Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Riffs and Rants: Joseph Maviglia Chats About His New Book: Critics Who Know Jack (Urban Myths, Media and Rock and Roll).

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Joseph Maviglia

Years before we met one another, I had spied poet and singer/songwriter Joseph Maviglia hanging out at the original Bar Italia on College Street in Toronto’s Little Italy. He would stroll in and sit alone, sipping an espresso, quietly absorbed in a book he was reading or jotting down notes. Even in stillness, he had an overtly theatrical air. So, I wasn’t surprised to discover that he was indeed a poet and performer. Maviglia has previously released two CDs of roots/rock music and has had four books of poetry published, including A God Hangs Upside Down (Guernica Editions), Movietown (Streetcar Editions), Winter Jazz (Quarry Press), and Mitla (Eternal Network). I sat down to interview him this week at another College Street haunt, Caffé Il Gatto Nero, about his new book of personal essays just launched by Guernica Editions,
Critics Who Know Jack (Urban Myths, Media and Rock and Roll).


Karen Shenfeld

Q: What prompted you to write the book?

Joseph Maviglia

A: I felt a need to address critics and their interpretations of cultural forms. I began writing the book one spring morning as I sipped a good long espresso and walked out to Kensington Market. Lines kept coming into my head and I knew they weren't poetry or song. They were part of something different.


Q: I find that the short pieces in your book are indeed a blend of a number of literary forms including the personal essay, the short story, and prose poetry. So, was this intentional?

A: Yes. Though I’m not sure how deeply I have delved into the forms of the short story or prose poetry. While I think that poetic techniques flourish throughout the book, when I write, I’m mostly conscious of rhythm and image and the final shape that my writing takes could be called anything that the reader desires.


Q: In your title you reference Jack Kerouac; can you tell me a little about that?

A: I had read Kerouac’s essay, “Alone On A Mountaintop,” and then, On The Road, and a sense of his value deepened as I came to understand the relationship of rock and roll to The Beat movement, which had preceded the works of some of the great literate songwriters, and had spawned the explosion of music that brought forth the raw brilliance of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and the like. The title also pokes fun at critics across all mediums who assume to know and interpret works of art, music, literature, film, etc.


Q: You seem to be critical of the critics. Are you?

A: No, not really.  It's just that we sometimes don’t know much about the lives of critics and the ways in which they have come to their opinions. In this day and age, anyone can write a blog and become a critic. So, I am interested in contemplating what standards could be set for critics who influence a reader/viewer/listener by their words or broadcasts. I wonder, where did they train?  How did they land their jobs?  I feel it's of interest to a reader or an artist to ask those questions.


Q: In the writing of Critics Who Know Jack, were you influenced by journalists such as Lester Bangs and Hunter S. Thompson?

A: I’ve always liked the writing of Lester Bangs, though I don’t think I was influenced by him. Thompson, too, but not quite as much. I have always been interested in the positions that they took and how their individual styles reflected those positions, and how they brought what was in the margins into the centre.


Q: Some of your earlier poetry and some of your music are informed by your Italian Canadian cultural heritage. This book does not seem to be. Do you agree?

A: Not exactly. I was inspired by the works of Frank Zappa and Frank Sinatra, and The Rascals and by The Beats, with the conscious awareness that Kerouac was a French Canadian Catholic, Ginsberg, an American Jew, Corso, an Italian American, writers who had all emanated from groups that had been, for the most part, left outside the mainstream. As well, while all of my work lies on a continuum, I could have written this book before the others and even before releasing my own music. I mean I was reading Rolling Stone and Creem magazine before I ever worked a road crew with Italians that had made it to Canada from Mediterranean shores, an experience that inspired the writing and music that you are referring to.


Q: Which musicians have you been influenced by?

A: In terms of my music, one might think first of Leonard Cohen or Lou Reed, because, I suppose those are the names that come up when one works in the literary end of the rock spectrum. But, to tell you the truth, my favourites are Pete Townshend of The Who and Ray Davies of The Kinks. Tom Waits does a good thing, too. Then there’s Bob Dylan and John Lennon, of course. For me, Lennon’s voice, whether he was singing “Twist and Shout” or “I Am The Walrus,” projected an unusual and rare intelligence. But, even as a singer/songwriter, I feel an affinity for T.S. Eliot and Andre Breton, etc. In all of my work, I am influenced equally by high and low culture and various artistic forms. Which is why, in this book, I have, for example, compared the protagonists in the novel, On the Road, and the film, Independence Day.


Q: So in this new work, have you become something of a critic yourself?

A: No. Not at all.  I remain a musician and poet writing from the inside out. Writing out of the experience of practicing those mediums, and out of living the life an artist, day to day. I found the love of those two forms rising to a further articulation, i.e, the articulation of the memoir/critique/essay. That's the “voice” you hear reading Critics Who Know Jack.


Q: What's up next?

A: I don't know. Maybe I’ll disappear into the woods. I've been looking at purchasing an acoustic or electric twelve-stringed guitar. Maybe a Guild or a Rickenbacker. I’ve been working on new tunes.


The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Karen Shenfeld

Toronto poet Karen Shenfeld is the author of The Law of Return (Guernica Editions, 1999) and The Fertile Crescent (Guernica Editions, 2005). Her work has also appeared in well-known journals published in Canada, the United States, South Africa and Bangladesh. Her personal documentary, Il Giardino, The Gardens of Little Italy, was screened at the 2007 Planet in Focus Environmental Film & Video Festival.

Go to Karen Shenfeld ’s Author Page