Poetic ferment in Liquid Modernity: LIPS – an interview with Dome Bulfaro

LIPS finals 2014, Festival “Poesia Presente” (promoted by “Mille Gru”), photo by Barbara Colombo
LIPS finals 2014, Festival “Poesia Presente” (promoted by “Mille Gru”), photo by Barbara Colombo

This article is a translation by Valentino Valitutti of the original Italian work “Fermenti poetici nell’era fluida: la LIPS – intervista a Dome Bulfaro” by Alessandro Ardigò and Arianna Sardella, published for RadiciDigitali on
July 30, 2017.

1. From “the Academy of Fists” to LIPS
‘The Academy of Fists” and Lombard Enlightenment in the Eighteenth century, Scapigliatura in the 1870s, and Futurism between the two world wars: every epoch shapes its typical meaningful way of expression.
Even now, in the first part of the 21st century, known as Liquid Modernity, we are witnesses of the upraising (or the maturity) of a cultural and poetic movement characterized by horizontal poetry and poetic performers. We are talking about LIPS, the Poetry Slam Italian League, and the Slam Family, that is a tendency able to move thousands of performers and poets, able to fill important spaces like Macao in Milan, and to conglomerate an apparently lost popular interest in the poetic verse.
All this happens while ‘mainstream’ critics are grimacing, pretending not to consider the movement as defined too ‘rap’, too ‘pop’, or too ‘performing’, and forgetting that our literature was born from rhymed tenson between two poets, addressing each other in a comic aggressive way: the duel between Dante Alighieri and Foreste Donati is just an example. It was certainly a training ground for our young maximum poet.
What LIPS has done so far is mainly the diffusion and promotion of the Poetry Slam all around Italy, creating ‘training grounds’ where the punching-poets can face each other through their verses and declamations.

The Poetry Slams are contests, born in USA and later exported also to Italy, in which the poets (the slammers) face each other reading aloud their verses. Then, they are judged by some people extracted at random among the public.
At the beginning, there was a strong reference to hip-hop and to rap, whose origins are linked to similar contests.
In order to better comprehend and to trace a critic orientation of the movement, RadiciDigitali.eu reports hereafter the interview with Dome Bulfaro, one of the founders of LIPS.

Dome Bulfaro – photo by Barbara Colombo (2014)
Dome Bulfaro – photo by Barbara Colombo (2014)

2. The interview with Dome Bulfaro

Alessandro Ardigò (AA): What is LIPS?

Dome Bulfaro (DB): LIPS is the Slam Family in Italy, it is an organization that generated a poetic movement, a poetry championship, and an association. Nevertheless, there is still much confusion about these aspects because of different reasons.

AA: Therefore, we will analyse even these aspects today. But first of all, what are the main ventures promoted by LIPS?

DB: LIPS organizes the National Poetry Slam Championship, created by the same movement, and it represents its clearest cultural action, even if it is not the only venture. LIPS promoted contests, it generated a deep network of communication, and it supported the circulation of national and international poets (including Marc Kelly Smith, the father of the slam in the world) thanks to the promotion of readings and shows. My own book, Guida liquida al poetry slam, was created thanks to the cultural environment inspired by LIPS. The movement has the merit to keep the performing poets away from their isolation, and to let them interact and improve in a daily mutual relationship.

Guida liquida al poetry slam, 2016 Agenzia X
Guida liquida al poetry slam, 2016 Agenzia X
AA: The subheading of your book is “The revenge of Poetry”. What is the poetic function LIPS takes charge of nowadays?

DB: The upraising of the national Slam Family let the Italian Poetry Slam go from a vertical phenomenon to a horizontal phenomenon; from few selected well-paid contests on invitation per year to more than two-hundred contests, mainly with free open invitation, all over Italy; from few participants chosen by the MC (Master of Ceremonies), to more than a thousand of performers thanks to LIPS.
Therefore, LIPS in Italy concretely realized in oral poetry what Miguel Algarin defined ‘the democratization of the verse’, a process activated by the economic boom after the second world war, as it is clear by reading the thousands of poems directed to literary contests. The poets of the second half of the Twentieth century reacted to this process of democratization in a fatherly overprotective way towards poetry, closing it in an ivory tower. The Poetry Slam freed poetry again with its pros and cons, even if the slam is not a panacea for poetry. The movement created by LIPS has to be carefully led, not to run into unpleasant collateral effects.
For what it may concern, I can state that I have always been on the front line from July7, 2013, to June 2016, the most delicate period because of the phenomenon of inclusive aggregation and the definition of regulation principles. Comparing LIPS to a car I could affirm that its founders made the car parts, assembled them, and tested them so that LIPS has become a perfect racing car.
In the first three years I gave my soul to LIPS, suffering from burnout for a year. If I had not been a common spectator with no organizational role, I would not have recovered from my problem and I would not have realized this interview.

AA: What are the main features of contemporary poetry, as emerged in the works of LIPS?

DB: I think I have already answered to this question about the Italian Slam in Guida liquida al poetry slam, a book every slammer (or maybe every poetry enthusiast in Italy) should read.
The poets of the Slam Family in LIPS are very different among themselves for their style, their knowledge, their national and international influence, in and out of the slam environment. This is a really complex issue, but the Slam cannot define a poet’s expressivity and incisiveness by itself. Figures like Rosaria Lo Russo (just to mention the most evident case) are in the forefront, it does not matter if they win or lose the contests.
Nevertheless, we can assure that LIPS has had an evident influence, even out of the Poetry Slam, not only in the performing preparation of the text, but also in the writing of the poems (even the ones not destined to be read aloud). From the performing point of view, what a poet learnt in ten years before the LIPS movement, he will now learn in a year of assiduous attendance.
In my opinion, every participant is a slammer that has the right to feel himself a poet on that occasion and for that public. But to be a real poet he has to undertake a long arduous way. A person can learn the art of poetry, but he will always be a poet, even if he does not attend the slam.
There are some deeply-rooted lacks in the most slammers: they do not study much, they read less poetry than they should do, they do not even know well what happened in the Italian Slam, they do not keep informed enough. Indeed, I had to go like a truffle hunter for days in order to write Guida liquida al poetry slam, even for the simplest information.
In conclusion, I notice the same lacks of the poets taking parts in written poetry. Too many are concentrated on their need for expression either on the paper or on the stage. Poetry and poets look and go beyond.

AA: On the other hand, what are the critiques of those who do not appreciate the poetical genre of the Slam?

DB: There are also lacks among the critics of the Slam. I will tell you some of these.
It could seem incredible, but there is a really complicated concept to understand among the critics: if communication is not directed to an elite but to a general wide public, and so poetry tends to be pop in most cases, it does not mean that neither high-quality research (not necessarily mass research) could exist in the popular expressive spectrum, nor pop poetry has to be considered less important. If there are not specious bias, we can understand and accept art poetical performances directed to a wide general public, as it happens in art industrial cinema.
Another big limit among the critics is the misunderstanding of the nature of the slam, that is the proposal of performing poetry. The poem is not necessarily conceived to be written on a paper. Those who critic a slam text, because it could not be ‘written on a paper’, talk completely foolish. It is like evaluating a movie by its script, not by its reception. There are perfectly written scripts that were badly filmed, whereas there are artistically independent directors, like Luis Buñuel and many others, that partially considered the script. What can we say? Can we state that authors like Buñuel are not directors just because their scripts were not canonical or were overturned on the set? The problem is that these critics have not already understood what is a text in performing poetry. They could neither decode nor analyse it. And they immediately hide behind the rigmarole of concepts like Cabaretism, Exhibitionism, Juvenilism.
Adopting a well-known quote by Allan Wolf, the matter is not the vote, the matter is that critics are often biased. They have not understood yet that the vote is a theatrical ingenious device. It is a trick. As a poem is not voted by critics but by a general public, even just for fun, ‘canonical’ poets seem to suffer from vote syndrome.
Even if they lack knowledge of the phenomenon in most cases, they begin assigning votes to everybody, including the slam world, like keen heralds. Many of them are like those, neither rich nor poor, who presume to explain both to poor and rich people what are poverty and wealth, and later close the discussion judging their public.

AA: What are the differences (if there are some) between the poets of LIPS and other contemporary poetical movements?

DB: After Futurism and Group 63, LIPS activated the greatest and the most profound change in contemporary Italian poetry. It has not generated poets yet, as the poets of LIPS, except for Francesca Gironi, operated also before its birth. But that is not the point, I suppose. First of all, the slam is an experience that enhance you once you are in it.
Lips created the premises for the upraising of performing poets, but primarily it gave them a training ground where they could improve quickly.
Tenors di Bitti told their public during a concert how they had learnt to sing like tenors not from a teacher but from people in Bitti, a small village in Sardinia with 6,000 inhabitants, 1,800 of whom sang as tenors, both amateurs and professionals, in every corner of their native place. They learnt how to sing simply by listening to others, like a child learns how to speak by hearing the voices in his environment. The slam is like Bitti: it is a common teacher. By creating a deep network of relationships and opportunities for personal improvement, LIPS permitted the creation of a sort of boxing training ground in the open, where you can learn from going on stage and looking at other slammers challenging in the ring.
A person can accept or deny the reality, however LIPS has changed the environment in which Italian contemporary poetry (not only oral poetry, in which the influence of LIPS is greatly decisive) has been taking shape and has been developing in the last four years. Notwithstanding, nobody can stop this movement of horizontal renewal. People should accept it, as everyone should come to terms with it sooner or later.

AA: Let us talk about the organizational perspective. You are a very big family, how have you organized?

DB: I will tell you everything about it. First, LIPS Slam Family engendered a cultural movement that covered the Italian boot. Later, it created a fundamental association for the realization of its goals.
The essential dates of the foundation of LIPS are three, corresponding with the creation of its three essential components: the real launch of the grouping process of the Slam Family on Sunday 7th July 2013; the official beginning of the first national championship of LIPS in September 2013; the regularization of LIPS as Association on 30th November 2013.
With no Slam Family, the cultural and poetical movement, of which the Association intends to be the promoter, would go on randomly, intermittently, with unravelling international threads, as it happened before 2013. With no Slam Family and slam movement, the Association would have no sense. First of all, LIPS is the Italian Slam Family, as demonstrated by its actions, even aside from the existence of a volunteering association (30th November 2013 – March 2016) and a cultural association (from 12th May 2017 onwards) related to it. As I wrote in Guida liquida al poetry slam, published by Agenzia X in 2016:

Sunday 7th July 2013. I, Sandron, and Danieli met at Christian Sanicco’s house in Aviano (Pordenone), to have launch together and to go on a bender. The wine is a good counsellor: we tried again to create an Italian slam federation. Ponte and Garau were immediately contacted by phone. Sinicco, Bulfaro, and Ponte believed in and guided the construction of LIPS. They have the merit to create LIPS in an inclusive progressive shared process, under Lello Voce’s supervision and with Sergio Garau’s contribution. However, the protagonists (beginning with Giacomo Sandron, Matteo Danieli, and Alessandra Racca) have been composing a list every week longer, following the slam law of inclusiveness. Among the main figures, there are also news conscripts like ScartyDoc and Nicolas Cunial, who invented our acronym.

AA: Therefore, why did you decide to create an association, too?

DB: This last component does not have only the role of institutional recognition, but it also induced the numerous complex Italian Slam Family to adopt a democratic posture. This third step determined the handover between the three founders and main organizers (Sinocco-Bulfaro-Ponte) and the Slam Family itself. From that moment onwards the guides of LIPS have always performed their duties following the Slam Family’s unanimous or majority decisions. It has been a hard, exciting, and exhausting practice of democracy, that let the group develop and become one of the strongest and best organized world Slam Families.
The negative year in which an association did not exist, because of the passage from a volunteering association to a cultural one, clarified better that LIPS does not depend on an institutional body. Nevertheless, the existence of an association permits a wider and deeper cultural action.
The creation of an association engendered misunderstanding about the real founders of LIPS. Besides the institutional roles performed, from 30th November onwards the Slam Family has been guiding the movement. I and Sinicco are certainly at a high-level position, but we are properly subjected to the Family’s democratic decisions. On the other hand, Ponte had a main role just at the beginning of LIPS, then he gradually diminished his position until his disappear in May 2014, when he created a new championship with Bruno Rullo. Ponte’s role reminds me of Aroldo Bonzagni’s one in Futurism: he signed first the Futurist painting manifesto, but later he embraced so little the movement that nobody mentions him nowadays, not even as a signatory. I would not say this so far, but his role has certainly to be scaled down.

AA: Can we reveal “some names”? Besides the founders, who contributed to the creation of LIPS?

DB: We should mention dozens and dozens of names among hundreds of people who formed or still form this Slam Family.

Surely, besides the yet mentioned participants like Sinicco, Garau, Voce, Curial, ScartyDOC, Racca, Sandron, we should promote figures like Massimo Mirabile, Luigi Socci, Silvia Parma, Andrea Bitonto, Franco Fittipaldi, Pippo Balestra, and Marco Borroni, the most active in building and directing the resounding motors of our racing car, that is LIPS. Furthermore, the most distinguished poets in the last years are Simone Savogin, Paolo Agrati, and Francesca Gironi. Paolo Agrati has also had an organizational role this year. On the other hand, Lello Voce, the Italian “father of slam” and honorary president of LIPS association, has always had a decisive role in the Slam Family since 30th November, acting like supervisor, inspiration, and activist. Besides, Elena Gerasi has carried on a fundamental organizational project nationally, both before and after the creation of the association, in the last three years.
The other great name to put together with Sinicco, Voce, and myself, is certainly Sergio Garau, current guide of Slam Family and President in office of the new association, who has always been helped by the trustworthy Giocanni Salis, both in Sardinia at the beginning and in the whole nation nowadays. After Voce, Garau is the symbol of the Italian slam: LIPS could not have a better man as its leader. He is the most long-lived author of the Italian slam, beginning as a member of the historic organization Sparajurij in 2002 and acting independently later. He was the only renowned slammer even internationally before LIPS created premises to offer the possibility of international resonance also to Savogin, Agrati, and others.

Sergio Garau, attuale presidente della LIPS (foto di Bohdan Piasecki)
Sergio Garau, current president of LIPS (photo by Bohdan Piasecki)

Analysing the situation in each Italian region, we can underline that there are many people who dedicated and have been dedicating their efforts to the development of the movement in these first four years: from the Turinese contest “Atti Impuri” and the organizations “Zoo Palco” (in Bologna), “PSA” (in the Abruzzi), and “I Mitilanti” (in La Spezia), to all the coordinators and vices that have been succeeding in LIPS from 2013 onwards. Lombardy deserves a particular recognition for being the driving force of the slam movement in Italy since the creation of LIPS: the cultural impulse generated by “Mille Gru” (the right-hand association of LIPS) in Monza, “Arci Fuorirotta” in Treviglio (BG), “Abrigliasciolta” in Varese, “Bloom” in Mezzago (MB), and “Macao” in Milan (just to mention the most significant organizations), has given renovated energy for development and research.
Finally, we can affirm that LIPS has tried immediately to be something more than a Slam Family. The grouping process was encouraged both by the will to confederate all the most important scenes and the figures in the Italian slam in a unique championship, and the intention to involve all the people motivated to give life to a movement of poetical renewal, not necessarily linked to orality.

Marc Kelly Smith, ideatore dello slam mondiale, durante le finali LIPS 2014 Festival PoesiaPresente (a cura di Mille Gru), foto Barbara Colombo
Marc Kelly Smith, world slam’s creator, during LIPS finals in 2014, Festival “Poesia Presente” (promoted by “Mille Gru”), photo by Barbara Colombo
La giuria mentre si appresta ad assegnare una voto a una poesia - Finali LIPS 2014, Festival PoesiaPresente (a cura di Mille Gru), foto Barbara Colombo
The jury while giving a poem a vote – LIPS finals in 2014, Festival “Poesia Presente” (promoted by “Mille Gru”), photo by Barbara Colombo


Recommended Bibliography

  • D. Bulfaro, Guida liquida al poetry slam, Agenzia X, 2016
  • AA. VV., Slam – Antologia europea, Maledizioni, 2007
  • M. Borroni (curated by), Incastrimetrici, Arcipelago edizioni, 2009 (vol. I), 2009 (vol. II), 2013 (vol. III)

Autori: Arianna Sardella, Alessandro Ardigò

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