Leonardo Sinisgalli

LEONARDO SINISGALLI was an Italian poet and art critic active from the 1930s to the 1970s. Sinisgalli brought to his work a rich and rather eccentric personal history. Born in Montemurro, a small town southeast of Naples in the rather barren mountainous region of Lucania, he left in 1926 to study engineering in Rome, his head filled with poetry and mathematics. While publishing his first poems in the late 1920s, he pursued his interests in architecture, painting, and graphics. His skills in the design arts led him into industry. In 1953, he founded Civiltà delle macchine, the most influential journal of graphics and design arts in its time. All the while he continued to exhibit his art work and publish poems, stories, and essays on the arts and mathematics. Sinisgalli was very caught up in the architectonics of a poem. His poems are often acts of exquisite arrangement, dispositions of word-objects that comprise figures of sentiment. His ambition was to make poems that spoke with Cartesian precision, to distribute words as one distributes the terms of an equation, though all the words finally converge, as he liked to say, on the elusive “i,” the imaginary number. The result is a poetry that’s denotative and spectral. Sinisgalli was fascinated by the capacity of mathematics to imagine and quantify the invisible, to calculate a something beyond nothingness—he said that in his youth mathematics was a form of mystical experience—and wanted to carry that over into poetry. He also placed a lot of importance on precise detail, the naming and placement of creature, locale, and event. He shares with Dante a passion for the geometry of vision and for a way of walking through or pausing in concentric figures of place and time. It’s there, in the scansion of the moment, that the energies of mind and imagination fuse with energies radiating from the phenomenal world.