bombs. Language here registers its own ruptures, insufficiency and splintering.

In the Paradiso, Dante, the narrator, imaginatively leaves our planet. We are not told how this earthling re-adjusts to his life after days in the Heavens of Venus and Mars, yet we are all and each, individually, visitors to Terra. Our memories make each of us time-travellers and the Inferno is mostly made up of memory. Steve Simpson’s paintings reveal contemporary and different ways of seeing, an unconditional love for the homeless realised in the shelter of the crypt of St George’s in Leeds.

Robert Duncan wrote that we all stand ‘Before the war’, as in the sense of ‘preceding’ but also ‘in the presence of’ that entity. As my sequence moves towards its last section, words are left hanging like scattered tokens. There is a struggle between ‘I’ and ‘we’ or ‘our’ (Dante’s ‘nostra vita’): my life or our lives. Can love, in ‘earthing’ us, remind us we are set ‘before /the light’?

To read the poem: Dantesserae

David Annwn  is a poet, playwright, critic, and authority on the phantasmagoria lantern show. He has read as part of the online ‘Wales to Bay Poetry’ series and been interviewed by Peter Spafford on Chapel FM. Recent publications include Re-Envisaging the First Age of Cinematic Horror 1896-1934 (2018, University of Wales Press), Red Bank (2018, Knives Forks & Spoons) and Resonance Field (2020, Aquifer), which includes images from his collaborations with the master-calligrapher Thomas Ingmire and innovative film-maker Howard Munson. In 2016, his collaborations with Ingmire were the subject of an exhibition at the California Book Club, San Francisco. Jeremy Norman has called their book Palimpsest (2019) ‘the perfect embodiment of themes found within’ his work on the ‘history of information.’

His poetry also appears in The Edge of Necessary, an Anthology of Welsh Innovative Poetry 1966-2018 (2018. Boiled String and Aquifer) and in the Blackbox Manifold 25 – ‘Experiments from Wales’, online anthology (2021) where John Goodby writes of ‘the variousness and versatility of’ Annwn’s ‘styles, continuing: ‘more than any other poet in this anthology David has a mastery of different genres and modes (concrete / typographical, discursive, lyrical, neomodernist paratactic, etc.) and the ability to switch between them in the course of a single poem.’ 


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