The Multiple Poetic Cartographies of Carlota Caulfield


The Book of Giulio Camillo


The Book of Giulio Camillo
(a model for a theater of memory)
BY Carlota Caulfield
(Eboli Poetry, 2003)

Of your published books, which one is your favorite and why?

I have a very special connection to The Book of Giulio Camillo (a model for a theater of memory). It’s a very personal homage to Giulio Camillo Delminio, one of the most original inventors of the Renaissance. He created a theater into which a single spectator put his head and looked, not at the stage, but at the levels where all the wisdom of the universe was presented in seven times seven doors placed on seven ascending levels. The real actors in this spectacle were wisdom, the planets and mythological beings. Camillo believed that studying his theater offered the possibility of knowing all the corners of the human soul and of arriving at the most recondite areas of the mind.

My poems also carry on a dialogue with the Sefer Yetzirah or Book of Formation, by an anonymous author, which is believed to date from the second century of our era. It is considered the oldest philosophical and metaphysical Hebrew text, and is based on the cabalistic cosmogony. It is a cryptic book of extraordinary lyricism and fantasy. The text is a meditation on the divine creation of the world, taking the the Hebrew Alphabet as its formative element.

My book is divided into seven parts, each one including seven poems of three lines each. They are poems about memory. Recreation, a stroll of my memory-self. Celebration of the tactile. Self-portrait of superimposed personal snapshots with autobiographical touches. Memory, gaze and hand (or hands) are my accomplices in this poetic meditation.

Alchemy and painting interlace and give form to many of your poems. Would you like to talk about this?

As I said before, during childhood, a book on alchemy made an enourmous impact on me. Years later, when I left Havana to live in Zürich, I became an enthusiastic reader of esoteric books. It was also in Havana that my passion for painting began. Although painters such as Boticelli, Fra Angelico, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Bosch and Odilon Redon had fascinated me since adolescence, it was not until through destiny, causality, or random objective, as Hegel would say, I had a revealing and liberating encounter with the works of the Spanish Surrealist painter Remedios Varo (1913-1963).

My Book of the XXXIX steps links alchemy with the work of Varo, who was also interested in the mystic disciplines, hermetic traditions, and cats. The thirty-nine steps or poems which comprise this book are made up of five lines each, and set forth a personal dialogue with different paintings by the artist, that is descriptive, although not always directly. For example, in poem XI, one of my favorites, I take the painting “Encounter” (in which a woman opens a chest and finds her double) and “Caravan” (in which a strange bicycle-castle appears, ridden by a hooded person, while in its interior a young woman with long hair plays the piano) and I mix them with this result:

Childhood is a caravan with no axis:
in the center of zero
the mustard seed moves slowly.
My initiation was
a pilgrimage to memory.

My book is an homage to the theme of travel: Travels in time, in space, in memory. Mystical travels, fantastic travels. Varo was my bridge to the paintings of the Italian Renaissance Master Antonello da Messina. My other Renaissance inspiration is Leonardo da Vinci. I celebrate the Leonardo who drew pine trees, hands, pillars, birds in flight, flowing water, optical instruments, human muscles and horses. He is the one who makes me want to understand nature. His notes for constructing flying machines and other experiments help me envision him. My poem, “Of aerodynamic forms and navigators’ mirrors,” celebrates the Leonardian inventions. I quote from it:

“My little Leonardo is bright and talented.
Yesterday he built a flying machine
with goose feathers tied on with cords.”

I can see the cords that attach the artificial wings
to the feet that will propel them.
If I set loose the demons onto your body,
they will turn into crumbs of bread.
Icarus seems to want to alert
the daring child to the danger of his enterprise.

There are many other painters in my poems, amongst them Parmigianino. Chagall, Tàpies, Riera, Beneyto.

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