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gulp gasp - serena piccoli

the new book of poems 
out in September 2022


Adeena Karasick

From the late 14th C., Flemish gulpe or Dutch gulpen,
“gulp” is "to gush, pour forth, guzzle, swallow." Italian author,
translator, and playwright, Serena Piccoli’s stunning second
English volume of poetry, gushes forth with an unstoppable
flood of desire that is at once massively political and playful,
negotiating contemporary local and global horrors, yet marked
with an analytically observant, empathic regard for the
interrelationship of lands, peoples, bodies, and animals,
invoking a texturally complex sense of humanity, interrogating
all that we thirstily “gulp down.”

I personally have witnessed this sense of ardent
engagement, in that as a world-class translator, Piccoli
translated my virtually untranslatable spoken word opera,
Salomé: Woman of Valor / Salomé: donna di valore from English
into Italian, published by University of Padua Press, Italy in
2017, and together with her internationally produced poems,
plays, and stunning photographs which like this volume of
poetry are also grounded in feminist politics, further speaking
to Piccoli’s zealous commitment to cultural-political
transformation and change. As a transplanted Italian now
living in the British Isles, Piccoli has the unique vision of an
outsider; a subaltern presence that not only gives voice to the
voiceless as she gasps, grasps the ungraspable, speaks the
unspeakable, and with passionate en[r]agement, journeys
within a range of contested territories such as American
colonization and warmongering, gender violence and
homophobia, NATO, the Kurds, the English monarchy,
antifascism, and intolerance.

Temporally composed between 2019-2022, punctuated
with socio-political, cultural and linguistic shifts, and wry
wordplay, gulp\gasp navigates the complexities within Italy, the
British Isles, Zanzibar, and Europe, journalistically drawing on
interviews, reports, photographs, essays and articles.

For example, her playfully ironic list in
“#EnglishFreeSchoolMeals in January 2021,” comprised of
the actual menu the government provided to children in need:
(“a bag for 10 days; / 2 jacket potatoes / 1 Heinz beans / 8
single cheese sandwiches / 2 carrots / 3 apples / 2 soreen / 2
bananas / 1 loaf of bread / 3 frubes / spare pasta / 1
tomato”). Or marked with a surrealistic sensibility, reflecting
on the beauty and intimacy within this otherwise fraught era,
points to ways, for example animals were regaining land. Take
for instance, the astonishing image in “the_pan_demic,” of 5
goats in a Welsh city center strolling down and doing some
window shopping!


Or in “for rent,” “unfurnished apartment
for rent / 1 bedroom mold and utilities included. . .no
smoking – no pets - no poets / call Jack at lunch.” Witty and
keenly insightful, with a shoutout to John Ashbery’s, Lunch
Poems, gulp\gasp provides us with a defamiliarizing charm,
leaving us thirsting for more.

According to Piccoli, “[Gulp] aims to stimulate debate
about the state of our society. I wish to raise awareness.” And
so it does, reminding us of Blair and Bush invading Iraq and
their lies and their bombs, and it lives uncomfortably with how
Tony Blair was knighted in June, when Priti Patel, the Minister
of Defence, signed the extradition of Julian Assange to the
USA. Riddled with frustration and satirical energy, each poem
offers a raw glimpse into Piccoli’s worldview assessing crimes
against humanity, oppression, transgression, injustice: “We're
the best\fuck the rest,” “greetings from autumn 2020,”
“greetings from summer 2022,” “the gold teeth,” “I used to
write love poems,” all depict her vehement grievances towards
NATO; how there are 120 NATO military bases in Italy, from
where Americans bombed Serbia, Iraq, Syria. She is writing
against the lies, the social injustice the US has inflicted on
Europeans, against the high expenditure of arms by the BoJo
government, the long imprisonment and extradition of Julian
Assange (US and UK again), the supposed cultural supremacy
of the West and its racism, hate, neocolonialism, exploitation,
social injustices, and exported democracies. Governments that
have worshipped zerocovid policy when a massive number of

important studies showed that zerocovid policy doesn't make
any sense at all, stating, “it's just - once again – oppression.”
African migrants criminalized for escaping wars, violence,
famine, the diminutization of women. Serena Piccoli is “sick
of all this,” and gulp\gasp provides a litanic map through these
varied territories of inequity:

sitting at their luxury table of lies and nails
their capitalist jaws laughing at us
4 incisors of exporting democracy
4 canines of oppression
4 incisors of brainwashing
4 molars of slavery
the prolonged grinding and grating of
4 premolars of hypocrisy
4 molars of stolen land
4 premolars of stereotypes
4 molars of injustice

And sometimes, these poems are marked by a keen
sense of irony: whether it be in “the queen of herrings,”

ideologically questioning the monarchy, and the stark socio-
economic disparities in the UK revisited in “Greetings from

Summer 2022:” “they’re feasting / while we’re fasting / we’ll
eat the rich / while we’re watching the fish,” or the painful
irony of being misgendered in Zanzibar in the
autobiographical, “the wedding in the shamba,” where Piccoli
recounts how while teaching pedagogy in the African village
they believed her to be a man, and the abuse and
discrimination of gender disparity in traditional
Zanzibar[bar]ic culture, or the profound paradox of
contemporary democracy, whose antifascist left-wing policies
have led to violence and repression (the so called “fascism of
the antifascists”).

Though formally witty, playful and punningly
provocative, each piece packs a hard punch; and as such,
serves as a powerful tool for raising awareness. Take, for
example, gulp\gasp’s vivid depictions regarding the plight of
the Kurds, in “shingal,” “bread and bandages,” “those 2
hands,” recounting the “2014 systematic rape of 3 thousand

Yazidi Kurdish Women”— sentiments shared in her award-
winning plays, or highlighting the persistence of modern

slavery in the south of Italy, where according to Piccoli,
“migrants from both Africa and eastern Europe live in shacks,
work 12 hours under the flaming sun, picking tomatoes, many
of them victims of sexual and physical violence.” And through
pounding insistence, she exposes their wrenched plight:

the sun kisses the prettiest.
It’s an Italian saying
he says

3 euros per hour\12 hours per day
the red gold burning in his ears
between the toes\up the ass
picking tomatoes 7 days a week
bent and burnt
crashing in the shack with a stroke
the red mud boss’ boots
pushed him down the creek at noon
before stripping...
the sun kisses the prettiest.
Lucky you
he said

And as [the page rages], continuing to voice the
voiceless, “the kingfisher in Moria” presents Moria, an
abhorrent migrant camp in the Mediterranean, riddled with
very poor health conditions, invisible to the beachgoing public.
Exquisitely exposing the contrast of the sultry, placid
Mediterranean juxtaposed against the horror of Moria,
gulp\gasp sings “their song of despair // carried on electric

blue feathers from / their shacks built with dust and revenge;”
sentiments extended in “liberté/ egalité/fraternité/crime de
solidarité” where through waves of sonic repetition, speaks to
ways it was a crime (“of solidarity”) to help migrants passing
through France or entering France, yet provides some well
needed hope: where “snow . . . the light in the darkness of our

But though grounded in robust politics, this must-read
collection is also marked by great love. And even though she
ironically opens with how “I used to write love poems,”
gulp/gasp gushes with passionate longing and connectedness.
For example, in “53rd day” dedicated to her lover, Alexandra,
written during the 6 interminable months of early Covid,
Spring 2020, when they had to live across the continent from
each other, beckons her lover from abroad,

and as you’re combing your hair
craving my hands...
lie in bed and make love with
my smell...hear my
arms singing
with the Nightingales.

This sense of wistful yearning is further manifested with an
amorous regard for nature, wildlife, and ecosystems which
mirror bodies and behaviors. With a profound ecopoetic
sensibility, the poems are populated with starlings, bluetits,
bees, deer, ferns, wildflowers, pheasants, seagulls, where
“sheep seals geese twined and twisted in sky’s harmony.” And,
like how for Piccoli, “the muezzin squeaks in stereophony,” so
it is that gulp\gasp provides us with a love that is polyphonic,
multiple, and fluid, combining a range of identities and foci.

The cover of the book is a photo by Piccoli (who is also
a renowned photographer), depicting a wall of graffiti, tagged,
“NONSENSE.” The white typography is locked within a
blood red block inscribed on a white-washed decomposing
brick wall. The image is striking in that not only does it speak

to the scarlet darknesses and discriminations that gulp\gasp
grapples with, but highlights at the outset, that “nonsense” is
not “no sense” but navigates through a polyglossic
heterogeneity of angles, codes, discourses, opinions, and
through the endless barrage of information / disinformation,
we must continually unpack “the sense” between all that

which is illogical, irrational, relational, in an incendiary supra-
sensorious nascence of contradiction and paradox.

Fittingly, the book opens with a poem about human
stupidity – “it's honey, darling!” and ends on the title poem,
“gulp\gasp,” recounting all the lies, the violence, the social
injustices, the hate we've gulped down yet states, “still I hear
the gasp of the calm.” This final line, which stands alone
surrounded by open space, reads as the gasp of all of us, the
enshrouded vagrants, migrants, and misrepresented. And
through gasps, rasps, maps, as we gasp the un-gaspable, grasp
the ungraspable, this gripping volume asks one to not “sow
silence” but to think strategically about what and how we are
gulping in our ever-unquenchable thirst for knowledge, eros,
truth, and meaning.

Professor, poet, performer and essayist Adeena Karasick 

You can buy the book by clicking here: gulp\gasp 


Thank you!

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