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Canada 150


      Un Momento with Luciano Iacobelli

      Jul. 8, 2016

      The Emu DialoguesLuciano Iacobelli is the King of Kensington of the Toronto poetry scene. He knows everyone and everyone either knows him, or wants to know him. He is a publisher, mentor and incredible poet. He constantly pushes the boundaries of his work, experimenting with the very notion of what poetry is and what poetry can be. He has published some of the top writers in the country either through LyricalMyrical Press, of which he is the founder, editor and designer, or through the press that he co-founded, Quattro Books. He is a very prolific writer. After seven poetry chapbooks and two full-length plays, his first book of powerful poetry, The Angel Notebook, was published. He followed with a profound book, The Book of Disorders, which pushes language through dysfunction thus creating a new poetics. His bilingual collection, Painting Circles, is full of tightly woven meditations on innocence, loss, faith and redemption. His latest book is a wonderfully absurd and inventive collaborative book of poetry written with Robert Marra and Jens Kohler, The Emu Dialogues. Also, this Fall his newest collection of philosophical poetry, The Examined Life, will be published by Guernica Editions.

      What are The Emu Dialogues?

      The Emu Dialogues is a collection of poems, dialogues and visual texts written by Jens Kohler, Robert Marra and myself.  Although there are many solo pieces in the book, the writing is mostly collaborative. The pieces were written over a ten-year period mostly over the Internet.  Many of the pieces were originally email correspondences just written for our own amusement, but many evolved into long, wacky monologues with strange and absurd narrative arcs.

      On the side, we also wrote collaborative poems and some solo pieces. My solo pieces were written specifically for the book.

      Who is Robert Marra?

      Robert was a dirty piece of vulva pink gum I picked up from the street, and decided to chew it. To my surprise the gum still had its flavour and it didn’t poison me. In the end, the thing I chewed was a great visual artist and underrated wordsmith who is a psychotherapist by vocation. In his early days he flirted with terrorism, and was a great follower of the subversive mouse Topo Giggio who often appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in the 60s. Topo Giggio was the gay, subversive answer to Mickey Mouse. A husband and father, Robert is blessed in every way, except for the fact that he lives in Mississauga.

      Who is Jens Kohler?

      Jens is a scandal that is never about to happen. His hush puppies and cardigans are ironic, he studied theology and consequently does not believe in God, but is convinced God believes in him. His favorite drink is Black Sambuca. He lives in L.A with his two sons Oscar and Simon. Jens is a poet, playwright, songwriter, singer and musician. He is also an actor, real estate agent, and fundraiser. He is a part time miracle installer, and occasionally he moonlights as a horny Gaboon Viper at the San Diego Zoo. I met Jens 28 years ago at Seed Alternative High School where he was a student, and although I was a teacher, he failed me and sent me to Summer School 3 years in a row, but despite that we became good friends and collaborators.

      The Emu DialoguesIs it difficult to write a collaborative book like this?

      Actually The Emu Dialogues was a joy to write, mainly because we had no clue we were writing a book. The book was an afterthought. There was so much inventive material. Why keep it to ourselves? Why not share it? On my part, I wanted to show others there was a part of my imagination that was wild, wacky and joyful, pretentious and irreverent. Most of my poetry is serious and somewhat dark, but that is only half of my voice, the other half is nutty. The book was a breeze to put together, there was just so much material to chose from.

      The difficulty came in the layout. The book’s design needed to reflect the wild nature of the content. We could not have a conventional look to the book, so we hired top notch book designer, Julie McNeill, who did a great job, but it took her a while to figure out what we were trying to do. She had never come across such a strange text, but she eventually got into it and came up with great visuals to accompany the work.

      Why did you decide to write this book?

      There was a never a decision to write the book, but the decision to assemble the book came from me. As a publisher, I had the ability and resources to make the book a reality. I guess in publishing the book, we were exposing people to a kind of writing one seldom encounters in the Canadian market, a kind of writing that is both challenging and fun with sprinklings of serious thought. We also wanted to expose the EMU tradition or movement, which has been around for 40 years at this point, to the world. Although EMU is an improvised spoken art, we thought we should leave behind a record of it.

      The book is so funny and entertaining. Was that your intent?

      Intent is an interesting issue when it comes to EMU. One can say EMU is intentionally unintentional, and I suppose what is funny and entertaining about the book are the accidents and pratfalls of meaning that EMU generates. At times the text is very ambidextrous, the words are both serious and funny at the same time. We have read the same sections to different audiences and the effect has varied, some of the audiences were in stitches, while some of the audiences considered the pieces serious and profound. The best writing goes both ways.

      How does someone become an EMUer?

      One becomes an EMUer by practicing it. One starts by speaking it, dialoguing with another EMUer. I would start with the Question: Why is an Orange and discuss.

      A typical Emu conversation can go like this…

      1-An orange is an egg turning left of white and confronting the colour of its own amusement.
      2-An Orange is the spherical turd an angel produces after 4 days of constipation.
      1-But Angels do not exist, and so oranges are the bowel movements of nothingness.
      2-And nothingness is the polenta of the Void.

      And so the discourse can continue ad infinitum, generally bad weather and bad marriage are what interrupt the conversation.

      What is your next book of poetry, The Examined Life, about? When is it coming out?

      The Examined Life is coming out in November. Guernica Editions is the publisher. The book is a personal survey of western philosophy. The book attempts to draw poetry from the works and words of our greatest thinkers, and so I riff on the their ideas and language. The book ranges from Pre Socratics all the way to way to the Post Moderns.

      Although there are a number of straightforward lyrical poems, the book is primarily experimental in nature, in that I explore a number of styles and voices, I play with font and text design, and I include over 30 images or visual poems.

      How did you write it? What was the process behind it?

      I wrote the book over a period of a year. I would select a philosophical text, and isolate the parts that inspired me, then I would respond to the text emotionally and free associate. The poem would then be extracted from the free association. At times I would take the philosopher’s language and play with it, twist and contort it into something more expressive than its initial intent. At times I would take a long text and condense it into a 4 or 5 stanza poem. I did that with Plato’s Apology. Very often I would conflate two texts by two different thinkers and see what I could come up with.

      I should note that I do not acknowledge any of the philosophers. I do not list them or mention them in any footnote. Those who have studied them will know who they are, but those who haven’t, will have the advantage of just facing the work without any prejudice or intellectual baggage. Even though I drew a lot from my readings I regard the pieces as original stand alone pieces. The bricks and mortar are borrowed but the architecture is my own. But that is true of all poetry. The raw materials are always borrowed. Language as a whole is a borrowed thing.

      What is your writing routine? Do you write everyday?

      I do not write everyday, I write in spurts. I can go months without writing. What usually fuels me is a project, a book idea. I don’t write individual poems anymore hoping they will eventually fit into a book. I now work with a concept which is fleshed out into a book. It is also a goal of mine to not repeat myself, so I try to reinvent myself with every book, so there is a usually a significant time before a new idea or concept sprouts. Hence, the long periods where I don’t write. Although I cannot complain, in the last 5 years I have completed 4 books which I will one day send out to publishers.

      Does your Italian background influence your work in anyway?

      My Italian background has played less and less a part in my work over the years. When I was younger, in my twenties and even my thirties, I almost exclusively wrote about my family and background, and I have many unpublished poems that deal with those subjects. But I realized there was a whole body of literature dealing with being Italo-Canadian that I left that theme to poets more competent than myself.

      I also did not want to put myself in an ethnic ghetto. The Canadian literary scene loves it when a writer with a name like Luciano Iacobelli writes exclusively about the tomatoes growing in the backyard or plastic covered couches. It is a way of keeping one away from the bigger topics. I am a poet of the inner landscape, so externals like ethnicity do not interest me. I am also not a poet of sentiment, and I find most poems dealing with ethnicity full of schmaltz and nostalgia, not to mention self pity.

      But even though direct references to my Italian background no longer show up in my work, it still influences me. I read Italian literature, I see Italian movies, I listen to Italian music, and I have Italian friends, and all these things influence my sensibility. The influence gets abstracted and is eventually diffused in my work.

      You have mentored and published so many Canadian writers in the last two decades, what advice do you have to writers who are trying to get published?

      I would say to these writers to love and practice their craft first, and only subsequently think of publishing. Too many writers, write only to get published. If a writer loves their craft, they will continue to be students and lovers of literature, they will explore the work of other authors and stay open minded.

      When it comes time for publishing, it is important for a writer to know where he fits in. In Toronto there are many writing communities, and there are publications and social scenes connected to them. If a writer finds their community, and can stomach the politics sometimes associated with them, they can find mentors, and publishers who will facilitate the publishing of their work.

      What do you think the Canadian writing scene needs right now?

      I think the writing scene is too insular, the garrison mentality, too many voices are being left out, in particular European voices, especially the Latin and Mediterranean voice. Equally neglected is the South American voice. These voices are too lyrical and imaginative for the Canadian sensibility to handle. Even French Canadians are neglected in English Canada, and their poets are far superior, more cutting edge and adventurous. They have been so for a long time. Attempts at inclusion have been made: the East Indian voice, the Black voice and now the Native voice, but I do not think the attempts are sincere. Give these minorities the spotlight for a time, appease the guilt, shift the light somewhere else, and forget where it once shone.

      What are you working on now? 

      I am working on a book called Noctigraphics. It is a text that intertwines text with abstract drawings and design. Both the text and the visuals are disembodied and the reader is invited to create a body from the scattered parts.

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