Michael Mirolla is a powerhouse writer. He works in numerous genres that masterfully breakthrough any preconceived notions of culture, identity and craft. Finishing one of his novels or collections of poetry is like downing a shot of old grappa lost and then found in the back of your uncle’s cantina. It stays with you for a while and leaves you wanting more. His latest work is no exception. The House on 14th Avenue is a collection of powerful poems that work so well on so many many levels.
You write short stories, novels, novellas and poetry. How do you do it? Walk us through some of your writing process or habits of writing.
I’ve been asked this question many times and I still haven’t come up with an answer that can help others. Unlike some writers, I can get into it at the drop of a hat. I don’t need to wind down from my other tasks. I don’t need a special time of day. Or a special room. I don’t practice meditation to get into the mood. I write when the urge comes on. These days, it so happens that I do most of my own writing after midnight. Deciding what to write or the genre to pursue for a particular form of writing – it seems instinctive. I “know” whether something will be a novel, short story, poem or play. Most of the time, at least. Sometimes a short story will evolve into a novella. For me, what’s more important is maintaining some sort of thematic unity among all the forms that I employ.
The House on 14th Avenue feels so deeply personal, was it difficult to write?
I started to write The House just as my father was winding down. And I finished it not long after he passed away. It was difficult to write but perhaps not in the way one would automatically think. Because it was so deeply personal (on one level), I found it difficult to maintain the necessary objectivity to be able to look at the poems and determine whether they actually worked. In other words, there tended to be too much emotional flow, the type of so-called poetic gush that I’m typically against. The other painful part was more typical: trying to balance the “truth” with one’s feelings for one’s parents; trying to present the relationship without turning it into an exercise in sentimentality or an attempt to “get even.”
In this collection, there is often an experimental play with language and an avoidance of over sentimentalizing the subject matter. Do you think this is important for this kind of personal poetry?
I think I’ve touched on some of this as part of the last question. I think the avoidance of over-sentimentalizing is important in any kind of poetry. We must remember as poets that we are reaching for some type of universality, that our words must be underpinned by more than just some form of encomium or elegy. As for the experimentation, in the end, words are the building blocks and playing around with those blocks is a good way to uncover new depths, new meanings, new ways of looking at the world. The final part of the equation for me is to be able to anchor the poetry in what has already gone by, what has already been done. Too often these days, writers tend to re-invent the wheel because they are not aware enough of what has already been done. It’s like being a portrait painter after having been exposed to Picasso.
There is a feeling of “trying to make sense of it all” in these pieces. Do you think, after writing these pieces, you have come closer to understanding?
Part of that thematic unity that I mentioned above has to do with “trying to make sense of it all.” Unfortunately, I have a background in philosophy so… when I write I have always certain themes peering over my shoulder and trying to direct me towards a certain path. These themes are (in no particular order): identity (what does it mean – individual, family, clan); how words connect to the objects of the world; how our consciousness interacts with that world. The ultimate one: do our words in some way create the world as we know it (keying on “as we know it”)? Have I come closer to understanding? Certainly not.
Your writing bends several genres from the traditional to the metaphysical and surreal. How do you think Italian Canadian culture influenced any of your writing?
Interestingly enough, a presentation I’ll be giving in Buffalo and Stony Brook, New York, has to do in part on how being a hybrid personality (an Italian-Canadian) has affected my writing and is reflected in the writing. I like to look at it as a foundational thing and compare it to a pasta sauce: you need certain ingredients to create a sauce. Those ingredients I liken to the fact I’m Italian-Canadian. There’s no escaping those ingredients. However, the actual creation of the sauce can take all kinds of directions – all the way to the metafictional (as in my latest hybrid short story collection-novel The Giulio Metaphysics III). In The House on 14th Avenue, the Italian-Canadian cultural artifacts are pretty much on the surface (the “Inventory” poems, for instance which list Italian goods). However, I try to link those cultural artifacts to other elements such as the Samnite culture and even Mater Kybele or the great Bear Goddess of the Anatolian regions.
You are also the Editor-In-Chief of Guernica Editions. Has this job been positive or negative for your own writing?
Both. Obviously, I have less time these days for my own writing and that’s a pain because I need to finish a novel. But there are a lot of positives. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people and made all sorts of contacts. It has also lured me out of that writer’s garret. Now I make myself available for readings, launches, presentations, etc.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel (tentative title: The Second Law of Thermodynamics) that includes a mountain top village sitting on a volcano about to blow, an hermaphroditic aunt who refuses to leave, a Toronto chemist who abandons his family for the sake of the above-mentioned aunt, and the cascade of events that take place because of his rash actions. I’m also working on a new collection of poetry, Cities of The Underworld, with poems set within tunnels and spaces of an underground city.