Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Sonia Di Placido

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Sonia Di Placido

Sonia Di Placido is the author of Exaltation in Cadmium Red (Guernica Editions).

Today Sonia speaks to Open Book about her experiences in theatre and performance, the possibility of a female Dante and the surprising utility of anger. The bonus? Today, the Day of the Dead, is Sonia's birthday! Happy birthday to Sonia from the Open Book team.

Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by following our series.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Sonia Di Placido:

I’ve always known I was an artist and I needed to work in the arts, primarily literary and dramatic arts. However, by the time I was ending high school, I felt the need to go to university for theatre and performance rather than literature or creative writing in order to experience the direct physical emotional and psychological exchange with the work and depth of a writer/performer.

In Theatre school we studied Shakespeare, his sonnets and the works of poets through performance: voice, enunciation and rhythms in language through modern poets such as William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound were also part of our preparations for Acting. At the time, I did not pay attention to poetry as part of my innate manner of self-expression. As I matured into my own artistic self, I found that I had a very strong connection to poetry. A decade after Theatre school, I discovered poems I had written in my early teens, now called tweens, and witnessed the keen ability to sensitize with language and sound into poetry even in the work I’d written in early childhood.

OB:

What is the first poem you remember being affected by?

SDP:

The first poems I was affected by were songs and hymns sung and spoken orally in Italian dialect. I was raised in and Italian and English household, as our home was bi-lingual. The Italian was also a first language, with the English, and with strong exposure to Spanish as well as we spent time in Argentina. I know that this had a large influence on my response to poetry. I found it extremely easy to understand rhyme, simile, metaphor. Reading and spelling aloud came easily from a young age. Dr. Seuss poems from six and seven years old were a lot of fun. And by the time I was twelve I was writing my own poems.

OB:

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

SDP:

I wish I could have been the woman to write in place of Dante. His three books Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, are a long poem. This would have been done as a woman, rather than Dante himself, which means his expression of his great love of Beatrice, would have to undoubtedly be changed. I’m a bit sceptical about saying this and admitting to it, because the possibility of this just changes the entire course of history as we know it. Dante’s long poem in three instalments has affected Shakespeare and the entire history of the western written word. I’m not saying I want to write from the point of view of Beatrice but it would have been neat to be the writer Dante [as woman] writing about the three levels of ascension [as a Catholic] and about a male lover that is forever unattainable. I’d have to say that I would have liked to reverse the roles in that epoch. Of the time, to do this wasn’t really possible, although there were undoubtedly Italian female poets or writers “scribbling”, most were not published or denied that freedom.

OB:

What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?

SDP:

Anger has been my most unlikely source of inspiration. It is not what drives me ultimately, but I have carried plenty of it for long and it has driven more artistic and poetic work from within than I have wanted to admit for the past 20 years.

OB:

What do you do when a poem is not working?

SDP:

I let it sit. Sometimes I’ll go back to it and review it, re-read it, edit it, play with it. I will keep different versions of a poem for a while. Mostly, I let it sit as one would leave dough to rise, until the piece starts to feel right and more accessible before it is discussed with an editor.

OB:

What was the last book of poetry that really knocked your socks off?

SDP:

There are a three right now because I am always reading more than a book at once: Canadian poet Dennis Lee’s Testament. I really enjoyed his book and found it so inspiring in its brilliant and clever weaving of language and linguistics and phonetic innovative sounds and words, all to do with themes of ecology — it just was so thrilling and fun to read. The others are Alice Notley’s most recent two books of narrative poetry: Culture of One and Songs and Stories of the Ghouls, which is perfect for this time of year being Halloween as it is my birthday on November 1st, the Day of the Dead. I love the dark themes here, and her inspirations for this book include characters tied in with Greek mythic deities: Dido and Medea. Then there are specific ghosts, [ghouls] which are resurrected and lingering between life and death. I love the rhythms she creates, the voices, the inter-textual dialogue that takes place as she makes these poetic voices throughout the narrative so rich and so eerie. She throws these voices out from all over the place and it almost appears comical, even racy, but also playful at the same time. I would love to see this performed live as a theatrical piece.

OB:

What is the best thing about being a poet….and what is the worst?

SDP:

The best thing about being a poet is you get to pretend that you live beyond the world and that you’re not subject to lower ways of being when you publish your books and are performing. You get to touch moments of the metaphysical and reach into the magical, the realms beyond. In other words, for that poem, you are ‘God’ but who wants to admit that? You get to pretend you’re the philosopher, and play something like Jesus or solipsist for a while, you know what all the answers to existence are and what salvation is. This, of course is a non-truth, a total complete lie. But the pretending is fun and it is the pretending that is addictive and also part of what happens in the arts. The worst, for me, is how little you get paid. Good poets should make CFO salaries.


Sonia Di Placido is a writer, performer and artist currently completing the Creative Writing, Optional Residency MFA Program, with the University of British Columbia. She is also a graduate of the Ryerson University Theatre School and holds an honours degree in Humanities from York University. She has worked as a Supernumerary with the Canadian Opera Company and is a member of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers. Sonia has published profile pieces, creative non-fiction and poems in literary journals and anthologies.

For more information about Exaltation in Cadmium Red please visit the Guernica Editions website.

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

Check out all the Poets in Profile interviews in our archives.

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