Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Marc Di Saverio

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Marc Di Saverio

Marc Di Saverio's debut collection of poetry, Sanatorium Songs (Palimpsest Press), tackles tough subject matter with confidence and dynamic lyricism, digging into the experience of mental illness and the language that surrounds it. With titles like "Psych Ward Queen" and "Weekend Pass", this gritty collection shies away from none of its complex material while maintaining both empathy for its characters' suffering and an electric energy.

We're pleased to welcome Marc to Open Book today to take our version of the Proust Questionnaire. The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

Marc tells us about a writerly indulgence, his colour-coded moods and sharing a favourite libation with the Dude.

What is your dream of happiness?

Happiness means going to bed at night knowing that you would rather be yourself than anyone else in the world.

What is your idea of misery?

Having to be anyone but yourself.

Where would you like to live?


What qualities do you admire most in a man?

I admire men who are graceful under pressure and who are good with their hands. I like men who share their power, who have honour and verve.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?

I admire women who are strong-willed but graceful, independent but stubbornly romantic... Creative women... women who are leaders in their fields, Women who are compassionate and sympathetic to artists and poets! Women who are artists and poets!

What is your chief characteristic?


What is your principal fault?


What is your greatest extravagance?

Designer fountain pens.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

foolishness and naivety.

What do you value most about your friends?


What characteristic do you dislike most in others?


What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

My poor memory/forgetfulness.

What is your favourite virtue?


What is your favourite occupation?


What would you like to be?

A writer-in-resident of a university


A classical composer


Poet Laureate of Canada

What is your favourite colour?

Blue when I'm depressed; vermillion when I'm manic; purple when I'm level.

What is your favourite flower?

The blue iris, which reminds me of my mother.

What is your favourite bird?

The cardinal, whose song uplifts me: "What-cheer! What-cheer! Cheer-cheer! Cheer-cheer".


The mourning dove, whose song soothes me: "Coo-ah Coo, Coo-Coo, Coo-ah Coo, Coo-Coo".

What historical figure do you admire the most?

Jesus of Nazareth.

What character in history do you most dislike?

Axl Rose.

Who are your favourite prose authors?

Sylvia Plath
Ernest Hemingway
Jess Taylor
Albert Camus
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Simone De Beauvoir
Nelly Arcan
Comte De Lautremont
Guy De Maupassant

Who are your favourite poets?

Of the dead poets I would have to say, among many others, Sylvia Plath, Ezra Pound, Emile Nelligan, Arthur Rimbaud, Amy Lowell and Irving Layton, Leopardi, Nelligan, Edna St Vincent Millay.

Of the living poets I would have to say, among many others, Jeramy Dodds, Jesse Anger, Evie Christie, Alexandra Oliver. Shane Neilson, Carmine Starnino, Daniel Renton, Robin Richardson, Richard Greene, Nicole Grimaldi and Jim Johnstone.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

The nameless character in Dostoevsky's White Nights.

Meursault, from Camus' The Stranger.

Holden Caulfield, from Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Carlo Di Saverio (my father)

Lenora Di Saverio (my mother)

Paul Di Saverio (my brother)

Who is your favourite painter?

Vincent Van Gogh.

Who is your favourite musician?

Kurt Cobain.

What is your favourite food?

I really like penne alla arrabiata.

What is your favourite drink?

Lately, I have been drinking a lot of White Russians.

What are your favourite names?

I've always been a fan of the names Ezra Loomis Weston Pound and Guido Cavalcanti. Lately I have been jealous of Sylvia Plath and Evie Christie, for their names. I love the name Jennifer. Kurt Cobain is a great name.

What is it you most dislike?


What natural talent would you most like to possess?

Knack for mathematics.

How do you want to die?

It's interesting that you should ask this, since I have been thinking a lot about my own death recently, and have even been writing a will. My greatest fear is dying in a hospital of a terminal illness. If I ever get some terminal illness, and I am near death, I would like to be left in a ravine, alone, with provisions, music, liquid morphine, iPhone, poetry, pen and notebook, and a bed etc. I would write my last words in haiku form. I would compose an epitaph, and a long letter to the world and to my family and friends/lovers etc. I would like to have loved ones around me, in the trees, by the stream, in ear-shot, even, but not by my side.

I don't like the idea of people completely and clearly witnessing my transition from life to death, if I can avoid it, to spare them the pain of having to see me die, and sparing me the pain of having to watch them watch me. I would want to have my favorite poets in ear-shot of me, shouting inspirational maxims at me. I would request that nurses, but never doctors, come visit me in the ravine, and feed me and change me and drug me, and erect a small tent to put me in when it is either very cold or stormy, but for the most part leave me alone. Regarding burial, I would prefer to be buried outside... What will never change is this: my desire to die anywhere but in a hospital! I want to die outside, during the early summer, if possible!

What is your current state of mind?


What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Sanatorium Songs, my debut book of poems.

What is your motto?

I have many mottoes. Lately I really like this one: it is only lonely at the top for those who will not share their higher ground with others.

Marc Di Saverio hails from Hamilton, Ontario. His poems and translations have appeared in such outfits as Hazlitt, Canadian Notes and Queries and Maisonneuve. In 2015, CNQ Magazine named his book, Sanatorium Songs, "the greatest poetry debut from the past 25 years." Forthcoming are The Selected Poems of Emile Nelligan (Vehicule Press), and Crito Di Volta (Frog Hollow Press).

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