Sonia Di Placido is a poet, playwright, writer, actor and artist currently completing her M.A. Graduate of the Ryerson University Theatre School and Honours in Humanities from York University, Sonia has experience as a Supernumerary with the Canadian Opera Company, is a member of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers and The League of Canadian Poets. She has published poems, profile pieces, interviews and reviews in literary print and online journals as well as various anthologies: Carousel, The Toronto Quarterly Blog, The Puritan, and Jacket2.
Interview by Claire Farley
TCJWW: Your poems are frequently in dialogue with works from other writers—how to you see your relationship to other poets? What are your thoughts on the conversation that all writers are in with their predecessors? Who are your major influences in Exaltation in Cadmium Red?
Di Placido: Other poets are like siblings to me. We don’t always get along or understand one another; some we do, but ultimately there’s this connectivity because we come from an ancestral lineage of poetry and poetics. We’re branched out from that same family tree. Most deceased poets are like ancestors in that regard. Some of them just feel a lot closer somehow; others require more study or further concentration.
In Exaltation in Cadmium Red, I am influenced by so many canonical writers jumping back and forth between Ancient Rome, the Renaissance, to twentieth-century Modernism, to postmodernism. There are no sonnet-like poems but there are ideas that come out of Italian Renaissance attitudes; the influence here is not just poets but also artists of other mediums— Dante, Da Vinci, Giotto, Michelangelo. The poem “Pew” references a post-Byzantine European world, while other poems are more modern / postmodern in their reflections on the transnational experience of language, place and identity from the perspective of a writer born and raised in Canadia with a post-colonial Italian heritage. I seem to use prose poetry to discuss more contemporary subjects like facebook, globalization, and the environment. A free verse poem like “The Words” has a musical quality, a tonality or rhythm, and yet manages the juxtaposition of expressing the specific narrative in a straightforward manner.
In terms of the influence of specific poets, poems such as “Mother and Glen Gould” “Them/Then” and “Death Fruit” have a clear tie to Pier Paolo Pasolini, his vivid images of the passions ignited by war, religion, and the controversial images he presented through both his films and poetry. I am influenced by love poems of lost and unfound lovers, particularly the rhythmic sense of music and lyric in Love Songs of Ancient Egypt translated by Ezra Pound. Also Cohen and the musings of modernist poet Eugenio Montale.
TCJWW: One of the things that struck me about the collection was its sensuality. The epigraph by Elisa Biagini is so beautiful and, I think, really speaks to a specific feeling that the collection is trying to convey. Do you relate this desire for the tangible to your Italian heritage? Can you speak a bit about this heritage and its influences in your work?
Di Placido: I wouldn’t say it is only an Italian heritage. It does comprise the Italian, but many argue that it is biased to give any one component accreditation to summarize that European sensuality that you’re referring to. Europe is so old that the influence you see is pre-Christian as well, and Roman and Mediterranean. In Exaltation in Cadmium Red there’s an understanding that Latin precedes the Italian.
However, I feel the Italian and the English languages are in my body emotionally, spiritually and physically as much as verbally. It’s an essence and a “way of being” that inform language. This is true for every language and dialect, I believe. As for sensuality, Italians are hedonistic by their very ideology of life. They love over-stimulating the senses, which also means celebrating and musing through desires, tastes, feelings. They thrive on emoting, on the passions of love and anger, which propel both action and comedy by way of imitation and tragic sorrow. If we are not “larger than life” in order to keep out the boredom of the mundane every day in and out, or l’ennui as the French would say, then there is no worth in our being alive. It is a kind of arrogance; it is also gratitude—it’s both. The senses must be exaggerated not kept neatly tucked like a hanker-chief in its pocket. The magic lies in the unraveling of the hanker-chief. The Italians have spent centuries perfecting this ideology since the later 1300 when early Florentines began to merchandise across the sea to Eurasia. The banking system initiated itself, and the papacy with all its corruption began its control over most of Europe. At this time, the Opera also began to take shape, which then became the subject name of every artistic medium. If you engaged in poetry, drawing, theatre, painting, sculpture it was, and sometimes still is, referred to as Le Opere. You are participating in a “state of being”— an “operatic essence.”
Elisa’s poem speaks of “mother” and of “the apple”—of tasting an apple peel, of making pasta, of loving as in eating something up. The levels in that one piece just blow me away. Her short well-lived poem makes the transition across languages smoothly because it has an emotive quality, strong imagery and effective lyrical tonality that drive the piece. When the emotional quality is strong it can sometimes make translating across languages more straightforward. In this poem, I felt the translation came across with such clarity. And, yes, it also translates a great deal of the very “essence” of subject and feeling that I wanted to convey through the entire body of the book.
TCJWW: The motif that structures the collection seems to have something to do with the relationship between painting and poetry. How do you see these mediums interacting?
Di Placido: Painting and Poetry are like relatives: siblings or cousins. They have similar essences.
What I mean is that they both require a basic ingredient, let’s say flour, which is the “spirit” of a thing; this spirit, this essence, comes through and spurs the “act” of creative expression. If one chooses to view Painting or Poetry as an artist’s medium, then they are mediums that share similar DNA, meaning that they have a shared lineage and origin. The two have been cultivated by way of one another throughout the entire history of civilization. Just compare what was happening in Ancient Egypt with their poetry and their painting of various periods. The two mediums have moved together as two siblings would on a see-saw throughout civilizations and epochs. Look at Stein and Picasso—they were great friends, artisanal siblings. Creativity is to imagine, unravel, copy, paste, share and play; to coalesce, to channel. It is all those things and more. Humans choose how they want to put it together or take it apart. However, at its essence is inspiration, which generates from an idea, a thought, such as a memory and/or its feeling. These come through music, art, poems, or other. Those mediums are in relationship because they each have that access to inspiration, to ideology.
TCJWW: Besides working on your own poetry, you have also run workshops devoted to the study of other women writers, including a recent workshop on the pioneering feminist poet Pat Lowther. Why is this work important to you?
Di Placido: I have a theatre background in tandem with poetry, literature and humanities. I like to engage with people—to talk, to debate, to see the cause and effects of challenge, to understand ideas, to coerce points of view. This can be enlightening, like Plato’s Symposium, if navigated with some sense of equanimity and sensitivity. Solitude, which is important for an individual’s “lone” stimulation, fosters inner clarity, and yet, that too can become counter intuitive without some measure of balance. And so, a community or a nucleus of humans, ever evolving, is there to offer variety. For me, sitting and reading aloud, sharing the text with others, discussing other poets and writers and their work is important to the extension of our own capacities as writers and poets. Poetry ought to be read aloud not just in the privacy of a quiet space but also as a group reading. Really, to do both is nurturing.
I feel that writing exercises with a group is also a communal exercise, like a group of women weaving or a group of men chopping wood or a group of persons taking part in a ritual of sorts. Ritual is becoming more and more lost in the globalization of cities. We must return to ritual for gratitude, for establishing myth, peace, meditation or prayer, understanding order from chaos. These workshops are to celebrate ourselves—what we can do in this world as humans. I have read more women writers and poets and I want to provide an environment that fosters a safe space that allows for engagement where people aren’t afraid of understanding the paradoxes that exists when we encounter violence against women, and of any sort of violence that takes place in life. Suffering can separate people. Suffering also brings people together. It just depends on the people. I like to exemplify this in the workshops as we learn and become more profoundly linked as a group and individually to that one writer/poet that we are studying and his/her life experience and writing habits, ideas etc. All of the above makes us more skilled at writing, and at being.
TCJWW: You have been outspoken on your blog in support of women artists finding their voices and standing against sexism in their work and in their personal lives. What struggles do you see facing women writers and how do you confront these in your work?
Di Placido: It is approximately 90 years ago that Virginia Woolf wrote her infamous essay A Room of One’s Own. She deliberated over the causes and effects of modern successes and independence for Women writers and she provided a glimpse into the future of an abundant society of women writers. I am proud to be a witness to her testimony; she was indeed correct. Almost a century has passed and women are strong and active as writers and artists, and successful. For every one woman’s success, there are five who are facing poverty, lack of self-esteem and witnesses to trauma; they have no voice and hope of being attributed merit or validation for their passions. There are institutions in place, 90 years later, three generations later, in which some 20-something-year-old—possibly a great granddaughter of Woolf had she had children—continues to earn a minimal income at the current standard of living, who maintains less status, though educated, in comparison to men who still hold a majority financially and politically through their forefathers. I write about my experience. I write about what I know and my own struggle to build that Room of One’s Own, to be satisfied with a smaller salary than the majority of men in my generation who are guided toward providing for families and societal service.
Women continue to struggle with their freedom of expression, how to appropriate their sexuality, how much money they need to survive and feel good about their bodies, their genetic disposition as potential mothers and how to allocate or decide to live their lives as artists and/or nurturers. I look at my ancestors. I look at how strengths and weaknesses can be one and the same; I look at the paradox of being a mother and attempt to understand what sort of influence a woman has in such a position. I look at how women have managed to develop safe partnerships with their own gender over the past two centuries in the home, under a patriarchy that is now evolving. I look at how we have learned and yet, how we continue to find our way confused between sacrifices for our families and independence. Is the struggle to find balance and interdependence as well as feelings of equality part of this confusion? I write about process and the various emotions that persist in our post-colonial century, our evolution as women and the plight of gender neutrality, which is a huge issue moving forward into this century.
TCJWW: What projects are you currently working on? Any plans for the publication of another collection in the near future?
Di Placido: I have two projects I am currently working on: I am working on a play that focuses on two women protagonists, one in her mid-forties and one in early-fifties. We have few roles for women of this age range in theatre, yet more are being created as more women continue to write theatre. I’m also working on a series of poems that an over-arching theme to do with post-colonial settlement in North and South America— themes of the father figure, patriarchy, hunting, native exposure and my childhood as a first and second generation Canadian. I hope this work can be published before 2018. I am currently waiting to hear about the development of a chapbook, which is an aside/offset of these themes.
TCJWW: You’ve offered to share a new poem with TCJWW, so exciting! You developed this poem as part of a workshop with Joanne Kyger who was part of the same literary circle as Jack Spicer, Ginsberg, Robert Duncan, and Philip Whalen. Can you tell us a bit about this poem?
Di Placido: In the early ’90s, I was fifteen –years-old and living in EL Toro, Orange County, CA. I attended El Toro High School. My sister was eight at the time. She was at the local elementary school. The poem is essentially about her, a recollection of memories from when she was a young girl and when she returned to California at twenty-years-old and lived there for a year. This poem can be seen as part of my next “work in progress.”
This Is Why I Called You Shrimp
Pink skinned baby fat coo coo
Spaghetti blonde noodles
What’s hiding in the Kitchen shorter than a table?
Who’s tearing up the National Geographic?
4 rows of Yellow shelves
“it is so appropriate to be unfound”
whimpers in small steps
around around around and around
little dear dear dear of a shrimp
Diapers and doo-wop plop can do us right!
Were we ever lucid? Golden harbour curls
Her coast & curves—an Orange County of mucho
melanin—stronger skin. Squint those irises in blue
the jagged rock ocean squirts from pacific eyes &
Where you drifting to shrimp?
We have the same deferred sun
Did you find the valley girls eating fish tacos yet?
Stuccoed under terracotta tacked slopes
Did you know I thought about you last night?
You’ve set those Sagittarius forest fires on the Laguna Hills
1 month + 7 = 7 years 28 or something days
Scurry Sister Chick Over My Hen Mama
I called for you Shrimp
Sonia’s just the Cocktail
Didn’t you know?
-Sonia Di Placido
October – December 2014