Adriano Bulla the war poet
War is a constant theme in Adriano Bulla’s poetry, which is unusual from a European poet far too young to have experienced war first-hand. Born in Milan, according to some in 1981, to others in 1972, which adds to the mystery of this elusive writer and critic, who publishes under his real name as well as at least two nomes de plume, and educated in Milan and in the UK, his poetic activity seemed to be mainly a juvenile matter till his recent publication of ‘Crosswords’ in 2009, having mainly focused on prose and criticism for four years. However, even in his earliest (and misguidingly dated poems) his accomplishment as an extremely refined and experimental poet have been undeniable.
In his astonishingly complex ‘Orphalese’ from the collection Heaven From Hell (1995) the walls that stand after the destruction brought about by war are described as “stubborn”, as if resisting the might of Mars was a futile attempt, the caesura breaks the sustained and plaintive alliteration while imagery literally bombards the reader with a fragmented and almost Cubist barrage of images and sounds that only find resolution in the weeping of the trees:
After a war, walls still
Facing the winds like stubborn willows:
Whispering and weeping...
It is however in his ‘war poems’ that the horror of war fully comes to life, in particular in ‘Under Heavy Copper Heavens’ , whose solemn rhythm gives the poem’s imagery a gravity rarely achieved in poetry and matching subject matter:
Under heavy copper heavens
The ferrite plain of stone and fire
Shudders, sighs in sudden silence
Of sooty squalls, and rusty smoke
Stifled in the gusts, and dust we saw
Beneath the slate clouds, heavy garnet rain
Scorching the desert, green fluorescence
Of agonising wails of aeons
Wrinkled mermaids choked in ash,
Frozen whimpers in leaden ice
Immense as emptiness of sound
The burning sterile lands of Mars
Cringe at the sight, thrill at the voice
Unborn, and yet already slain
From miles and miles on end, across
The stormy plains, a river lost
In ice and fire and wind, the slow
Cortège meandering forever
Before and after time, we heard
Whine, wail and whimper of white waning
Souls – children we commit to death.
The reader is forced through the heavy and slow line by the sustained enjambment in search of the main verb, in search of a meaning like soldiers marching on a minefield, yet, like rough ground under their boots, the syntax is faulty till the very last line, images of horror link in a chain that wears the reader, who finds no way out of the “cortège” of hefty images where the “slate clouds” of the “heavy copper heavens”, where the “ferrite plain” is beaten by an equally red “garnet rain” and sounds are eerily empty and images of pain encompass time.
Similarly, ‘German Nights, 1944’ presents us with a terrifying picture of life on a concentration camp where death is preferable to life, the reader being thrown in medias res with the prisoners who seem to be caught in the middle of a much longer narration, as shown by the very first word, “And”:
And here we lie, this stench
That chokes the vey bones,
Of wet excreta in this
Bog, or barracks waiting,
Waiting; rotten corpses
Waiting for death.
The very essence of humanity is denied to the prisoners who wish they “were but ash / And bones” crushed by “the heavy boots / Of this army of ghoulish knights” who are “raking the flotsam of [their] gnarled / Bones”. This “multitude of stumbling ghosts/ And clattering bones”, dehumanised by the atrocities of the Third Reich, however, is presented to the reader with heart-rending and humane empathy at the same time:
Children hidden in the sewers;
Mothers, withered breasts for
Want of sucking;
Fathers, fettered skeletons
Under grating grindstones.
The emotional imagery used in these lines highlights the cruelty of the Nazi war machine and the reader is presented with an almost apocalyptic picture that seems to accuse the whole of humanity for allowing such atrocities to happen.
Emotions grow even stronger in the next stanza, where a “steely breeze” carries the voices of “broken doors and draughty /Hearts”. This “crippled / Harbinger of woe and slaughter”, though, “steeling / Secretly from ear to ear”, the inaudible moan of the prisoners, whose pain cannot be heard outside the camps’ walls, joins the smoke of the “vomiting chimneys”, sick of their own collusion in the Nazi genocide bringing a “forgotten / prayer for a bleary sky”. Whether Heaven is listening remains a mystery.
The final stanza carries a message not unlike Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, yet more poignant: the political sphere is absent, therefore allowing the humanitarian message to sound louder and clearer:
Like Flock of Sheep
One day we’ll pray and weep
On nervine-incensed altars.
Today engrave these words
In parched and wrinkled hearts.
That Adriano Bulla’s sensibility is unique, especially considering he grew up in a world of sanitised wars broadcast like videogames on Western channels, that his impressive technique can carry even the subtler of feelings with astonishing precision is demonstrated by his ‘Flickers’ as James Faraday points out in ‘Nuances of Feelings’, 2007, yet, if Owens experienced war first-hand, it still remains one of the many mysteries about this idiosyncratic and exceptional writer how he has made war, a remote experience from his own life, such a vivid and powerful theme in his poetry.
Dr Mario Rossi
· Bulla, Adriano Ybo’ and Other Lies, 2005, Poetry Monthly Press.
· Bulla, Adriano, “Crosswords” in Autumn Leaves, Volume 13, Number 19, 2009.
· Faraday, James, ‘Nuances of Feelings’, in UK Poetry Live, 2007.
· Owens, Wilfred, “Dulce et Decorum Est” in The Poems of Wilfred Owen, 1966, Queen’s Classics Press.