On Halloween night, our Origins class took a turn to consider origins in the context of poetry. Professor Stefano Colangelo from the Universita di Bologna spoke on Voice and Verse: At the Origins of Contemporary Poetry by bringing his audience through the verses and styles of many European poets starting in the seventeenth century, his specialty. As an individual who does not have a strong interest in or knowledge of poetry, I found it captivating to listen to the highlights of these poet’s works and the meanings and themes that Professor Colangelo was able to draw from them.

He started with a poet who is both a nightmare to his students but one of the classics, Benedetto Croce (1866-1952). Many find Croce’s work hard to understand, but he was very interested in the history of poetry. Croce believed in poetry as an absolute and how it therefore cannot have origins in history. Instead,  poetry is a general state of mind, Professor Colangelo explained. Poetry and aesthetics were almost synonyms in Croce’s vocabulary, and he often used the words intuition and expression as defining aspects to the art of poetry as well. Intuition being the natural senses beyond sight and tastes that poetry evokes, and expression being the push to get your art and what you have to say out in the world.  Professor Colangelo demonstrated how, to Croce, poetry was timeless and lacked an origin as a result. This opinion on the origins of poetry remained constant as Professor Colangelo continued to discuss Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962). Bachelard was a french postman by day, and one of the most important philosophers in the first half of the twentieth century by night. A lot of his work was about the concept of intuition and what it meant to look deeply into someone. Croce believed that poetry is a general principle while Bachelard said that poetry refuses general principles. However, both shared the thought that poetry was timeless in that it condenses all concepts into a single moment. This raised a key question many were looking into at this time about this relationship between poetry and time during this period.

From Bachelard and Croce, Professor Colangelo moved to discuss Paul Valery, a french poet who presented rather fragmented works but believed that language speaks in poetry and this voice is our intuition. It was Paul Celan, however, who argued that language is not the origin of poetry, but instead its origin lies in the single first word of a poetry.  Poetry itself acts as a point of origin for all these different values and ideas that these classic scholars are arguing for. Following Paul Celan, Professor Colangelo brought forward Elias Canetti (1905-1994), who argued that origins in poetry were a much more fluid but still existent element in the art. Canetti found that origins of poetry are determined differently based on who they are being interpreted by.

These were some of the specific poets whose theories I found particularly interesting, but Professor Colangelo did not stop here and continued to provide the thoughts and verses of many other classic scholars throughout the centuries. I found it especially interesting how he closed his presentation highlighting the importance of the link between origins and foreignness and being stranger. He argued that it’s useful to change our point of view in poetry by transitioning away from the academic and towards a more human perspective. Poetry has a special power, we learned tonight, that can both completely disrupt or comprehend order and chaos and mix the usual ideas of them together into one.