1. What is your process in building a new poetry collection? Is it thematic or stylistic? When you draft new poems are you already thinking of the collection, or do you write a certain number of poems before you can see a collection emerge around a style, voice or theme?
I usually don’t set out to write poetry on any specific themes or stylistic devices. I wrote the poems in my first five collections over the span of twenty years or so. I assembled the ones thematically similar under the different titles. The only collection with a cohesive intent for the theme was Meta Stasis. I wrote each piece knowing it would be part of my book about cancer, viruses, computer hackers, corruption and narcissistic predation.
2. What writers (or artists in other forms/media) have been formative in shaping how you write?
I have read so much throughout my life; it is difficult to pinpoint one or more specific writers who influenced my writing to a higher degree than another. In my childhood, living and going to school in Italy, I was influenced by Italian authors I read in my native language. These were authors introduced to us in language classes: Manzoni, Leopardi, Edmondo De Amicis, Carducci, Montale, Papini and so many others. When I moved to Canada at the age of twelve, I was enthralled by writers who forever remain in my mind for their beautiful use of language and themes: Atwood, Layton, Plath, Roethke, Neruda, Borges, Calvino and so many others. In grade 13 advanced French I read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery. I loved it immediately, drawn by the simplicity, purity and genuineness of it -of its innocent wisdom about human emotions and descriptions of the world. I knew I wanted to write like that.
3. What writing rituals or behavioural patterns do you follow: in, where, when, or how do you write?
I never thought I had any rituals or behavioural patterns for my writing practice, as I don’t have a specifically set time or place to write due to the busy nature of teaching and family obligations. I have learned to carve out moments for writing in the most peculiar times and places of my day just to make sure that some writing gets done, otherwise if I had to wait for a proper routine, I would never put any words to the page. Over the years I have discovered that I write best very early in the morning upon waking up, when everyone is still asleep. I also seem to get a much better flow of creative ideas when I am driving, which of course, means having to make stops to jot down fragments of poems or stories as they arrive. So, I guess my ritual is having coffee and writing at dawn or sitting in my car with my pen and notepad.
4. What specific song, painting, film or other non-written artwork inspired your recent work?
Images from paintings as well as films and music soundtracks are powerful in the evocation of emotional states and the subsequent generation of writing, so yes, they do figure in my writing to some extent. One poem in my latest collection Meta Stasis, entitled Quantum Sparks in the Tabernacle, was inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s painting Death of a Miser. Another poem “A Painting of Canaries on a Sewing Machine by a Window” was written in response to Cori Lee Marvin’s painting Goldfinches on a Singer Sewing Machine. So too the concluding poem “Jurassic” was conceived from the horrific plot of science gone wrong in the prophetic film Jurassic Park. The overarching theme of Meta Stasis as with the fly on the cover – harbinger of death and corruption of the whole and the ideal with the suffering and aberration of technology and science upon the perfection of nature – came undoubtedly from the original black and white film The Fly. The best music to listen to while I write is classical or jazz. Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks are particularly inspiring.
5. You have written six collections of poetry, how does each collection build from the previous?
Yes, I have written six collections of poems. There is some overlap in poems from the first to the last book, although the very intention and direction of each title is very different. At the centre of each piece is my self observing the world around me. It can only be as such for all of us because everything is experienced via our perception, our senses and our memory. In Whispers of Stones I gathered poems I had written over the years about moments of observation of the beauty of my natural surroundings, the stony beach of Lake Ontario at Coronation Park, where I live -the stones a metaphor for the unspoken, yet loudest emotions triggered by their elemental stoicism. Sea Glass follows the same ethos yet is imbued with the hues of memories in the reality observed. These are stones polished by existence, rendered jewels by time, by experience, by suffering. Again, in The Red Accordion, there are various existentialist pieces central to the book, although the gist was my father’s life, his legacy of intelligence, love, talent and joy -cut short much too soon. It is a book of awe at the sacredness of the sacrifice he made of his own life, of his own ambitions, to be able to give us a home and a good life. A Jar of Fireflies is probably my best collection of poetry. It gathers my lyric poems on memories, people and places loved and of course, deep observation of the world around my conscious self. Letters from the Singularity contains all the above elements, but as the title illustrates, it was born out of a very dark period in my life where, as in the proverbial event horizon of a black hole, everything is torn asunder to become incoherent. This period of time of family illnesses and loss also led me to pen my latest book Meta Stasis, the darkest collection of them all, which delves into my mother’s terminal illness, betrayal by peers, natural degradation, our current virus pandemic as well corruption at societal and political levels. The common thread is still my consciousness observing and describing the reality I inhabit: the beauty and the horror of it, my pen’s ink a filament tying it all together to cohere some sort of meaning to save myself and perhaps a reader in need of my words.
6. What specific books inspired your recent work?
Two poets were my inspiration for Meta Stasis, perhaps three. As I wrote in the book’s preamble, I wanted to shine a light on the rot of the mind which aims to steal another’s life work, another’s soul. Dante was central in my mind because that’s what he wanted to do six hundred years ago, led by the wisdom of Virgil, who in his own right stood for honesty and ideals and had himself, like any human will realize at some point as they age, the extent of malice and narcissism for self-gain demonstrated by many who seem innocuous at first, mostly everyone driven by self-serving agendas. Exposing the truth, he was exiled from Florence, living his life to the end in the city of Ravenna, reviled and hated by his fellow citizens. Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, was also pivotal in my thoughts when I wrote Meta Stasis. Much to the dismay of his contemporaries, he did not shy away from writing about the foibles and vices of his fellow men. Finally, it was reading Irving Layton’s poetry, especially his book Final Reckoning, which was gifted to me, gave me the impetus to write Meta Stasis in the voice and style I used. I don’t think there is another poetry book in circulation today which amused me and provoked thought in me as Layton’s work in that collection. He is a voice in a quagmire of simulacra. His words, pardon the cliché, cut right to the chaff. I admire the assertion of things he sees as if a voice beyond and above the crowd, a voice for our higher self, our godly-human consciousness warning us of the unseen dangers, the wonderful repartées.
7. What emotions do you associate with writing? Or, differently put, how does writing impact your emotional state?
Completion, fulfillment, contemplative peace at the prospect of having the paper receive my soul through the words I spill out onto the page either through my pen or through my keyboard. Awe, wonder, religious experience, happiness, Release of pent-up grief. Reality is alive. When we write, words tap into this living being. The act of writing evokes a sense of reverence and humility. We realize that we are not enough. Words are not enough to capture the essence of reality, to describe it. It is an encounter with the mystery of the divine. Prayer, meditation, mysticism, these are words that come up for me when I try to describe the act of writing, although it may seem as mundane as holding a pen to a notebook. Becoming one with the subject observed is no ordinary thing. It becomes a very sensorial, spiritual experience. We become the proverbial observer co-creating the universe we perceive.
Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews is a poet, an author, and a teacher. She has written seven collections of poetry. Her work has been published in many journals and anthologies, as well as won many prizes. Her latest book of poems Meta Stasis, was published by Mosaic Press and released June 2021. Josie is a member of The League of Canadian Poets, the Ontario Poetry Society and she is the host & coordinator of The Oakville Literary Cafe series. She currently lives and writes in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.