Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

TTQ's Toronto Poets 5 Questions Series: Domenico Capilongo

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Domenico Capilongo

Interviewed by Darryl Salach (The Toronto Quarterly)

The Toronto Poets – 5 Questions Series is a new series initiated by The Toronto Quarterly that is geared to providing the talented poets living and writing in the city of Toronto with a bit of a broader platform in which to explain who they are as poets and what they're writing about these days. The hope is to provide this information to not only lovers of poetry residing in the city but to the casual reader of poetry who might not be aware of some of the names being featured in the five questions series. Ultimately, the hope of this series is to inform Torontonians that poetry is indeed vibrant, alive and kicking ass in our city.

Domenico Capilongo lives in Toronto with his family. He teaches high school alternative education and practices karate. He has had work published in several literary magazines including Geist, Descant, The New Quarterly, and Dreamcatcher. He was short-listed for the gritLIT Poetry Contest 2009 and his first book of poetry, I thought elvis was italian was published in 2008 with Wolsak and Wynn. His new book of jazz-inspired poetry, hold the note, was recently published with Quattro Books in 2010.

Capilongo’s hold the note has been described as a wide-ranging collection unified by an effervescent, syncopated writing style — dynamic, sometimes experimental, often times playful, yet always passionately engaged, sensual and visceral. If the reader listens hard enough, a definitive mix of eclectic jazz can be heard playing along in the background with Capilongo’s rhythmic riffs of poetic grace:

armstrong in the coliseum

raises his trumpet. sends out a honey-dipped sleepy time
like the emperor just gave him the thumbs-down. feels
the hot breath of the sword against his neck. the slice of
the lion’s roar. he stands blood ankle deep. pushes his
voice up to the peasant cheap seats.

sittin’ on the stones of rome.

makes me wanna say I’m home.

people everywhere stop and sit and stare.

make my trumpet want to blare…

love spaghetti. loves the way italian mineral water
bubbles up his insides. the sound of his trumpet. his
voice bounces echoes through imperial streets up spanish
steps. the night filling with the taste of it.

from "hold the note"

For more information about Domenico please visit his website.


TTQ- - In your previous collection of poetry, I thought elvis was italian (Wolsak & Wynn, 2008), and in your latest, hold the note (Quattro Books, 2010), music has been a primary theme. Was music always a staple in your life growing up, and when did your love of jazz first come about?

DC- My father played music all the time in our house. He played everything from opera to country to disco and the problem was that I thought the singers and bands were all Italian. As I grew older, I was shocked to find out that people like Stevie Wonder, Paul Anka and the band KISS were not all from Sicily. I was especially disappointed when I found out that Elvis Presley was not Italian. It stuck in my mind for years and I finally wrote about it. My love of jazz started when I first listened to a recording of Miles Davis playing the trumpet. After my first collection was published I decided to focus on writing about jazz and writing while listening to jazz music.

TTQ- Your latest poetry collection is divided into three sections: jazzista, nessun dorma and after nine. Would you give us a brief synopsis of each section and how each correlates to the other?

DC- The jazzista section contains the poems that are most directly connected to jazz. Several pieces are about famous jazz musicians or about certain jazz songs. The nessun dorma section has many poems about my children and Italian-Canadian culture. The after nine section includes the more romantic and sensual pieces. I tried to infuse all the poems with a jazzy rhythm. The best way to read this book is to put on a smooth jazz album, pour a bold glass of wine or steaming cup of tea and read it out loud under a warm blanket to someone or some pet that you love.

TTQ- What is your opinion on the state of poetry in Toronto, and do you feel poetry is becoming more popular with readers young and old these days?

DC- I think Toronto has a very vibrant and busy poetry scene. You can go to a reading almost every night. Is it popular? It's hard to say. Usually the audience at readings is full of writers, but I feel the scene is starting to change. There are more diverse reading series starting up and I think more readers are starting to attend.

TTQ- Tell us about the process you go through when you're writing. Do you have a particular writing routine that you adhere to, or do you simply write when you're inspired to do so? Is it important a poet write every day?

DC- My writing is very similar to my karate training. It has become a habit. I just try and write as often as I can without making it a burden or a rule. I try not to be too hard on myself if I miss a day or go through a patch of not writing anything. I have also forced myself to write more when I feel that I have a lot to get out. For this new book, for example, I found that I wrote everyday and set up my own writing exercises in order to set some of the poems free. Karate and writing for me are just part of my lifestyle, not a job or a hobby. I don't think a poet needs to write every day. I think a poet will write when they need to, not when they have to.

TTQ- How important do you feel it is that a poet read their poetry to a live audience? Is that something you like to do often, and in what ways do you think it helps your writing?

DC- I don't think that it is important that a poet read their poetry to a live audience, but it is important for me. I love to feel how a poem spreads over an audience. How the audience takes in the sound of the words, the rhythm of the language, the meaning. I think poetry comes alive when it's read aloud and I like to be there to share in that moment.

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This interview was first published in The Toronto Quarterly blog.

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