Reviewed by Margo LaPierre
At times epistolary, innovative, and novelistic, Marc di Saverio’s Crito di Volta is the fictional story in verse of a young man released from a psychiatric institute after a decade within those walls. The sonic velocity and passion of Volta’s re-entry into freedom is unmatched in any book of poetry I have read before. I’m reminded of Baz Luhrmann’s 1990’s film Romeo + Juliet if it were set in Toronto’s Little Italy, right down to the biblical presence, Catholic iconography, and wild, action-packed fight scenes.
“Dear Niccolo: / I know how hard to visit here can be; thank you for coming, thanks for the presents … / Last week I took my first Amphetamine; it worked just minutes after consumption! I’m getting released later this week… / Today I sold three oils for thirty g’s; now I’m going to live spontaneously. / Do send me your rendition of “Raindrop.” May your weekend be a whirlwind of gold. / Training myself to speak in five-foot lines (hence this pentametric letter, bros.)”
Saverio's Crito defines mortar: "v. 1. to bombard and destroy / n. 2. a cement used in building." What Crito seeks in his launch of the Mortarismo movement is a take-down of "the star-stickered, light-blocking ceilings of present Western 'Verse,' 'Art' 'Democracy.'" What is sought is a "breath-giving, voluptuous, lactating" new Art. Newly released Crito calls on watching throngs of students, from his spontaneous pulpit in a university square, to de-program themselves. Crito cries that Baphomet has hands in mass media, MFA programming, 9/11, feminism, gay rights, and BIPOC-interest groups. Crito calls for poetry without ceilings or barriers, without the need to be taught or curated by universities or poetry magazines. While Saverio's language can be hypnotic, bordering, at points, on stream of consciousness, the call to action is clear: cast off the "Hypnocracy," the "static trance," and live through poetry as a case of life and death.
“In The Emergency Present, / my pen is my hand, my knife is my other.”
In Crito di Volta, poetry is a mode of resistance in a violent world. As a bipolar poet who shares a few of Crito’s experiences, I know just how enveloping, how embracing poetry can be. Poetry does not distinguish between systems of reality, between delusion and what those who have never been mad call real life. Poetry exists in the mode of metaphor, of as-if being equal to real. Poetry exists within and without the universities, within and without the psych wards, within and without the CanLit community. “…It is harder for the unloved to love, so let us love the unloved the most, I think to myself, not knowing why.” By the end of the book, Crito has formed a group with three others who will be generals in the Patients’ Revolution, and perhaps this is what Saverio calls for through poetry: to find those on your level and uplift them as they uplift you, to build community from the ground up.
“Flav and I embrace him / at once, his ID circlet still / around his wrist like the dimming ring / of some undiscovered planet.”
This book rushes forward. It’s energetic. Unreserved. Decisive. You’ll see evidence of this in Saverio’s language. Exclamation marks abound. Italics too. Emphasis is key.
“Like a lone vermillion pillar marking oases in a desert, / he stands!” mocks a professor. / I blast upon the sky-blue tabletop with hand on hip. / “What are you doing up there?” a student jeers. / What are you doing down there! I sear. / I’ll split your brain in half with my tongue if I must, but trust / I wish for peace the most!”
Perhaps my favourite moment in the book was coming across di Saverio's invented form, objecthaiku, which involved negative images of seventeen small objects arranged in haiku 5-7-5 form, at which point the poet discusses how dark, heavy objects may slow down rhythm as would a stressed word, whereas similar-looking objects might intimate a rhyme. This openness to originality in form underscores the individualist teachings of Crito, while at the same time inviting readers to ponder that there are many ways to think about poetry that haven't yet been explored or officially sanctioned by any institution.
“If I do hold / a secret, I do not know the secret. / I’m a forevermore unfolding answer, / just like all of you! “Crito?” Amos asks, / “will you now sing the electrical universe?”
With its rally for the deinstitutionalization of poetry, I’d recommend this book especially to poets who might feel frustrated or excluded by the mainstream literary community. Crito di Volta is a battle cry to break from our vaults, seize this time as ours, and steer our lives in a new direction with authentic, passionate poetry.
Crito di Volta is published by Guernica Editions.