A Surreal Voyage Into Verse History: A Review of Marc Zegans’s “La Commedia Sotterranea della Macchina da Scrivere”

Like an archeologist unearthing the Dead Sea Scrolls, you must dive into poet and spoken word artist Marc Zegans’s latest volume with a combination of excitement, curiosity and WTF-ness (because surely he can’t be serious and indeed he is not). Unlike some of Zegans’ earlier work—the magical love poems of The Book of Clouds, the gritty coming-of-age memories of Boys in the Woods and the often playful but sometimes brutal realities of romance in The Underwater TypewriterLa Commedia Sotterranea della Macchina da Scrivere (or, the Typewriter Underground, for those of us who don’t read Italian) is quite the hodgepodge of inventive genealogy, nonsense assembled in seriously well-executed poetic forms, literary in-jokes, and hilarious characters—the members of the Salon du Claques—with monikers like Prolixity Ferris and Glatt Ratner, worthy of a Restoration drama. “If you are confused, we are delighted, and vice versa,” says the brief volume’s participant, editor and trashcan-filching archivist, one Swizzle Felt, in the “Table of Fragments.” Prepare to be both.

Called by the publisher “a gathering of verse fragments and collages describing and illustrating the life of…a spontaneous sub-cultural phenomenon that appeared with near simultaneity in a variety of cities and smaller locales across the globe in the late 20th and early 21st Century,” there are times you will regard Zegans’ book of classically styled verse with more than a few “oh no he didn’t” moments, but more often with belly laughs and delight. At once a relative of Nabokov, Smollett, Sheridan, Mad Magazine and Monty Python, The Commedia (or Felt’s First Folio from The Typewriter Underground) is more than a literary experiment; it provides a glimpse into an imaginary literary salon/cavern that feels surprisingly real; one that has, in fact, grown into an aboveground cultural phenomenon even before publication, a word-of-mouth alt-art movement with dozens of public performances and spinoffs ranging from short films taken from the source material—see “Manicotti”—to public performances inspired by it, such as the Italian poet Livio Bruni reading his tribute to Zegans’ work in a cave-like trattoria in Tuscany

If you’re an academician, a historian, a lit major or an author, you’ll appreciate the knowledge and work that went into this whimsical epic. You’ll chortle at the insider humor as well, even while it is perhaps making fun of you, elite coastal culture vulture and book nerd that you are or long to be. But all who love language (as well as clever and quirky ink drawings and collages, provided as illustrations here by the artist Eric Edelman) are sure to relish the invitation to enter Zegans’ exclusive society of backroom cellar and tunnel poets, their writing chambers filled with unread chapbooks and crumpled drafts; to listen to the rhythm of their clandestine clacking key-strikes in the night. May this “first folio” of the Typewriter Underground not be the last.

***

La Commedia Sotterranea della Macchina da Scrivere: Swizzle Felt’s First Folio from the Typewriter Underground
by Marc Zegans; Illustrations by Eric Edelman
Pelekinesis Publishing Group; 76 p.

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