The Little Book of Passage by Franca Mancinelli (The Bitter Oleandor Press, 2018)
The diary as a genre offers possibility. It offers a resolute, curious inspection of the personal and reinforces the intention of documentation. It is bound by time in curious ways more obvious than most poetry, and yet often far exceeds the fluid ambiguity of the sprawl of fiction. The diary is a ring of keys in a way that much literature is a ring of keys, but unlike most literature, that ring is bearable from the very beginning, its doors appearing as a process of its reading. The passage to and through those doors marks the gateway of each entry, of each secluded, exasperating moment of exclamation. The diary carries so much of us forward in life, in our own way, as we contribute to it. And even in the age of the social, encompassing, virally-intrinsic internet, the mode of diary-writing, of performing for the journal and the self, remains.
“He knew we would meet at this point, where space crosses time, where the pupil of his eye opens. When he saw us passing the same glass back and forth between us, he took us away from the others.”
Franca Mancinelli is a fantastic example of the author of a diary, even if she does not actively identify as such. Her work The Little Book of Passage is a fantastic example of a diary, even if it is not explicitly identified as such. The implications of this collection of prose being derivative of a genre and all of that genre’s symbolic qualities are numerous. They are implications for trust, truth, transparency. They are taut with a commitment to the described self. They stretch with range but remain incredibly centered. Mancinelli, as indicated by her translator in the book’s introduction, the poet John Taylor, “movingly uses autobiographical details to raise more general psychological and philosophical issues.” Many diaries famous and underground reflect their satisfying capability to harness the facets of a daily life through micro-synthesis. To tackle the psychological, the philosophical, the spiritual, the social, the incredible, the mundane, and the exquisite, while doing so with breadth and that commitment, is to be a space of safety, a space of boundary, a realm of possibility for the sake of openness.
Moving through The Little Book of Passage, the analogy of movement is aligned with the actual processing conducted by Mancinelli in her daily moments. Causations are like minor eruptions of faculties through description of the transience and transformation that lead us toward those portals of truth, keys at the ready of unlocking. To read is to learn, and to learn is to be and to grow. We have this utterly beautiful sense of passage and it is a harmony between risk and reward, through synthesis and exposition. It is beautiful in that aquatic variability that leaves the reader speechless, floating through the ambiguous states of modal travel. “Traveling without knowing what brings me to you. I know you’re going beyond the limits of the sheet of paper, of the cultivated fields,” says Mancinelli, an almost literal experience, an ars poetica raspy and gleaming. These are stunts of truth, of crucial clawing forward page after page, towards that recess, that summit, that depth.
The harness of space blends joy and solemn humility simultaneously. Often there is the added synchronicity of the collective bearing the weight of the process. “We were alone and transparent, with something burning inside.” Even at its most mysterious moments, the heart within this speaker is big and full, ready to admit that which must be said. The discovery, the epiphany, and the refracted awareness. It is a bountiful consciousness through the ascension toward the written spell of intrigue and relay. And yet there is a wholesome quality to this writing as well, a makeshift pact toward an impressionist fountain of worldliness. The humble moments of narrative are grayed behind their temporary natures. Characters enter and exit like beacons of humanity reminding us all that Mancinelli is not all alone in that which she crafts.
“The old woman who lives in the next building sometimes goes out onto her balcony. She sweeps, hangs out the washing on the line, brings the laundry back in, waters two flowerpots. When she passes on, she will leave a clean space shaped by her life.”
The Little Book of Passage is ironically named when approached by way of its pillars of life. Not all snapshots indicate Mancinelli’s own spirited travels; there are instances that serve us well as positioned, blossomed moments of successful image. Their lessons may reach allegorical heights, but they are also reserved and endearingly structured. A blink may pass them by, but they wait all the same, ready to be received, ready to be read. Taylor writes of Mancinelli’s revolving with his own succinct interpretation tackling a poetic language of “unvoiced centers and disturbing causes which cannot be wholly defined yet which have come to the surface, as it were. As the reader meditates on them, they reveal their intricacy and mystery. That is, wordless centers full of emotions, thoughts, perceptions, and even imaginable acts—those pertaining, for instance, to the loss or lack of something or someone essential.”
While the poetry certainly feels universal, keyed into confidence through a bright, humane core, I couldn’t help but think of Mancinelli’s Italian heritage and where it may be a contributor. The reality of Mancinelli writing in an accessible, contemporary Italian language funneling up through a living, empowering Italian culture feels crucial to this space of breath and beauty. And while the references, the details, and the subtext may exist beyond borders, uplifted through a foray through generality, it was with this “libretto d’instruzioni” (“instruction manual” as literally translated by Taylor) that the life appears to pop out and pull inward.
“You no longer have a face, you’re beyond all contours. Only clear light. I’d like to gather you up in my hands, take you in you while you are born, but you gush forth: you are the primal current that cannot be touched.”
Ultimately this diary, if it may be considered a diary, is a meeting ground, an invitation, and a sharing space. Recorded and presented as memory and an attempt at engagement, The Little Book of Passage finds and preserves countless moments of those precious spaces. The growth upon which Mancinelli focuses her faculties, the severe and fearless enticement, and a steady procedure of documentation is an homage to the power of time, and the act of the passage toward that which comes next. Flowing freely alongside us readers is the impressions of certainty and accomplishment. The liberation that arouses through spaces of documented existence.
All reviews by Greg Bem unless marked otherwise.
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