- Poèmes et aphorismes (1989–2015) by Giovanna, and: Ecouter, écrire, signifier, sur l'art verbal de la créatrice surréaliste Giovanna by Laura Santone
Born Anna Voggi in Northern Italy and raised in France, Giovanna was invited into the surrealist movement in 1965 by its founder, André Breton, shortly before the last surrealist exhibition organized personally by him in Paris at the Galerie de l'OEil, "L'Ecart absolu." Giovanna met her husband, Jean-Michel Goutier, while studying acting in Paris in 1960. Together they created poetic performance pieces for local theaters until their live performance [End Page 517] of a series of surrealist texts in the context of the "Mardis de la poésie," organized by André Almuro, attracted Breton's attention, partly because Goutier included some parts of his "Discours aux étudiants fran-çais de l'université de Yale" in his "montage" Lignes deforce surréalistes. As a result, Breton sent them an enthusiastic letter of invitation to participate in the upcoming exhibition. In response, Giovanna and Goutier created a memorable if ephemeral performance in the apartment of Radovan and Marianne Ivsic of a version of the androgyne myth "La Carte absolue," in anagrammatic homage to the impending exhibition's title. The event involved Goutier, dressed as a large playing card of the sort inaugurated as a surrealist form during World War Two, bearing Giovanna, nude, on his shoulders representing a pale, embodied phallus-figure.
From live performance, Giovanna migrated to automatic drawing, inspired by the formal mechanical possibilities of the typewriter and published in the magazine Pilote, where she also worked. She moved to illustration rooted in the formal possibilities of the crossword puzzle for her contributions to the deluxe "livre-objet" version of her husband's French edition of Carlos Castaneda's The Teaching of Don Juan (1968) and L'Herbe du diable & la petite fumée (1972), translated by Marcel Khan, with the surrealist press Soleil Noir. Her images, subsequently transformed into a color slide projection show accompanied by music, were shown as a performance piece in the Galerie Delpire in 1974. It is no wonder that the poems that Giovanna came to write over the following decade are rooted in formal experiment, in wordplay linked to sound. Whereas the first surrealist automatic poems to be spoken and published out of the burgeoning movement by Robert Desnos in 1923 were built on visual as well as sonorous similarities, Giovanna's automatic poems are motivated primarily by sound. Desnos' "Rrose Sélavy" one-line poem "Les lois de nos désirs sont des dés sans loisir," for example, tricks the eye as well as the ear through visual as well as aural resemblances between the syllables mixed together on either side of the verb "to be" in the poem-equation, with the inherent sense behind the apparent nonsense only becoming evident on second thought. For Giovanna, the sounds dominate and generate the poem's words, as she signals with her foreword, "Avant-propos: Onomatopées onomatomatiques." Her neologism "onomatomatiques," blending onomatopeia with automatism, thus intentionally links her poems to the first mode of writing privileged by the surrealists in the movement's early days.
The poems are studded with literary and artistic references that stream out in phrases and stanzas bubbling with productive energy, from La [End Page 518] Rochefoucauld to Proust, Leonardo Da Vinci to Marcel Duchamp, William Blake to Frida Kahlo, Mozart to Lautréamont, Herman Melville to Bataille, Deleuze, and Guy Debord. As Jacqueline Chénieux-Gendron explains in her preface to the volume, "Giovanna, elle, manipule les syllabes et les laisse essaimer." The collection's first poem, "Voir Naples…," for example, plays with the clichéd advice "See Naples and die" by building simultaneously on the resemblance between the sound of the city's name and the name of France's emperor Napoleon, famous for his Italian conquests, and the Freudian link between death and eroticism: "—Voir Naples en pantalon et mourir...