First Book Poets in Conversation:
Marc Di Saverio & Julie Cameron Gray

Marc di Saverio hails from Hamilton, Ontario. His poetry and translations have appeared in such outfits as The Dalhousie Review, Modern Haiku, Haiku Scotland, and Maisonneuve Magazine. Simply Haiku named him one of "the top ten world's finest living English language haiku poets for the year 2011." In September 2013, his debut collection, Sanatorium Songs, was published with Palimpsest Press, to critical acclaim. His long poem, The Love Song of Crito Di Volta, will be appearing in October of 2014 with Frog Hollow Press. He is currently translating The Collected Poems of Emile Nelligan.
Julie Cameron Gray is originally from Sudbury, Ontario. She is the author of Tangle (Tightrope Books, 2013), and has previously published in The Fiddlehead, Prairie Fire, Event, and in Best Canadian Poetry 2011(Tightrope Books, 2011). She currently lives in Toronto.

Julie Cameron Gray: My first exposure to your poetry was all auditory— I was at the launch for your 2010 chapbook, and was blown away by the energy and the urgency of your words. Listening to you read your work is a bit like being hit in the head with a pool noodle— you're not hurt, but you're definitely stunned. Reading your chapbook then (and now reading your finished first book of the same name), it was wonderful to discover that all that passion was not purely delivery— your words are frenetic, but structured. Is that something you set out to achieve from the outset? Form to balance the wilderness? Talk me through how you write a poem, start to finish.
Marc di Saverio: Julie, let me first say I am honored to be doing this e-talk with you for Boxcar Poetry Review. I think the reason why I started taking poetry seriously is that I found the majority of contemporary poets did not have either form or wilderness to balance. I did not like reading the poetry journals, and I found poetry readings heinously boring and pointless — and I believed in my teenaged head that I could do better, since I naturally inhabited the wilderness and at least some ability to structure this wilderness. As a neophyte I was all wilderness and no form. I simply let loose all my passions onto the page, and delivered the poetry as violently and abruptly as I had written it, which usually resulted in the audience's shock, which, at that time, was something I was proud of, since the last thing I had ever seen a contemporary poet do is shock the audience. For years I continued the method of writing and reciting and it made me happy, but, eventually, I discovered Ezra Pound, Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, poets who were extremely fervent, even explosive, but who were able to structure their thoughts and feelings into long lines that repeated at a word or phrase at the beginning of each line, as a pivot-point. For instance, in Ginsberg's "Howl," the poet's pivot word is "who":

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the
    supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
    contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels
    staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas
    and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on
    the windows of the skull…
If you look to my poem "Orphaestus," the pivot phrase is "Go, my songs":

Go, my songs, go whisperingly singing to the silken souls of those who are
    hunch-backed in media.
Go, my songs, bitch in the voice of my brothers, sing in that of my fathers…
In addition to the long line, I learned to structure my inner wilderness into sonnets, haiku, villanelles, and other forms. You ask me to take you through a poem, start to finish. I find my manic-depression somewhat dictates how a poem will be written. Usually, in manic states, I am overcome with inner wilderness, and I essentially explode onto the page, often a filthy, incoherent mess. I leave this mess alone until I am calm enough to rationally formalize or structuralize my raw manic material. I find that when I am depressed my inner wilderness is underwhelming, and I feel a constipation of my passions, which is very upsetting. Usually I will refrain from writing when depressed, or I will write much more intellectual pieces, sans passion, in very tight stanzas, to the point of outright formalism, or I will attempt to write with the long line, which almost always fails. Usually, my best work is written when I am in a "stable" mood, for, I am able to compose wildly and formally at once, as one process, with usually little editing. These may not be my most intense works, but they are usually my best...How about you Julie, can you speak a little about poetry on the page versus poetry on the stage? Which poems from Tangle do you especially enjoy reciting and why? Personally, I would think that "In Response to 'What's New'" would be killer live. Could you tell me, also, what some of your writing rituals are?
JCG: So your process makes best use of your brain's own chemical martini, acting out Hemingway's oft-quote ''write drunk, edit sober'. I often start with an image or a title— several poems in Tangle started off with their titles, such as "Widow Fantasies," "There Are No Pretty Girls Here," and "Reasons Why You are Not Good Enough" for example. And those are often the ones I most enjoy reciting at a reading, because they are really upfront with the discomfort they create, which works well in an auditory capacity. The ones I most enjoy reciting are often darkly humorous and barbed, but really it's because the reactions are a bit more obvious when you're at the mic. Some poems sing better on the page, you can see their relationship to other lines and words better. "In Response to 'What's New?'" is a poem I enjoy reciting, but I feel that it is stronger on the page- there is a quietness to it, a solitary sort of intimacy that is best shared between the poem and the reader. This poem came to me almost entirely in one moment, which is like the experience you mentioned, where you were really inside the lines at just right frequency and required very little editing afterwards. And other times it's hard work, I'm slogging it out at the computer, trying to play around with images and lines to find something that sparks. But those aren't wasted hours, because often I'll find something that does spark, and then I go from there. Your poems have a lot of strong romantic qualities to them, and I think readers who enjoy classics from Rimbaud and Blake will get a lot out of your work. In your reaching back to previous poetic traditions, you've embraced some translations. How did you choose the pieces/writers that you wanted to translate? In particular, your strikingly fresh translation of Sleeper in the Valley. There are loads of Rimbaud translations out there, but you wanted to bring something new to the table. Let's face it, there is an audacity to that. What made you want to approach this?
MdS: I started translating poetry because I thought that I could do a better job than the translators of the poets I loved. I thought that some of my favorite poets, like Emile Nelligan, had never been translated into English with dignity, skill. or novelty, but rather, had been butchered. The translators were not bad at conveying the meaning of the poems, but not the quality of poetry, not, surely, the greatness of the originals.

I translate author's whose poems I would like to improve upon. I go in translating every poem with the aspiration of creating a translation better than the original. This happens sometimes; it gets me high.

I translate when I get writer's block.

I translate because my father is a linguist and language teacher, and translating poetry unites us. My father helps me authenticate and greaten everything I translate.

I translate because it's fun to recite the translations at poetry readings;

I translate because I become closer to my favourite poets in the translating process. I keep them alive, and spread their work to new readers.

Julie, in Tangle, you write a lot about isolation, loneliness, intimacy at arm's length, the jagged edges of domesticity — and you do this with arrays of perspective and narrative originality. Could you discuss these themes and why they are important to you? Do you find yourself naturally writing about these themes, or is it more intentional? What drove you to write Tangle, and who do you consider your audience?
JCG: The themes of loneliness and isolation are all self-imposed, all the narrators are in situations of their own creation. It's such a common moment in everyone's life, at some point (or repetitively so), being lonely and liking it, reveling in it, keeping others at arm's length because you just don't want to deal with them right now; elements of self-sabotage. Which is another dimension of the sinister sort of domesticity you referred to. I am fascinated by that, because it's a big part of our privileged sort of 'first world' lives… we crave stability and security, yet when they become the norm, the urge to destabilize that becomes a quiet ticking in the back of the brain that you can't ignore. I think there is a longing for messy, tangled things— when we get comfortable and safe in our lives, We want to mess it up on some grand scale, or have it messed up for us so we can claim innocence. Tangle was the working title for this manuscript for years. I had an idea for this back in 2007, but it took me a while to get it together. I had thought I would write a title poem for Tangle, and somewhere in the deep recesses of an old computer I no longer use there is a draft of it, but it just wasn't right. Ultimately, I felt that the collection was meant to be about characters and narrators of varying degrees of reliability telling a bit of their story, and sometimes the narrators aren't even people, as in the Saffron Cycle of poems. I originally planned on naming the sections of the book, one of which would have been called "People You Already Know," but so many of the poems fit into that section it would have been unbalanced. As for audience, I suppose my ideal reader is someone who enjoys subtlety, who likes a poem carrying concealed weapons. A reader who, if absolutely needing to murder someone, would seriously consider slowly poisoning them. Or at least cutting their brakes.

You mentioned about the Ginsberg influence of "Howl" on your lush, manic cycle poem, "Orphaestus." I think I remember you introducing this poem at a reading, citing that the title is the name of a Greek hero of your own invention, based on Orpheus and Hephaestus. So you've got "Howl," and you've got Greek Hero mash up, and you've got this poem with lines that drive like the tide. As a reader, I feel like it's one of the pieces in the book that allows you to feel the sort of manic anxiety, yet as a minor hero. Tell me about writing that piece, and how the title/narrator concept is intended to function here, and about this reoccurring theme.
MdS: I think the poem has less to do with manic anxiety and more to do with the feeling of grandiosity that comes with mania (but don't get me wrong, I realize that there is anxiety in the poem). When experiencing mania, a bipolar often feels like a hero, so the "Greek hero mash-up" came to the poem quite naturally. The Greek hero, Orpheus was a musician, poet, and prophet much like the speaker, and Hephaestus, son of Zeus and Hera, was the only god who was deformed. In one Greek legend, he was cast out of Olympus for his disability. Orphaestus, a combination of the two heroes, is both the poet-prophet and the outsider who falls from grace, just like someone who is experiencing mania. The illness and its experiences both handicap the hero yet also are what create the abilities of the hero. Without the mania, the hero ceases to be a prophet singing his songs, yet his mania also figuratively cripples him.

Tell me about your sequence, Saffron: Five Poems. I'm interested in how both saffron and the crocus images in these poems pick up multiple meanings and identities as the sequence progresses, and the use of colour, while strong in the whole collection, is especially strong in this cycle.
JCG: I didn't intend to write so many poems about saffron, but there was something about the subject that really struck me— like so many spices, it had a fascinating and violent history; there was a lot to explore. The poems were really fun to write in that each one was a challenge to describe saffron in different ways without repeating images and while adding another layer or dimension to the subject. I can remember spending days on just brainstorming different ways to describe the colour; my favourite probably being from "The Crocus Dreams of the Lake District":

My red threads are the hair of a Titian
beauty queen, an armful of tiger lilies
put through a shredder
The cycle begins with the modern day gathering of saffron, moves to the historical medicinal uses and some of the colourful history, then to Germany in the 1300s at the execution of someone caught selling fake saffron, and then transitioning to the personification of saffron, as in "The Crocus Dreams of the Lake District," and "The Crocus as Lewis Carroll." As for the use of colour, here and in the whole collection, I admit to being obsessed. Perhaps because when I read poems, I find the use of colour so symbolic on a multitude of levels, which has been true since poetry began— Ancient Greeks and Romans believed colour had the power to cure illnesses. Virgil used over 500 words for colour in "The Aeneid." I think he was on to something.

How do you feel about modern Canadian poetry, and how your work fits into it? What do you feel is the current climate for new and emerging poets in Canada, and how do you see Sanatorium Songs in relation to it?
MdS: A few of my peers are producing great work, but I think that for the most part — and perhaps this is true of poetry from all ages — the poetry is broken prose. Poems these days don't have lasting power, because they lack musicality, imagination, beauty, direction, vision, charisma, warmth, passion and purpose. Poetry should delight and enlighten; poets, for the most part, are doing neither. Like, most of the poets we now consider great, through the lenses of postmodernism, are in fact poetasters who will not be considered worthy of readers in 10 or 20 years; this is largely because most poets date themselves continually, with their fashionably banal poems about microwaves and diapers and every day stuff that nobody cares about- and they do not realize that, despite their skill, following postmodernist ways will only exclude them from influence and immortality. Postmodernism is a murrain! I would advise young poets to entirely IGNORE postmodernist poetry, or be forewarned to take it with a grain. Basically, I despise postmodernism and I want to see it destroyed. The new, young poets are looking for idols and coming up with very few that are still living. Regarding Sanatorium Songs, I address my influences within my work (mainly Modernists) not caring who is currently popular — but I am not afraid to be contemporary in my subject matter. I hope that this will inspire new poets who are writing to feel they don't have to write atonal, banal poetry, emotionally removed, and worst of all, ugly. I want the young poets to feel that they can talk about things that are important to them, that they can become charismatically vulnerable in their work and more powerful for it, that they can write the century's manifestos without feeling like they are going to be mocked for trying to "make it new."

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761