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Canada 150


      Un Momento with Len Gasparini

      Mar. 31, 2014

      Len GaspariniIf Pier Girogio Di Cicco is considered the “founding father” of Italian Canadian poetry, then Len Gasparini is its cool Zio. You know the zio that always has an amazing story to tell or the zio you and your cousins gravitate towards at the bar at the wedding reception? Gasparini is a prolific writer publishing several poetry collections, chapbooks and short fiction collections. He won the F. G. Bressani Award in 1990 and in 2010 won the NOW Open Poetry Stage Event. His writing is powerful, insightful and stays with you long after you’ve read him. His latest poetry collection, Mirror Image, melds poetry and prose in a smooth and masterful way. Watch Len defend his title at this year’s NOW Open Poetry Stage on April 3, 2014 at the Toronto Harbourfront Centre.

      You have been writing poetry and short stories for decades now. How was the literary scene in Canada when you first got started?

      When I began writing and publishing poetry and reviewing books in 1967, the Canadian literary scene, compared to now, was livelier, friendlier, and more fun. It was Canada’s centennial, after all. The economic climate was healthy. The zeitgeist was zappy. There was a hell of a lot going on: Vietnam, social protests, urban riots, psychedelia, hippie utopianism… you name it. Young people, university students especially, were intellectually aware, more literate, more engagé. Nowadays, high-tech gadgetry seems to have diluted personal relationships. Back then, writers seemed more well read; they exchanged ideas and learned from one another. Now it’s mostly business, media hype, networking, and schmoozing.

      What is your writing process like? Do you write everyday or when the spirit moves you?

      When I’m writing prose I usually try to write 300 to 500 words a day, every day. With poetry, the rhythm or process is different. You can’t force poetry. You must be receptive to its signals: an image, a certain tone, a metaphor. In that sense, poetry is more like a blessed trance. When I’m really underway on a poem, I need tobacco, coffee, sometimes a toke or two of cannabis (to think metaphorically), and classical music in the background.

      Does your cultural background still play a role in your writing?

      Yes, to a certain extent, my cultural or Italian background partly informs my writing. I would be lying if I said it didn’t. Because I was born in Windsor, Ontario – a border city, I grew up on American pop culture: rock-and-roll, cars, the Beat generation. When I was a young man, Elvis Presley, James Dean, and Jack Kerouac were my models.

      A few years ago you won the Harbourfront Now Magazine Poetry Contest. You beat all the other young and hip poets of the day. What is it about your writing that can still have the power to be relevant?

      Yes, in 2010 I was the winner of the NOW Open Poetry stage event. Any relevance that my poetry has could perhaps be attributed to the life I’ve lived and the things I’ve experienced. I’ve worked at various jobs: truck driver, door-to-door salesman, factory laborer, newspaper journalist, part time teacher. I left school at 17. I was a semi-pro baseball pitcher. I was in the U.S. Navy. I’ve been in jail. I’ve traveled all over Canada and the U.S. I’ve lived in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, New Orleans, and Seattle. Suffice it to say that I’ve marched to the beat of my own drummer.

      Len Gasparini Mirror ImageThis is your first book of poetry in a while, how does it compare to your other work?

      Yes, my new book Mirror Image is the first small collection of poetry since The Broken World, which was published in 2005. My idea for the book’s title was that the mirror is the imitation of life. What is interesting about a mirror is that it does not show you yourself as you are, it shows you your opposite. I suppose there’s a lot of ironic nostalgia in this book.

      What are you working on now?

      About a year ago I began writing informal literary essays at a leisurely pace. I’ve completed five of them, so far. A few of the essays will be autobiographical. I’m having fun doing this.

      What advice do you have for young writers starting out today?

      My only advice for young writers starting out today is this: If writing is the most important thing in your life, pursue it with all your might. Read omnivorously. Acquaint yourself with the natural world. Experience life to the fullest – the highs and lows, the ups and downs. Toughness is the greatest blessing a writer can have – the ability to be hard on him/herself and on his/her work. Don’t lose sight of the cold and egotistical element in your mission. The things of the mind are irreversible; they go right along their road to the end, right to the end of the night. Formulate your principles without regard for anything else, because there will be nothing left of you but your words when this epoch comes to an end. What you don’t say will not exist.

      To learn more about Len Gasparini’s work, visit

      One Response to “Un Momento with Len Gasparini”

      1. Caroline Morgan Di Giovanni says:

        Viva Gasparini! Your answer are very well put. I could hear your dark voice rumbling in the background as I read this interview. It is not a surprise that you captured the stage at the NOW contest in 2010. You have both stage presence and real substance in your poetry. Younger writers have much to learn from you.
        I’ll have to get the new book, and you’ll have to win the upcoming NOW competition.
        Ciao. Tante belle cose.