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Canada 150

 


      Un Momento with Mary di Michele

       
      By
      Dec. 5, 2017

      Mary di MicheleMary di Michele is one of the most gifted and prolific writers in Canada. She has written a dozen books, is a novelist, essayist, poet and a professor of creative writing at Concordia University. She has won numerous awards and was one of the founding members of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers. Her latest book of poetry is an excellent example of the depth of her writing and the power of her words.

      Why did you write your new collection of poetry, Bicycle Thieves?

      I suppose the triggering incidents were the death of my mother and then my father. The impulse to write poetry was to commemorate, the form, elegiac.

      Would you say this collection is about looking back for you?

      Yes, the overall epigraph for the book is from John Banville: “The past beats inside me like a second heart.” It’s a retrospective view; the middle section, “Life Sentences” is an autobiography that is about my life and artistic influences.

      What was the greatest inspiration for writing this book?

      The book is a collection of poems, so many have individual sources of inspiration, for example, “Death and Transfiguration in New York City” was initially a response to the execution of Timothy McVeigh and how the attacks of 9/11 changed the conversation about terrorism. It seems timely again with the rise of fascism, neo-Nazis or as the nomenclature has it now the “alt-right.” Alt-right sounds like a computer keyboard command! The past, the history we ignore comes back to bite us. What unites the poems in the collection is the keen sense of mortality, the past, whether from life experience or history, and the shadows and light it casts on the present.

      How does the haiku form influence your poetry?

      Writing in haiku forms has influenced my writing in general; I now use fewer figures of speech and more direct imagery. In particular, it influenced the form of “Life Sentences;” haiku is a form that seeks to capture the moment. I think we remember our lives in such moments, in spots of time rather than a continuous narrative. My autobiographical poem is a montage of such moments.

      Does your Italian background play any part in how and or what you write?

      Yes, it’s part of me, I was born in Italy, spent my early childhood there, Italian language, landscape, and culture provide a continuing source of inspiration.

      You have written, novels, essays and poetry. Which do you find most challenging?

      The novel is the most challenging, you have to carry a whole world and time in your head; it requires concentration and endurance, long days spent writing and over years for me to complete one.

      What are Yoko’s Dogs and how does it play into your own work?

      We are four poets who have been writing collaboratively using and adapting forms of Japanese linked poetry – Basho crossed with some Dada. We’ve been writing together for eleven years now. Our first book, Whisk, was published by Pedlar Press in 2013. We had a chapbook published last year from Gaspereau called Rhinoceros. We are working on a manuscript for a second full-length book. I love writing this way, with others, sparking off one another. I always thought of writing as a kind of conversation, one where the angel does not distinguish between the living and the dead. But it’s a virtual one for the most part. With Yoko’s Dogs, it’s immediate and visceral, at least the few times a year we’re able to meet as we live in different parts of the country. The practice has energized me. It has taught me writing as a boisterous and joyful practice. They say that there are two kinds of writers, those who feel damned and write to try to redeem themselves and those who write to play. In my own writing I’m that first kind of writer, as Yoko’s Dogs I get to play.

      Was your recent trip to Japan inspirational?

      There’s a character in Kawabata’s novel, Snow Country, who is an expert on European ballet but has never been to Europe. His character likes to keep his ‘passions’ on the virtual plane. Oh I’m not like him! Although it took me so many years before actually going to Japan, I finally did it. The visit confirmed my love for its literature and culture as real, as true.

      What is your favourite place in Montreal and why?

      I love Bethune Square. It’s near the building where I teach at Concordia. I nod to the great man on my way to the office. How did he get there, this man from Gravenhurst, Ontario, who was a hero in China? I’m no hero, but I identify with him as placed and displaced person in Montreal. He has a cameo in the A.M. Klein tribute poem, “The Mountain After Klein” in Bicycle Thieves.

      What is your writing routine? Do you have a favourite pair of house slippers you wear while writing?

      I’m a morning writer; I like working in my pyjamas just like Derrida – who knew! – until I have to leave the house. I wear warm slippers, Sorels, in winter, flipflops in summer. But they are not the essential element for writing, what’s essential is coffee, and reading a line or two of poetry to get my brain thinking in language again.

      Do you have any advice for young writers who feel,”poetry is just not being read so how can I write it?”

      If they read poetry, it is being read. If poetry is a conversation over the centuries, as I believe, then there are thousands of years and millions or trillions of readers, an ever-growing number of readers: those reading and those who have read, those writing and those who have written – poetry is an echo chamber, a portal to time travel. But if they don’t read poetry, yeah, it’s not worth doing.

      What are you working on lately?

      I am in that fallow period (the glass is slowly refilling) or desert (the glass is empty) between books in terms of my own writing. This always happens to me, each book feels like it will be my last book. But Yoko’s Dogs is active, we’re close to finishing a new manuscript for a book. And we are also developing performance as an aspect of our writing practice. I’m learning new things there and it’s exciting.

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