Photo reportage #1: Forte Leone in Arsiè, Belluno

Photography is still today one of the main medium with relation to the story of the Great War. This post is first of a series that aims to gather small photo reportages (with a maximum of 8 pictures each) of peripheral or even unknown landmarks of the First World War. Professional and amateur photographers that are willing to share their images in a 100% First World War dedicated platform can write to this email address giving a small abstract of their work (place, country, main features, reasons of interest) and a zipped folder with the images in *.jpeg format in video resolution 72dpi (please in your email consent to World War I Bridges publishing your photos). It goes without saying that the long term purpose of this little digitale initiative is to crowd-source digital stuff to preserve the memory of the Great War and to channel the energies of professional or amateur photographers on this.

The following photo reportage about Forte Leone was kindly offered to World War I Bridges by Ugo Agnoletto. We warmly thank him for his gift.
This fort is located in Arsiè (Belluno). It was built between 1906 and 1912 as part of the so called defensive line "Brenta-Cismon" and armed as follows: 6 Armstrong 149/35, 6 pieces of 75/27 and 17 machine guns. Unarmed in 1916, it was defended by 242 members of the Italian alpine troops in 1917. After the battle of Caporetto, early November 1917, it was conquered by the Standschützen Meran and the Tiroler Landsturm corps. One year later, during the Austro-Hungarian retreat of November 1918, it was partially destroyed.

The poets and the World War: the Montello hill in "Passing to the Etching" by Andrea Zanzotto

Andrea Zanzotto (1921-2011)
and his cat
The Italian literary critic Andrea Cortelessa, in his important anthology of First World War Italian poets entitled Le notti chiare erano tutte un'alba (from a verse of Valmorbia by Eugenio Montale saying "The luminous nights were all a dawn"), first wrote about the "posthumous war", meaning the presence of the Great War in the poets who did not fight it. Andrea Zanzotto, probably the most important italian poet of the second half of the Twentieth century, was born in Pieve di Soligo in 1921, three years after the armistice. His village is located in a nice hill landscape on the left bank of the river Piave. It was an area of battles, occupied by the Austro-Hungarian army after the retreat of Caporetto, and is not far from the Montello, a wooded hill that together with the pivoting fulcrum of the whole front, the Monte Grappa, is saldly reknown for being a theatre of bloody battles. In his most meaningful and penetrating work of poetry, Il Galateo in Bosco, published sixty years after the end of the war, we experience the highest example of what Cortelessa meant with "posthumous war". This post is also a tribute to the poet who died only a few months ago, in October 2011, at the age of 90.


Rivolgersi agli ossari. Non occorre biglietto.
Rivolgersi ai cippi. Con il più disperato rispetto.
Rivolgersi alle osterie. Dove elementi paradisiaci aspettano.
Rivolgersi alle case. Dove l’infinitudine del desìo
(vedila ad ogni chiusa finestra) sta in affitto.

E la radura ha accettato più d’un frondoso colloquio
ormai, dove, ahi,
si esibì la più varia mostra dei sangui
il più mistico circo dei sangui. Oh quanti numeri, e rancio speciale. Urrah.
Vorrei bucarmi di ogni chimica rovina
per accogliere tutti, in anteprima,
nello specchio medicato d’infinitudini e desii
di quel circo i fermenti gli enzimi
dentro i succhi più sublimi dell’alba, dell’azione, in piena diana. E si va.
E si va per ossari. Essi attendono
gremiti di mortalità lievi ormai, quai gemme di primavera,
gremiti di bravura e di paura. A ruota libera, e si va.
Buoni, ossari – tante morti fuori del qualitativo divario
onde si sale a sicurezze di cippo,
fuori del gran bidone (e la patria bidonista,
che promette casetta e campicello
e non li diede mai, qui santità mendica, acquista).
Hanno come un fervore di fabbrica gli ossari.
Vi si ricevono ordini, ordinazioni eterne. Vi si smista.
All’asilo, certi pazzi-di-guerra, ancora vivi
allevano maiali; traffici con gli ossari.
Mi avete investito, lordato tutto, eternizzato tutto, un fiotto di sangue.
Arteria aperta il Piave, né calmo né placido
ma soltanto gaiamente sollecito oltre i beni i mali e simili
e tutto solletichìo di argenti, nei suoi intenti, a dismisura.
Padre e madre, in quel nume forse uniti
tra quell’incoercibile sanguinare
ed il verde e l’argenteizzare altrettanto incoercibili,
in quel grandore dove tutti i silenzi sono possibili
voi mi combinaste, sotto quelle caterve di
os-ossa, ben catalogate, nemmeno geroglifici, ostie
rivomitate ma come in un più alto, in un aldilà d’erbe e d’enzimi
erbosi assunte,
in un fuori-luogo che su me s’inclina e domina
un poco creandomi, facendomi assurgere a
Così che suono a parlamento
per le balbuzie e le più ardue rime,
quelle si addestrano e rincorrono a vicenda,
io mi avvicendo, vado per ossari, e cari stinchi e teschi
mi trascino dietro dolcissimamente, senza o con flauto magico
Sempre più con essi, dolcissimamente, nella brughiera
io mi avvicendo a me, tra pezzi di guerra sporgenti da terra,
si avvicenda un fiore a un cielo
dentro le primavere delle ossa in sfacelo,
si avvicenda un sì a un no, ma di poco
differenziati, nel fioco
negli steli esili di questa pioggia, da circo, da gioco.

(The following translation is taken from Selected Poetry and Prose of Andrea Zanzotto, Edited and Translated by Patrick Barron With Additional Translations by Ruth Feldman, Thomas J. Harrison, Brian Swann, John P. Welle, and Elizabeth A. Wilkins, 2009, University of Chicago Press.)


Apply to the ossuaries. No ticket is needed.
Apply to the headstones. With the most desperate respect.
Apply to the taverns. Where heavenly elements await.
Apply to the houses. Where the infinitude of desire
                                  (see it at every closed window) is for rent.

And the glade has accepted more than one leafy talk
by now, where, ah,
there is offered the most varied show of bloods
the most mystical circus of bloods. Oh how many, and a special mess.
I’d like to shoot up with every ruining chemical
so to receive them all, in preview,
in the medicated mirror of infinitudes and desires
of that circus the ferments the enzymes
inside the most sublime suckings of dawn, of the action, in full
   reveille. And off we go.
And off we go to the ossuaries. They await
overcrowded with mortality, lightened by now, almost springtime
overcrowded with bravura and fear. Freewheeling, and off we go.
Calm, ossuaries – so many dead outside the qualitative difference
                          Whence one rises to headstone safeties,
outside the great swindle (and swindler nation,
that promises a humble home and garden
and never grants them, here holiness begs, acquires).
The ossuaries have a factory-like fervor.
There one receives orders, eternal ordinations. There one is sorted.
At the asylum, certain war-crazed veterans still alive
raise pigs; trafficking with the ossuaries.
You knocked me down, dirtied all, eternalized all, in a gush of blood.
The Piave an open artery, neither calm nor placid
but only gaily solicitous beyond the good the bad and similar
               and all pricked with silvery glimmers, in its intents, out of
                   all proportions.
Father and mother, perhaps united in that numen
                  amidst that incoercible bleeding
                  the green and the glimmering equally incoercible,
in that grandeur where all silences are possible
you entangled me, under those heaps of
bo-bones, well catalogued, not even hieroglyphics, hosts
        revomited but now in a higher-up, in an other-world of
            assumed grasses
                                              and grassy enzymes,
                                 in an outer-place that leans over me and
                                 a bit creating me, making me rise up
So that                 I summon words
for stuttering and the hardes rhymes,
which train and pursue one another,
I take turns with myself, I wander through ossuaries, and dear
   shinbones and skulls
I drag myself along so gently, with or without magic flute
                       Always more with them, so gently, into the heath
I take turns with myself, amidst pieces of war protruding from the
a flower takes turns with a sky
inside the springtimes of the decomposing bones,
a yes takes turns with a no, but little
differenciated, in the faint
in the slender stems of this rain, of the circus, of the game.

The First World War in music: "Let England Shake" by P.J. Harvey

2011, Island/Universal

Anyone who knows P. J. Harvey won’t be surprised to follow in this new album the experimentation of such an eclectic artist. Anyone who is interested in WWI will probably be charmed by noting how even contemporary music – and in this case, even alternative rock music, if we need to use a label – does not neglect the topic and finds on the contrary source of inspiration in Great War. For sure, anyone who loves P. J. Harvey and is fascinated by WWI history will enjoy with her eighth studio album Let England Shake (Island Records, 2011) an unexpected combination of music and history.

It is not the case to tell here why and how P. J. started to work at this project in 2008 (hearing about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq) or to describe accurately the different songs, the instrumental experimentation (even a cavalry trumpet and an autoharp) and the lyrics. And it will be also not suitable, to remind how the album took shape – so the Artist – in researching on WWI history and in reading the poetry of T. S. Eliot and H. Pinter. We recall at least the short films which Seamus Murphy made for every track on the album (anyway, further details in PJ homepage), before focusing on the album and pointing out the ancient, suspended, even foggy atmosphere, on the one hand; the precise, finely inlaid design of the narration, on the other hand. It could seem contradictory, yet these two features go together and this is the key we suggest to approach this work.

The album talks about conflict, patriotism (not demagogic, but as positive love toward one’s own land), desperation, mutual support, death; references to England and to the Gallipoli campaign in particular are clear in the lyrics. Yet, roaming across centuries and places, there’s no fixed point of view, no rhetorical attitude towards the conflict, and even the WWI as historical setting of the narration, that runs through the different songs, gets sometimes lost in the fog. Following the rhythmical and lyrical fluctuation from track to track, even inside the same song (take for example All and Eveyone or On Battleship Hill) you may feel transported on the battlefield, somewhere, some when, advancing in the sand, no matter if on the Dardanelles frontline or on a more recent frontline.  From this point of view, the album creates a rarefied atmosphere which, starting from WWI, depicts the breathtaking and bloody experience of all wars. Yet Harvey’s skill in drawing and painting feelings and situations in rhythm and lyric remains and interweaves this suspended atmosphere: Each single song shows the ancient taste – which is a form of respect – in looking for the “right word”, the most suitable tone (in sounds, words and colors; yes, even colors) to describe the reality, the objectivity of the bodies and the places: physical sensations, fear and exhaustion, the cliffs of Dover, sounds, feet, the scent of Thyme, sand and wind, bones and blades of grass, blood. The suspended atmosphere does not collapse in rhetoric just because well-grounded on this marble triviality of experienced things, of unrepeatable moments and real feeling, on the intersection of voices and glances of those, who walked such days, who walked the Colour of the Earth.

We may talk about that still for a long time, without succeeding in giving a satisfactory description of what we mean. So, have a look to the lyrics and then just listen to this album.

World War One posters. A project by Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

A queer poster saying
"Books wanted..."
We all have in mind the impact of posters in the collective thought of the last century. Some posters became icons. The influence and the relevance of posters were common to all countries and a deep study of these complex creations, pioneer mixture of visual and copywriting, is often the proper way to discover an unexpected nuance or maybe a slight difference between two countries/governments around the same theme of propaganda. So, there's more than one reason to be happy with what the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division did, making available online approximately two thousand posters created between 1914 and 1920. The most are related to the Great War, but you will find also a cospicuous part of German posters dating from the post-war years (and we know what those years meant for the German population, they all knew already from 1919, from The Economic Consequences of the Peace by J.M. Keynes). The digitalization encopasses posters from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and Russia and the collection is constantly growing.

The time and space of the Great War. Some notes on Stephen Kern's book "The culture of time and space, 1880-1918"

We stated that the military equipment was not on the top of our minds when we launched this web adventure called WWI Bridges. If that was and is true, we should step by step indicate what moves and motivates us towards the Great War, without running the tremendous risk of intellectualizing a tragedy (unfortunately not so infrequent, even in the publishing industry or in the above suspicion academic environment). For sure the First World War was a kind of historical "crest" of the modern times. And it was a crest also in the conception of time and space, a turning point, no way back. Sometimes we should go beyond the titles of the books. Take for example The Culture of Space and Time, 1880-1918, published nearly thirty years ago, in 1983. It’s not a book fully dedicated to the First World War, even if the period mentioned in the title is pretty meaningful, but inside this book you will probably discover one of the most memorable analyses of space and time of that Europe sinked in the trenches. The pages dynamically resolve through a careful meditation that goes back and forth between the technological changes and the new culture embracing the last two decades of the Nineteenth century up to the end of the Great War. Kern keeps a constant cross-reference to the notions of form, distance, limit. In this frame, we can read the thirty page chapter dedicated to the crisis of July 1914 and to the subsequent outbreak of the war. What is really impressing in Kern’s prose is the contrast between the exact, precise time of diplomacy, ultimatum and of the attacks (all watches were synchronized to guarantee the simultaneous assault of the troops) and the “remaining” time of wait and inactivity. The time of diplomacy on one side and the time (and space) of the trenches on the other. It was a kind explosive mixture, among many others. All is condensed in that final image of the chapter: a continent - Europe- moving towards the war at a ragtime rhythm. The final chapter, The Cubist War, is the natural attempt to close his analysis, in a square bounded by space, time, speed/slowness and technologies.