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Canada 150

 


      Un Momento with Antonio D’Alfonso

       
      By
      Apr. 5, 2016

      Antonio D'AlfonsoAntonio D’Alfonso is one of the most prolific writers in Canada today. He has written, translated and edited over forty books of poetry, prose and essays, as well as producing and directing several award winning films. His work delves deeply past our fixations with culture and the notions of who we are to expose our very humanity. He is a true 21st Century artist. In June, his creative contributions will be recognized by Athabasca University.

      This year you will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Athabasca in recognition of your outstanding contributions, as an editor, translator, publisher and creative artist. How do you feel about this?

      This is a special moment for me.
      To be offered such recognition
      is something one never expects.
      The surprise was total.

      “A man’s true delight,”
      Marcus Aurelius wrote,
      “is to do the things
      he was made for.”

      I dedicated fifty years
      in helping other writers and artists
      to express themselves
      through writing and art.

      It was a wonderful experience.
      I do not regret a single moment.
      Never easy to work
      with men and women who want to be erratic.

      But the books are there
      for all to read. It was never
      about me. It was about
      the discovery of a forbidden identity.

      Research is never a solitary event.
      We might all work in our rooms,
      but in the end it is the sharing
      our verdicts that determines quality.

      I was a facilitator.
      I would not have written much
      without having had the privilege
      of publishing other writers.

      To be acknowledged for my work
      means that somehow we
      all did something that
      is worthy of analysis and appreciation.

      In 1978 you started Guernica Editions and you were also the Co-founder of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers. What was it like at this time being a writer in Canada of Italian origins?

      I published my first book in 1973.
      It took five years before I started
      to publish other writers.
      I was not aware we were Italians.

      Out of five books, three were
      by Italian Canadians. Such a term
      did not exist back then.
      All I knew was that

      we scanned objects differently.
      Not because of our content,
      our forms were singular,
      therefore criticizable.

      It was not something obvious.
      In 2016 I did not feel this way,
      one acknowledges some writers
      are Italian Canadian.

      What seems to me important
      is the need to qualify what it is
      that Italian Canadians do.
      Essays do that. I love essays.

      Fiction can be copied.
      Contents can be copied.
      Images can be copied.
      Ideas on identity can’t.

      What is an Italian Canadian?
      The terms are not recognized
      legally. French Canadian
      and British Canadian are.

      So the job of the Italian Canadian
      is whether we like it or not
      a political question.
      Otherwise we become solely content.

      Is this what we want? To be a thing?
      Anyone can write about Italians.
      Anyone can write about Canadians.
      Few can create Italian Canadian forms.

      What these forms are
      is hard to define. Future generations
      will be able to delineate what forms
      Italian Canadians create today for themselves.

      We are like Plato’s prisoners
      in a cave looking at shadows.
      One day someone will designate
      the light behind these shadows.

      You have written over forty books and made several films, where does your work come from?

      My work has always been commissioned.
      I have rarely sat down to write poetry.
      Or essays. Or a novel. Or a translation.
      Everything I have written was commissioned.

      I have nothing to say.
      So many writers have written
      such great works. Who am I
      to even dare walk into that citadel?

      Writing is a wager. A bet
      on something that is not necessary.
      It must not become an obsession.
      Illness brings about illness.

      The writer is someone who
      asks questions, but does not give
      answers. Writing is a question
      asked to the reader.

      How do you think your Italian Canadian culture influences your work now?

      Does a fish know it swims in water?
      A fish does not know it is a fish.
      A fish does not know it swims.
      A fish does not know what water is.

      The moment the fish acts like a duck
      something suddenly happens.
      Everything that was taken for granted
      becomes one hell of a turmoil.

      It was only when I met Italic writers
      from Germany and the USA
      that a bulb lit up. The settings
      became clearer, the play understandable.

      Bringing back this information
      to the place I lived was an essential moment.
      I needed to open my handkerchief
      and show off my rocks of gold.

      Not everyone likes gold.
      Some prefer silver.
      Others enjoy diamonds.
      Those who like gold smile as I do.

      Name a writer or filmmaker who influenced your work the most and why?

      There are so many writers,
      there are so many photographers,
      there are so many filmmakers
      that it would be foolish to name them.

      The people who changed my life
      are dead or alive. Their songs are in me.
      Their names I have mentioned in my writings.
      All the writers I published turned me into me.

      When you spend $10,000 a book
      you are proving your faith to the author.
      Multiply this amount by the books published
      and you will know the writers I love.

      500 books, 900 authors, 20,000 books
      in my library. Each line, each image,
      each word, each name has opened doors.
      It’s not about favoritism, but horizons.

      If someone wanted to start reading your work, where would you tell them to start?

      When you decide on a journey
      you chose a destination.
      If you go to Miami
      you do not bring your long-johns.

      Clearly, writing is a trip.
      But you never know where
      encounters will take you.
      You follow blindly the direction posts.

      At my age the shore has been reached.
      There will be some storms ahead,
      but the landing-place has been touched.
      I would say start with the end.

      By standing on this quay
      you will appreciate the voyage.
      ‘Isn’t it amazing, he wanted to go for a swim
      but ended up exploring the South Pole.’

      Everything I have done is a stepping-stone.
      I rebelled against borders,
      and noticed no custom guards.
      Specially when it comes to ethnicity.

      Once you read the essays you will
      enjoy the verse and stories I tried to write.
      I would have loved to be as linear
      as a Renaissance man, but am a Baroque.

      There is no straight line to the arrival point.
      A does not lead to B, but to Z.
      Being Italian outside Italy means
      to be a circumference for others, but not a circle.

      If a film was made of your life who would you choose to direct it?

      I have written about myself
      but I guess much has yet to be said.
      I would love John Cassavetes (real)
      and Jacques Tati (hyperreal) to direct my minute life-story.

      A woman with the humour of Charles Chaplin.
      A young director who captures the klutz
      that I am, in spite of my trying to be serious.
      A Woody Allen comedy on the dyslexia of life.

      Imagine the tragic persona
      who makes everyone laugh
      every time he insists on people crying.
      ‘Forgeet ‘bout eet, laugh, you cafon’.’

      What projects are you working on now?

      Memoirs. Two films. A reçit on fatherhood.
      I translate 1000 pages of poetry a year.
      I started to write a book on Guernica.
      Am collecting my poetry (all out of print).

      Reprinting my essays. Translating
      my last novel into English. Putting
      that trilogy on Fabrizio Notte in one book.
      Pretty much gathering the pieces together.

      Writing is about making sure
      what one did is organized.
      I donated my archives to McMaster University.
      Thousands and thousands of letters.

      I am working on an exhibition
      of over forty years of photography.
      People are waiting, but I’m lazy and broke.
      I have two poetry books on the go, but why?

      What advice do you have for young writers and filmmakers today?

      Education, education, education.
      Study, study, study.
      Question, question, question.
      Say you’re stupid, be stupid, and listen.

      Tell yourself like Octavio Paz,
      ‘Poetry is expressed in language,
      but it goes beyond language.’
      Learn other languages. Translate.

      Write about yourself and the Other.
      Not from the inside, but from the outside.
      Be a voyeur. Peep through keyholes.
      Be as radical as Pasolini, as fanciful as Cocteau.

      Take nothing for granted, principally yourself.
      Self is something that is fashioned, not borne.
      Look on the dusty selves of libraries.
      Read the books that people say are no good.

      Even the worst of poems teaches you
      how to be the best of yourself.
      Don’t be first in line. Stay in the back.
      You’ll have a better view of what is going on.

      Don’t emulate the people considered good.
      Only you know what is good for you.
      Be generous. Put the other first.
      You’re job is to do what you are here to do.

      If you don’t, you will regret so much.
      Imagine the fig tree that produces apples.
      What good is food that is offbeat?
      If you’re a tomato plant, don’t be a shrimp.

      8 Responses to “Un Momento with Antonio D’Alfonso”

      1. Congratulations Antonio… well deserved. Thank you for the service you have rendered to italian diasporic cultures.

        Gratefully and sincerely,

        Pasquale Verdicchio

      2. Joseph Pivato says:

        Felicitation Dr. D’Alfonso,

        It is always good to be recognized by ones peers since
        many of them understand the significance of your contributions
        to Canadian culture and the Italian-Canadian community.
        And we have some sense of the sacrifices that you made in support
        of many fellow writers.
        Mandi, — Joe and Emma Pivato

      3. Jean Antonin Billard says:

        Mon cher Antonio, je viens de lire cette entrevue où tu te révèles être un admirable maître à penser, ce qui justifie bien ton nouveau titre de Docteur honoraire! Nous nous connaissons depuis longtemps (déjà!), mais je regrette, quand je te lis, de ne pas te rencontrer plus souvent. Le temps file et nous éloigne malheureusement. Qu’à cela ne tienne, la pensée de ceux, celles et ce que nous avons aimés et aimons nous rapproche
        indissociablement. Salut bien!

        Jean Antonin

        • Antonio D'Alfonso says:

          Merci, Jean Antonin… Il faudra que nous nous voyions. Tentons de le faire cet été. Je passerai te voir chez toi. J’aimerais bien te revoir. Merci pour tes mots… Merci de tout mon coeur. Antonio

      4. Congratulazioni, Dottore.

        And so many wonderful lines — but with you, as always, the whole is much more than the part.

        Loredana Polezzi

      5. MARIA GILLAN says:

        Congratulations! This honor is so well deserved. love, maria

      6. Jason Trudeau says:

        Great job. What an honor for a man who dedicated his life to his craft and helping generations reach their goals and wake to their own dreams. So proud of you.