Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews is a wonderful award-winning poet who works hard at lifting the reader beyond the words of her poems. She has published four books of poetry as well as two non-fiction books. Her fifth poetry collection, A Jar of Fireflies, continues to work at connecting us to our world as well as reminding us about the importance of our memories. Di Sciasco-Andrews is also this year’s host and coordinator of the Oakville Literary Café (in Oakville, Ontario). Please drop in to see what literary delights she has brewing.
A Jar of Fireflies is your fifth collection. Where does it come from?
In 2004 I had compiled a manuscript of poems entitled Sea Glass from a homonymous poem in the collection. They were what I would like to call ‘raw from the forge’ sort of poems. I sent it out to mostly every Canadian publisher for possible publication, but it was not to be. I decided therefore, to self publish it into a larger collection by the same name in 2008, under my own publisher name, Espresso Bar Publishing. Throughout that period of time, between 2004 to present, I started to notice many of my lines, unique metaphors and concepts were being borrowed by other poets in many winning collections. This spurred me to try to find a publishing house that could finally give my poems a home and a resting place they deserved. I was very grateful when Mike Walsh and Howard Aster of Mosaic Press accepted my manuscript for publication with their press. I discovered that Mosaic Press has amongst its roster of published poets: Irving Layton and Gwendolyn MacEwan. I wanted to keep the title the same. Sea Glass was what I believed the poems to represent: pieces of a lost paradise, picked up one by one and reconstituted by poetry. A sort of paradise piece by piece, but they told me that since my self-published book already had an ISBN number, I had to choose a different name. Fire of the soul congealed by time and space was the concept I was trying to go for; heart code; flame of a lit match in the night; reflections through a window; fire and glass. This all led me to an open jar of fireflies flying away into the blue. A Jar of Fireflies was born this way, from a central poem in the book, which immortalizes a memory of my mother in my childhood garden in Italy. Fireflies glowing in the dark like memories were the perfect metaphor for the fire of existence tempered by time, filled simultaneously with continuing hope and life, as they fly out of the glass jar into the world. I fell in love with the title because it had the impetus of new life in it, not just dead, frozen nostalgia.
It’s been called a collection about quests. What is it about the journey that interests you?
I believe that all poetry is a spiritual quest, unless it is an experimental collage, as in ‘new canon poetry’. Any poems that emerge out of the mind and heart of a poet are the voice of the individual person on a quest to wholeness. The quest is one of understanding, of resolution and synthesis of all the dissonant shards of reality. In one review, A Jar of Fireflies was described as poetry about ‘quests’. I believe this was inferred from Emerald City in which the heroine’s aim (my aim) is to rebuild the walls of a ruined Golden Age, as in Milton’s Paradise Lost. I do love the idea of rebuilding. Many are the nefarious forces that aim to pilfer, break and wreak decay upon wholeness. They are to be countered with the flame of light, if life is to go on. Dystopia exists as all darkness does within the multifaceted entity of Abraxas, but the quest is about healing, rebuilding, fairness, kindness, beauty, love and life.
Your collection is also concerned with the spiritual experience of our natural world. Was it hard to write about nature?
Nature is at the foundation of my poems. I usually write during my walks or drives. Nature is the subtext. I usually begin with ponderings about my natural surroundings, and that usually leads to thinking about connections with the past as well as the present moment. As I said in another interview, I have found God or spirit in my natural surroundings more than in any church. Writing poetry about the natural world is very spiritual. It is meditative. It connects us with the soul of creation. From descriptive writing about the lake, the ocean, the weather, are born many ideas which would otherwise remain silent, had they not been observed and recorded. I wrote a poem about the degradation of the environment entitled “Windfalls”. Word by word it summoned the spirits of nature into itself. It was published this year by Inanna Publishing for York University’s Women’s Journal, Remembering Water.
Do you have a writing routine, or do you write when a moment inspires you?
I teach full time, so a writing routine is a luxury. I write whenever possible, often during the summer months, early in the morning, or on my walks and drives. During the teaching months, I write evenings or on weekends, when inspiration strikes, or if there is a call for poems for an anthology or journal.
Is it easy for you to let go of your poems or are you always editing them even after they are published?
I am always editing and re-editing. Often I submit a piece and wish I had changed a word or a line. I like to let a poem sit for a while. Upon re-reading it a few months later, it emerges as a finished product or not, on its own. Usually the superfluous words fall off at that point, revealing the poem that is meant to be.
What part does your Italian heritage play in your poetry?
I believe that all of us are filters for the culture/s we have been imbued with throughout our lives. If we write from a place within ourselves, rather than extrinsically from borrowed lines from other poets’ texts, then our own experiences: of people, places and contexts lived, do come into play in our words. So yes, a computer ‘doc’ is succinct and razor boned language, but a ‘red accordion’ opens up a wide cultural contextual landscape. So perhaps, yes, my heritages, both Italian and Canadian do feature into my words. It’s unavoidable, unless one aggregates ideas only from the cerebral part of the brain.
What is your most powerful poetry moment so far?
Having a book published by Mosaic Press is pretty wonderful. Mike Walsh, the founder of Mosaic, gave me a raving review of my work. Also some pivotal moments were having my poetry shortlisted for the Malahat Review, The Canada Literary Review, and The Winston Collin‘s Best Canadian poem prizes, as well as having my work reviewed in Vallum and The League of Canadian Poets Review Blog.
You are now the host and coordinator of the Oakville Literary Café. What is your vision for the reading series and what do you hope people get from attending?
Oakville is the home address of the Griffin Poetry Awards. It is also the chosen location for Margaret Atwood’s upcoming film, The Handmaid’s Tale, which is being filmed two streets south of my home in Coronation Park. We have such a thriving arts community here and so many poetry groups and gatherings. I am honoured to have been nominated host and co-ordinator of the Oakville Literary Café for the 2016-17 season. We are analogous to the Art Bar here in the suburbs. My vision and goal is to have top name poets present their work to our community. I would like to put Oakville on the Canadian Literature poetry map, by giving it visibility through top of the line readers and events.
Why do you think people should continue to read and write poetry?
I do really believe that poetry is a niche interest. Few people truly love poetry, both reading it and writing it. It truly is a passion that ignites the hearts of few. For all our efforts at making poetry accessible and saleable to the masses, I humbly believe that only a slim percentage of the population continues to be enthralled by this art. Yet, I believe that teaching children poetry is important because it is teaching them to see beyond the facts. Our present world, saturated with data, facts and scientific jargon needs poetics to round off the edges of our mechanized, digitized world. Poetry gives back a divine dimension to reality by exposing the heart and nature to the human. In fact, poetry exposes the human being hiding beneath our civilized selves: the child, the aged, the weak, the sick, the wounded, the sinful, the leper, the forgotten, the handicapped, the other. Poetry gives us back our spirituality and our humanity. In a system bogged down by the mechanics of the factual, the scientific and the robotic, poetry is the wild card, the quantum element that reminds us of the paradox and the wonder of our being.