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      Un Momento with Valentino Assenza

       
      By
      Jun. 15, 2015

      Valentino AssenzaValentino Assenza is one of Toronto’s top poets and spoken word artists. He has been performing on the Toronto poetry scene for over two decades. His passionate reading and heart-felt performance style has left many audiences breathless. He is the author of four chapbooks and has had several pieces published in literary magazines across the country. Most recently, Valentino has become the newest host of HOWL, CIUT’s poetry radio show. Tune in to 89.5FM in Toronto every Tuesday night at 10:00PM for exciting interviews and news about the national writing scene.

      How did you become the newest host of CIUT HOWL?

      Last September 2014, the gentleman that was one of the installations and hosts of HOWL, Nik Beat, passed away. He was one of the founders of the show, first hosting with Stephen Humphrey then subsequently with Nancy Bullis. He hosted the show for just over 20 years. He was also my friend. We were neighbours, but we also saw each other frequently on the poetry scene, and it’s hard not to think of where I first started and not think of Nik as he had known me since I was 18 years old and was always a great supporter. Nancy handled the show for the remainder of the year, however, it was known that she would be looking for a co-host. I did show some mild interest at first, but then as Nik’s friends and the Toronto artist’s community got more and more behind me, it motivated me that much more to go for it. I honestly owe them, and Nancy Bullis, a huge thank you.

      What is your definition of slam or spoken word poetry?

      Slam in its literal definition is a live poetry competition whereby a poet has three minutes to perform their original work without props or costumes, and they are judged by five random people in the audience.  Spoken Word I am not sure has a definition, only that it’s written in one manner and then for the most part, memorized and performed as animated as possible on stage. However, I see many genres of poetry transcending their own poetry boundaries which makes spoken word’s definition so elastic.

      You have been part of the Toronto poetry scene for over two decades, how has it changed?

      I guess two of the biggest ways that it’s changed is that there are more poetry events, and that we are more aware of them. Before in the city from east to west there were a handful of series that maintained their own neighbourhood cliques in terms of regulars, and there wasn’t a heck of a lot of crossover to other series. I had my own clique in the east end. To make yourself aware of a poetry event you had to leaf through the back pages of NOW or what was Eye Magazine under their literary events, and it wasn’t always guaranteed they would be posted. Now with the Internet and social media being the norm, people are only too eager to share their events, and of course any poet with an urge to share their work really has their pick of where to go. On any given week there are now a slew of poetry events, of many styles to choose to attend. I think that is something that this city when it comes to arts and culture should be really proud of.

      You have had several chapbooks published. Do you write differently for the page than for the stage?

      Good question. I’ve always thought of myself as a page poet first and foremost. That’s where my roots are, and where my motivation was. When I was 18 years old at an open mic in the beaches, Norman Cristololi came up to me and asked if he could publish my poetry in his Labour Of Love magazine. I remember seeing my first poems published and thought that was really cool, and wanted to know how to keep doing that. Since then I have had poetry published in various other places like Descant Magazine, and still submit poetry to Labour Of Love as it feels like home. When I came across the slam scene, it was hard not to be seduced into writing poems that more often than not resonate with what an audience in slam would like, and I tried going that way for a short period of time, and simply found that I wasn’t being myself. So I still attended slams, but performed the poetry that came from me, it didn’t always resonate on the score sheet, but the audiences were always wonderfully responsive.

      What are your pre-performance rituals to get ready for a slam performance?

      I always like a certain amount of solitude before going to the venue. I normally arrive to a venue much earlier than I am supposed to. It helps me ground myself, relax, socialize with other people at the venue, which for me is always essential as my responsibility is to them, and go over the poetry that I am going to share. If I have the day off I like to go for a good breakfast, take a good nap, have a nice coffee or latte afterwards, and listen to some good music on the way to the show, again arriving early.

      What influence do you think your Italian Canadian background has had on your work?

      I think the influence is tremendous. Aside from the fact that I got to spend a lot of time in Sicily as my Dad lived there while I was a child and into my adolescence, just being around my family was foundation enough to be inspired to write. Many elders in my family are just natural storytellers. Sitting at the table and just hearing all kinds of anecdotes just always helped me know that life is alive, and has a lot of stories to tell so keep your eyes open. While one side of me sometimes is sad that my parents never stayed together and had to live in different places, another side of me has been quite fortunate and blessed to be exposed to these two different idealisms that very much helped shape the person I am and the passion that I follow to this day.

      What advice do you have for young poets and spoken word performers?

      I guess the only piece of advice I can offer is to be honest and fearless. Honest in the sense that you’re writing what you know, that you’re writing what you feel, and that when it hits the page it’s there with the most genuine tone you can muster through you. Fearless in the sense that once you’ve written it down, to not be afraid of it. Go to an open mic, share it. Poetry is community. I think the biggest foundation I have rested my motivation on is the people in my community that have supported me and who I have been inspired by. Open mic nights are great editing tools and great sources of inspiration.

      What are you working on now?

      For a few years now I have been working on a collection of poetry that is very much autobiographical as the poetry describes memories growing up between Toronto and Modica, Sicily. Not sure when it will be done, hopefully by the end of this year.

      One Response to “Un Momento with Valentino Assenza”

      1. tony occhipinti says:

        Proud to have a poeitic artist nephew in our family among mucicians like the occhipintis.