Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Antony Di Nardo

Share |
On Writing, with Antony Di Nardo

Writer and teacher Antony Di Nardo talks to Open Book about his new books, Alien, Correspondent (Brick Books) and Soul on Standby (Exile Editions), writing, Canadian literature and more.

Open Book: Toronto:

When did you first start writing?

Antony Di Nardo:

I wrote doggerel as a teenager, scribbling first verses on denim knees. I remember a poem that started “I’m done with Donne.…” But I suppose my professional writing started in my mid-twenties when I edited a small town weekly newspaper in Northwestern Ontario. At that time I was also a regular contributor of poetry and non-fiction to a local quarterly called The Squatchberry Journal. I knew the editor and he was drawn to anything that celebrated the north, the beauty and hardship of life in the northern bush. Most of my work then was immersed in that experience, my perception of the north.

OBT:

What did you first write?

ADN:

If you mean genre, it was poetry. Later I did some reporting, though even in my weekly editorial I’d risk slipping in a poem, vaguely disguised as commentary. I’ve experimented with the short story and there’s even a half-baked novel covered in dust in a file somewhere. But I get bogged down in revisions and getting that sentence or image just right, so I never seem to be satisfied with the results of a piece of fiction. Poetry suits my temperament far better.

OBT:

Where do you gather your inspiration from?

ADN:

I think a poet needs to be open to a personal world of known as well as indefinable sources, ready to snap up an idea as it floats by or begins to settle to the bottom of the mental jar. Some ideas come literally out of thin air, others I force into existence because I look for inherent possibilities. A poem often grows from the rhythms or syntax of an interesting first line. Reading other poets’ work also is an important source of ideas for me. A line or an image in someone else’s poem might trigger a memory, an experience, or leave me with a potentially new direction.

I consider myself both a good observer and listener. It’s important for me to document experience, be it imagined or observed, usually a combination of both. I’ll often sit at my favorite café where I watch the world go by, and there’ll be some intersection of memory and observation, or of a face and a certain slant of light, or of a spoken word and the smell of coffee, and that might lead to something on the page.

I also love listening to birds and city sounds, even the irritating ones.

OBT:

Do you keep a journal or notebook?

ADN:

My notebook is very important to me. It’s a record of what I’m thinking, what I’m reading. I use it to collect ideas or language that gets my attention. My notebook is a place to get a poem started, even fleshed out. I try to write everyday and, if it’s a good day, one line will lead to another. A poem generally begins in that notebook and gets worked and re-worked on the laptop page to eventually find its final form.

OBT:

Do you spend much time revising your work?

ADN:

I do, but like everyone else no doubt, I spend more time on some poems than others. As I mentioned above, once the poem makes its way to the laptop it undergoes a fair amount of “crafting.” Ginsberg’s advice, “first thought, best thought,” has never worked for me. I think a poem needs to be crafted into existence to get the rhythms swinging, its syntax and cadence working together, the images just so. Every word and syllable counts in a poem, and I’m very sensitive to that.

OBT:

What Canadian writers do you admire? Why?

ADN:

I cut my teeth as a poet reading the work of Irving Layton, Al Purdy and b.p. Nichol. I’ve heard all three of them at readings and each, in their own unique way, reinforced for me that poetry is about voice, presence and passion. The crafting of a poem wasn’t as important to me when I first started writing – I sought the arresting image, the emotional grab. Now, however, I recognize that “the crafte so long to lerne,” as Chaucer put it, is very much about that: crafting, attending to detail, balancing decisions. Contemporary Canadians whom I admire are poets who expertly handle that crafting. Eric Ormsby, Don Coles, Ken Babstock, Robyn Sarah and Barry Dempster come to mind. I just started reading Starnino’s This Way Out, and there’s a patina to his work that comes with that kind of careful polishing. That said, I also enjoy the surprising directions and densities (intensities) found in poets like Erin Mouré, Lisa Robertson and Stuart Ross.

OBT:

As a poet, do you feel your writing is generally accepted in the literary world? Why or why not?

ADN:

That’s a difficult question to answer. My literary world at present is limited to the Canadian and American journals I read, blogs and the League of Canadian Poets’ online “gossip.” I’m not much of a “joiner” and I consider myself to be rather private, something of a recluse, within that world. I do participate in the monthly readings at the American University of Beirut and I have a small, eclectic circle of lit-type friends here in Beirut and their feedback has been invaluable. However, if having poetry accepted for publication in journals is any indication of “acceptance” then I suppose I’ve had some success in the past ten years. Brick Books's acceptance of Alien, Correspondent for publication was powerful validation. And to have Barry Callaghan at Exile Editions ask for a manuscript on the strength of some poems I submitted to his Quarterly further reinforced that I’m on the right track, especially considering that this new book, Soul on Standby, is a departure from the more lyrical poetry I’ve been writing in the past. I’m returning to Canada this summer to take up permanent residence and give a few readings. I’ll find out firsthand, I suppose, with two books on the shelves, how well my writing is accepted.

OBT:

What are some of the problems you deal with often in your writing? Do you expect to deal with them in the future?

ADN:

I love the beauty of a declarative sentence, and I’ve always admired the prose poem. But I think traditionally my rhythms and my syntax have lent themselves to line breaks, the ragged right margin. Lately, however, my writing has been tending towards a hybrid of prose and lyric and my ideas seem to come out stretched for the long line. At times, I feel a tension between using line breaks (in order to reinforce a rhythm or carry the syntax of the language) and the prose form that allows for greater narrative ease. I struggle with that and a poem in progress doesn’t always provide the direction I’d expect from it. I often wonder if I’m forcing the issue.

Recent themes in my work reveal a penchant for the ordinary, the quotidian, even the mundane. I look for the uncommon in the commonplace. The problem with that, however, is can the reader also experience the wonder of such a poem. Does it add something new to the art form or is it a waste of language that could be put to better use in the composition of a grocery list? Doubt is the persistent bane of the poet.

These are present problems. Whether they’ll remain in the future I can’t predict. I hope not. But I do know that ending a poem has been a perennial challenge for me and that concern will likely obsess me for as long as I write. I find my endings at times to be too neat, too easy, even predictable. I’d like to learn to accept that some poems can end suddenly or abruptly or without the satisfaction of a conclusion gift-wrapped with a bow. Or, no ending at all.

OBT:

Your first collection, Alien, Correspondent, deals with the perspective of a westerner in Beirut. How important is a sense of place to your writing?

ADN:

Very important. Place has as much to do with inspiration as it does to localizing experience. As I said earlier, I consider myself a good observer, and a change of place offers new opportunities for making fresh observations and for situating myself as a witness. Many of the poems in Alien, Correspondent are written as short documentaries, and the documentary in all its forms – film or otherwise – serves to put a frame around experience and underline the act of being a witness. I have a home I go to sometimes in the vales and dales of the Eastern Townships of Quebec, and I know that when I’m there my poetry takes a different direction. Place gives me the vocabulary peculiar to that place, a language born of the unique intersections of its coordinates on the planetary grid.

OBT:

Finally, do you have any upcoming projects in mind?

ADN:

I recently completed a third manuscript, Nothing to Declare, and, as the title suggests, many of the poems in this collection touch upon the theme of borders and border crossings, the sense of place and displacement. These are mostly prose-like poems, documentaries where the sentence serves as a stanza unit. Many of them are sitting on editorial desks at journals across the country waiting for a verdict “of acceptance,” as you put it.

I’m now working on a suite of poems that examines the theme of “fallout” as it relates to harmful radiation and the imminent threat related to generating nuclear power. The accident at Chernobyl has been on my mind and I’ve researched the terrible impact of that catastrophe on lives and the environment. The poems are taking me from Darlington, Ontario to Pripyat, Ukraine to Wiscasset, Maine. Virtually, of course. But, I’m reminded in these poems that there’s nothing virtual about how de-humanizing radiation sickness can be and I want to document that threat. I’ll call this suite of prose-like poems, Isotopia.

Beyond this, I keep my eyes and ears open (the inner and the outer) for anything else that begs to be arrested on the page as a broken line or in a long declarative sentence.


Antony Di Nardo was born in Montreal and has lived in northwestern Ontario, Toronto, Germany and Beirut. His poetry appears widely in journals across Canada and internationally. Both writer and teacher, he was the editor of a weekly newspaper, contributed book reviews to Books in Canada and writes fiction and non-fiction content for educational texts. He is the author of two collections of poetry, both released in 2010: Alien, Correspondent (Brick Books) and Soul on Standby (Exile Editions). He divides his time between Oshawa, Ontario and Sutton, Quebec.

For more information about Alien, Correspondent, please visit the Brick Books website.

For more information about Soul on Standby, please visit the Exile Editions website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad