Guernica author Len Gasparini is the winner of the 2010 NOW Poetry Open Stage at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. Author of The Undertaker’s Wife, The Broken World: Poems 1967-1998, and A Demon in My View. He's also the author of two children's book; a non-fiction work, Erase me, and a one-act play.
CDB: Did you study poetry in school? When did you start writing poetry?
LG: No mentors. I learned on my own. I was a voracious reader. I read everything. I dropped out of school at seventeen and I was a pitcher because I wanted to be a baseball player. I first got published at twenty-six but I came into writing through the back door. You have to live it, experience it, relate to everything in order to write it. My literary influences were Dostoyevsky, Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Edgar Allan Poe, Rimbaud, and Baudelaire. Three people changed my life: Jack Kerouac, Elvis Presley, and James Dean.
CDB: I noticed you start the book with your poem titled The Photograph of my Grandfather Reading Dante and end the book with the poem Watching my Wife Make Passatelli. Did you want to begin and end with poems about your family? To me, it’s very symbolic. It seems as if you’re embracing everything but family always comes first and last. Is there a significance to it?
LG: Yes, it’s done on purpose. I start the book with the poem about my grandfather because he showed me how to hold a pencil. I had a beautiful childhood. My wife was Greek and she learned how to make passatelli so I wanted to end the book with what all begins with, life begins and ends with “la famiglia,” “la sangue” (Family, blood).
CDB: Is Self Portrait (1967) really a portrait of yourself at that time?
LG: Yes, more or less. I was married with two kids. That’s when I began writing seriously and publishing. I lived the way I wanted to live. I haven’t had a day job since 1982 because I’ve been seriously writing. If you love something passionately, you’ll do anything just to do this.
CDB: The Accident, a poem about an electrician who gets his finger jammed in a V-belt, was this about someone you knew?
LG: Yes. I worked with this guy in a factory that processed table salt. I had to call the foreman and tell him the V-belt was stuck. His finger got stuck and the guy passed out, blood was gushing like a fountain. He lost his finger. I worked there four years, the longest I’ve worked in a place.
CDB: Is your poem Nocturne a Haiku?
LG: Yes, it is. I was experimenting with Haikus. Actually, it was a experimental poem to try different forms.
CDB: There are fifty-one types of poetry. Which type do you write: Lyric, narrative, rhyme, romanticism, or sonnet?
LG: Mostly lyrical, free verse, blank verse, sonnets, haikus, and elegies.
CDB: Some common techniques used in poetry are onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, rhyming, simile and metaphor, do you still use them?
LG: I use everything. Dylan Thomas (Welsh poet) said ‘use whatever you can use to make a poem dramatic and entertaining’ that’s up to you whether you want to use foreign words, slang, metaphor, you name it.
CDB: Kafka’s Other Metamorphosis, is this a homage to Kafka? Is he your favorite author?
LG: No. It’s a take on him with black humor. It’s a pastiche. I turned it into a sexual thing.
CDB: Transvestite, is a strong poem that strikes a chord with the gay community. The poem is raw and descriptive. Is this a message to society?
LG: I wrote this poem as a fact, as I saw it. Yes, a message but objectively giving poetic image of reality. No propaganda, just reality.
CDB: Artist’s Model, is a very sexual poem, yet it's sensual, artistic, and evocative of a muse. In the last verse we could see this desire, “I could possess your essence by painting you; but heaven it would be to paint your essence in my mind while possessing you. Art has an alternative, too.” Are you talking about the duality of his creation? Can you elaborate?
LG: The artist has two lives; any artist who lives two lives is living in a kind of schizophrenia. He creates two things at once because it’s only imagination. It refers to his creation and not necessarily a woman. It’s symbolic like Pygmalion. It’s like creating the perfect partner.
CDB: When I read The Buffalo Nickel, I couldn’t help but to feel sad even though the adjectives you chose didn’t evoke sadness. In the last verse I noticed you misspelled two words, “Up the road was a gas station-diner he hunched toward it. A sign in the window said- We dont serv injuns.” Is this to show ignorance?
LG: Yes, the ignorance of whites. Back then you could buy a coffee with a nickel so my father suggested I should write a poem about it. The poem shows the irony of how the land once belonged to the natives. To answer your previous comment and you can quote me on this, “The secret to poetry is to create sensation not emotion because sensation is more subtle, more physical.” Poetry is words resounding words and that’s how you create rhythm.
CDB: I noticed you wrote three poems about Pelee Island. Is there a personal reason behind it?
LG: Yes, there is. I wrote those poems because I want to be with nature. I want to wake up in the morning and hear birds. By being close to nature, we’re in contact with our lives. It’s a communion.
CDB: In the poem Words, you say, “The Bible, the Torah, the Koran- the vain anthropocentrism of man. So we need myths? Should these bones live? The computer runs algorithms but the psyche’s still primitive.” I find this poem to be very philosophical. Are you questioning life and/or religion? Or, are you just critiquing the slow evolution of man’s rationale?
LG: I’m questioning both. What I’m implying is that human evolution stopped at the neck. The psyche is primitive –what other creature does what we do to other humans?
CDB: La Puttana Maria, to me it’s a bit blasphemous. Was that your intention? Or are you using this woman as a metaphor for religion?
LG: The original title was La Puttana Madonna but an Italian woman, a writer I met, told me to change the title to Maria instead. People have different interpretations so what you do is your write your own.
CDB: Mr. Gasparini, it was a pleasure meeting you. I really appreciate the opportunity you gave me to interview you. I also want to thank you for the books you gave me. It was very thoughtful of you.
LG: The pleasure was mine.