Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Desi Di Nardo

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Desi Di Nardo

Desi Di Nardo talks to Open Book about finding renewal and inspiration in the natural world. Her newest collection of poetry, The Cure Is a Forest (Guernica Editions) reflects the strong connection that she shares with her surroundings and the influence of place on the poet.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, The Cure Is a Forest.

Desi Di Nardo:

This collection was inspired by my time spent in Canada's northern backwoods, exploring the waterways and woodlands particularly in the Lake Simcoe region. I am extremely fond and dedicated to the conservation of its pristine ecotones which border the protected forests and wetlands. By and large, the poems evolved from those experiences as an observer and admirer of the intricate dealings and relationships we have with nature.

OB:

The poems in The Cure Is a Forest — as well as the title — have a sense of animism to them. What can you tell us about the role that animism plays in your poetry?

DDN:

Certain entities in The Cure Is a Forest are endowed with characteristics and powers typically revered in and by man. That presence or energy can be most felt or witnessed in animals, plants and objects, predominantly when in their rightful and unspoiled habitats. Nature has always had and will persist to have a remarkable propensity to help heal and salvage the soul. I've had since childhood such a tremendous affinity and sensitivity towards animal and plant life, no matter how large or small, how intimidating or helpless. I can't say it has as much to do with a sense of nurture as it does with a purely awe-inspired respect and adulation for the natural world. I feel there is much truth and authenticity in the world when it functions and exists in a most primal and unhampered state.

OB:

The Cure Is a Forest is described as "an odyssey or escape from the city and industry into both the past and the possible." How does your relationship to the natural world inspire your creativity?

DDN:

My relationship with and perspective on the natural world is a constant element throughout much of my work. At the same time, we know poetry abounds in nature. It is present in its contrasts, its ironies, its subtleties, in the beautiful and brutal harshness of its geography and wildlife. Our inter-relationship with nature and with each other, and our ability to achieve equilibrium and maintain a sense of humanity in a world at times pushing us further and further away from that which genuinely grounds us within ourselves and to each other is also a source of inspiration. It is that delicate and complicated bond that essentially connects us to our history and will define much of how we are regarded and remembered by future generations.

OB:

When working on a poetry collection, do you consciously decide on a theme for the book, or does a theme emerge after you've written a number of seemingly unrelated poems?

DDN:

No, I do not consciously labour over a theme for a book. As a matter of fact, I don't place conscious thought into a theme or topic for individual poems either. I believe this “loose” creative process would naturally create thematic content. I’ve noticed sources of inspiration are usually tied to a time and place, and poems written in that time and place without the intervention of much forethought or preparation would readily produce a thematic thread running throughout the pieces.

OB:

What strategies do you use when you are trying to write a poem that just isn't working?

DDN:

When a poem doesn't writhe or come to life on the page — whether it is defunct in a visual or auditory sense, or if for some reason it is not being conveyed in the manner I intend, I simply leave it alone. I have attempted to tweak or adjust it with varying technical devices but I find all it needs sometimes is more time and/or the proper frame of mind to bubble up and “be”. And other times, I must resign myself to the fact it is one that will likely not see the light of day but will have to reside quietly in some unwritten place instead. Conversely, the poems I feel are my strongest are those which are fairly effortless and forthcoming.

OB:

What writers would you say have most strongly influenced your work?

DDN:

Certainly the poetry of Gwendolyn MacEwen and Giacomo Leopardi were paramount in influencing my writing. I was especially moved by MacEwen's captivating voice and courageous spirit, and Leopardi's lament and nostalgia for "home," as I deeply value the integral role “place” plays for writers. I've also been especially drawn to Alice Munro's exceptional craft for short story writing, in particular her precise and careful expression of subtleties and her flair for minute details which capture the essence of her characters and their emotions so well.

OB:

What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write, and why?

DDN:

There is one poem by Pablo Neruda, called “Oh Earth, Wait for Me.”
Specifically the last lines of the poem:

...I want to go back to being what I haven't been,
to learn to return from such depths
that among all natural things
I may live or not live. I don't mind
being one stone more, the dark stone,
the pure stone that the river bears away.

What I like about this poem is how man's existence and mortality can be reduced (or depending on your view) elevated to the simple and stark image of a speck of rubble. There is a conscience-stricken yet oddly joyous submission here as if a revelation nearly (but not quite) dawns too late. The notion there is hope yet for such an awakening… An admission of humility and honesty, which I believe ought to be roused in every human being in our thirst for ultimate happiness and in our plight to live the fullest, most meaningful life.

OB:

What direction do you think your writing will take you next?

DDN:

While I continue to learn and grow as a writer I’m not sure the core focus or inspiration will change much, or at least I hope not. There are a few things in my life which are sacred to me. I let many of those items govern my life and to a large extent my poetry.

Desi Di Nardo is a poet and writer whose work has been published in numerous journals and anthologies including the Globe and Mail, the Literary Review of Canada and the National Post. Her poetry has been featured in "Poetry on the Way" by the Toronto Transit Commission and in the Parliamentary Poet Laureate's "Poems of the Week." It was also performed at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa for International Women's Day. She published her first poetry collection, The Plural of Some Things, with Guernica Editions in 2008. She lives in Toronto. Visit her at her website, www.desidinardo.com.

For more information about The Cure Is a Forest please visit the Guernica Editions website.

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

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