Arcana Eco by Ataraxia (Ark Records)

In Italy 2003 I met Francesca Nicoli of Ataraxia, whose book-CD comprises a sumptuous array of photography, songs, journal entries, bio, lyrics & poems, with artists including journalist Ferruccio Filippi and photographer Livio Bedeschi unfurling a tapestry of interlinking threads like Calvino’s Tarot in A Castle of Crossed Destinies, complete with bookmark in a box smooth as pearl. They could be “Tides” turned to “silken boxes” given to mermaids (p.110). Francesca’s voice is distinctive, an acquired taste like bacchante expressionism of Diamanda Galas only more tender. Ataraxia’s style – musically, visually – is eclectic, from flamenco to whirling dervishes, pilgrim-knight nostalgia of Pre-Raphaelites, Parisian theatre opera and vaudeville/cabaret/Commedia dell’Arte with Venetian masks. Francesca’s travel journals seem reminiscent of Loreena McKennitt’s, yet more opaque… Francesca’s writing approaches poetry of Pessoa, Rilke, Lorca, Mandel’shtam or Vallejo. I say this with care. It’s not simply that her words are graceful or oblique. It’s the imagery – her “glass gardens” – that marks her as a poet. With aching contradiction, beauty’s fleeting nature might be immortality’s secret: “I still feel the emerald lymph of the thousand leaves I have swallowed / running through my veins. And I sing.” Such “ambrosia… feeds the soul and the dreams.” (p.132)