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Italy's Newest Poetic Avant-Garde: Inismo

by David W. Seaman, Ph.D.

Department of Foreign Languages
Georgia Southern University
Statesboro, GA 30460-8081



When one receives a letter or card from Gabriele-Aldo Bertozzi, the closing salutation is likely to include a phrase like "saluti ininterrotti", going out of the way to include a word with the succession of letters, I N I. This indicates the absorption of inismo in the mind of one of its founders. Inismo, ini, or I.N.I., comes from the terms, Internazionale Novatrice Infinitesimale, concepts that help define this avant-garde movement. As Angelo Merante points out in his essay, I domini operativi degli inisti,1 all three of these words suggest "extension", indicating the desire of inismo to go beyond the conventional. These terms invite some elucidation.

Internazionale is obvious, and it refers not only to the goal of expansion, but also to the implantation of inismo in Spain, Argentina, and the United States.

Novatrice is a Latinized version of "innovatrice", and I suspect that this term was influenced by the French lettristes, who use it.

Infinitesimale is also a term the lettristes have promoted; for them and the inisti it is not to be confused with our English concept of infinitesimally tiny, but rather it means leading to an infinity that is unknown and difficult to imagine. One can readily see, therefore, what the role of the avant-garde poet is: to lead the reader toward discovery of that vision beyond the finite world.

Inismo was initiated in Paris, early in 1980, by Bertozzi and Laura Aga-Rossi, and they were soon joined by Giulio Tamburrini, Angelo Merante, Moreno Marchi, and Antonino Russo. The first manifesto, Qu'est-ce que l'I.N.I. - Che cos'è l'I.N.I. was published in Paris and Rome in September of 19802, and the first exhibition of ini works was the same month in Paris, at the Salon de la Lettre et du Signe. This salon is a lettriste show, which suggests the ini relationship to the French movement. In fact, the first manifesto will declare, "INI was foreseen by Futurism, by Dada, and announced by Lettrisme."

The second manifesto, called Apollinaria Signa was created in the town of S. Apollinare, and alludes purposely to Guillaume Apollinaire, whose L'esprit nouveau et les poètes holds great importance for the inisti. Among the declarations in the second manifesto are calls for emancipation of the poet and the reader, and it lists the following among its formal advances:

Poetry is not necessarily a written page

Poetry can also be seen or heard

Poetry is also scent and gesture

A sonnet can be hypergraphic and rhyme with a drawing...

A poet can use at his whim the pen or the brush, computer or mallet, tape or film...

Every word, even the oldest, will be heard for the first time.3

The first INI works were visual poems or inias. Ini theater began in 1984 with the involvement of actor and director Giorgio Mattioli, Other areas were soon developed, such as abstract phonetic poetry, which grew out of the theatrical experiments, followed by sound collages by Bertozzi, film scenarios by Pietro Ferrua, and the abstract reader participation novel, by Merante. Photography has been developed and expanded by inismo, and translation has been developed creatively, as "la traduzione astratta." Eventually even interactive computer-based collaborative works were added to the inisti's opus.

Tracing the history that inismo claims for itself, one sees clear parallels with other visual poetry movements. In common with lettrisme and concrete poetry, there is a recognition of the role of Mallarmé for liberating the word, Rimbaud for liberating the letter, and Marinetti and the futurists for liberating the phoneme. It is interesting to compare this with the scheme elaborated by Isidore Isou in placing lettrisme as the culmination of the tradition. Inismo differs from this, as we will note below. Isou credits the following tradition, in his manifesto, Introduction à une nouvelle poésie et à une nouvelle musique :


Ch. Baudelaire (destruction of the anecdote for the form of the POEM)

P. Verlaine (annihilation of the poem for the form of the line of poetry)

A. Rimbaud (destruction of the line for the WORD)

St. Mallarmé (arrangement of the WORD perfected)

T. Tzara (destruction of the word for NOTHING)

I. Isou (arrangement of a NOTHING - THE LETTER - for the creation of the anecdote)4

Inismo credits Baudelaire with initiating the process by concentrating his creative energy on reducing the anecdote (for instance, a poem) to a fragment. They see the process of distilling the lyrical nucleus as being developed further by the efforts of Verlaine, reducing the verse, Mallarmé reducing the word, and Rimbaud reducing the letter.

The first inista manifesto cites two French texts: First there is Rimbaud's statement about the Voyelles, where he declares, "I invented the color of the vowels... I directed the form and the movement of each consonant..." The second text is Apollinaire's statement in L'esprit nouveau et le poètes, that "...people are seeking a new language which no grammarians of any language will have anthing to say about..."

A visit I made to Bertozzi's Rome apartment in March of 1998 was instructive and astonishing, as the space is like a museum of visual poetry. Near the entry are photographs that show Bertozzi with proponents of three movements that gave him inspriation: inismo and Futurism, with Primo Conti in 1977; Inismo and Surrealism, with Philippe Soupault in 1981; Inismo and Lettrisme, with Isidore Isou in 1982. There is clearly no desire to deny the sources and origins of inismo. At the same time, there is a need to distinguish inismo from the others. In a letter published in 1989, Bertozzi addresses the debate: Inismo non è Lettrismo.5 Bertozzi underscores Isou's tendency to write polemics that insist on his importance and the treachery of others who steal his ideas. Inismo is indeed similar to lettrisme, and came after it, but it has the ambition, Bertozzi says, of creating a new vision and opening, and of being superseded some day by new movements. This contrasts with the messianic character of Isouian lettrisme.

A glimpse at some examples of the range of inista works will suggest the nature of their project. Out of a list that might include inia, inika sonorika, narratinika, videoinipoesia, fotografia inista, and libroggetto inista, I will limit myself to a few brief examples.

The inia is a text based on the sign. This is the signature work of poetic avant-garde movements, and results in visually stunning compositions. It is used in prints, paintings, and works like the mail art work from Madrid signed by Bertozzi and others. Another fine example available on the inista web page is a work by Laura Aga-Rossi, and several inia works by Merante can be seen at the same location.

The inika sonorika is a sound poetry composition, which Merante has sometimes called "abstract poetry".6 The sounds are scored with the international phonetic alphabet, an inista innovation in sound poetry. When I met with Merante in a cafe near Rome's via del Babuino, Merante improvised an inika sonorika to greet me, which he called Un saluto per Davide. We were also afforded an opportunity to see what the reception of inismo is, when someone at a neighboring table asked "What are these strange sounds?" Merante explained that this abstract poetry is like listening to a song in a language you don't know - you can still understand the expression. Merante explained that he makes several vocal passes that he records over each other, producing finally a polyphonic work.

The feeling of polyphony is present also in fotografia inista. Bertozzi has made a distinction between this form, which is entirely photographic, and the fotoinigrafia, where images that include written signs are combined with the photograph.7 These photographs combine layers of photographic imagery to produce rich designs that combine two or more images - each with its own reading, to result in a third, more complex reading.

The Libroggetto is a further example of the inista desire to produce works that provoke multiple responses through the association of evocative stimuli. In Bertozzi's apartment museum, the Roman amphorae displayed on the walls give a first hint of the almost archeological layering of meaning in the works. Bertozzi's interest in antique writing instruments leads to some works that play on the theme of writing, and written communication: In one composition there are Japanese ink, ink grinding plates, and brushes, and a in another we see a Venetian glass pen and ink well. There is even a collection of "Inista Incunabulae." This focus on the instrument that makes the sign is at the heart of visual poetry.

Inismo now has a short but firm history, and it has a convenient vehicle for its theories, in the journal, Bérénice, Rivista Quadrimestrale di Studi Comparati e Ricerche sulle Avanguardie, edited by Bertozzi. It is time to give serious consideration to this newest avant-garde movement. And INI is full of life and energy, as indicated by a photo which I just received from Bertozzi in October: It came from Ethiopia, and shows a dark-skinned woman with colorful writing on her face -"Rift/ini/poesy" can be read, and she smiles at the multiple meanings.



1 Angelo Merante, I domini operativi degli inisti. <>.

2 Paris - Rome, CICK - Techne, September 1980.

3 Apollinaria Signa, S.Apollinare, September 2 - 5, 1987. Published in Bérénice, I series, 21, November 1987.

4 Gabriele-Aldo Bertozzi, Inismo non è Lettrismo, "Sabato d'arte", Il Giornale d'Italia, March 18, 1989.

5 Paris, Gallimard, 1942 - 43.

6 Interview in Rome, Italy, March 22, 1998.

7 Gabriele-Aldo Bertozzi, Primo manifesto della fotografia inista. March 21, 1996.