Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Antony Di Nardo

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Antony Di Nardo

Antony Di Nardo's third collection of poetry, Roaming Charges (Brick Books) is all about the places between, the tension and relationships between two points. Whether it's Canada and Lebanon, art and viewer, or the reader and the page, Antony creates poems from these pairings that have been called "aching" and "luminous".

Today he appears on Open Book to take the Proust Questionnaire, where he tells us about another kind of "roaming charge", a love story that hinges on a wild violet and a wise weather-related motto.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

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What is your dream of happiness?
No beach, no island, no heady mountaintop, but a state of mind commensurate with whatever space surrounds me at any given moment, unencumbered by dreams or demands. To be filled with quietude and thus possessed by certain sense of fulfillment. Silence, aimless browsing, gazing at the night sky, an uncluttered gallery all to myself, can often induce that state of mind.

What is your idea of misery?
Waiting. In a long, interminable line-up that can’t be avoided such as you find at an airport. To be stuck in traffic of any kind. Especially someone else’s traffic. Waiting. Just waiting.

Where would you like to live?
At the extremes — smack in the centre of any downtown, preferably “il centro storico” of Rome or among the towers of Manhattan; or, in the little limbo of rolling hills that is Sutton, Quebec where I long to return.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
A sense of drama, a sense of humour, kindness and a gentle spirit, a love of good wines, good things and ideas. When I think of my best male friends, they seem to possess most of these characteristics. I am fortunate.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
I love talkative women, women who can engage me in long conversations; women who can make me listen because I want to. I also admire the bohemian in women: a careful carelessness that suggests controlled abandon, that suggests they could pose for a poem and see their own beauty in it.

What is your chief characteristic?
Self-discipline.

What is your principal fault?
I have many, but primarily, restlessness and impetuousness coupled with an excess of apprehension, the kind that borders on chronic anxiety.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Good food, good wines, good cheeses.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Ignorance of poetry — I feel sorry for them, but I can live with it.

What do you value most about your friends?
Their energy, their laughter, their appreciation of goodness and beauty, their love of good company, their ability to make me feel valued, their discretions.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Their cell phones — which is another kind of “roaming charge.” I dislike the boastful, the supercilious and self-righteous, those with loud voices, their cutting in line. I abhor rudeness of any kind, inconsiderate people who fail to recognize the presence and needs of others, people who have no pride of place, no sense of justice or fairness. I’m very Canadian that way.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
I can be overly critical and intolerant (especially of people in the category above).

What is your favourite virtue?
Compassion, if I need to be serious; otherwise, it is complete and utter indifference.

What is your favourite occupation?
Articulation.

What would you like to be?
Alive!

What is your favourite colour?
Autumn (with a little less orange).

What is your favourite flower?
I have so many. But my favorite of all is the wild violet. I was compared to a violet once by a woman with whom I fell in love. We’re still married.

What is your favourite bird?
I have so many. I have so many trapped in photos. But the most beautiful of all birds has to be the female cardinal. Her subtle presence, her russet colours, her quiet demeanour is in such contradiction to that explosion of expected red that is her mate. In Beirut, where I am presently living, our back balcony is regularly visited by a Palestinian sunbird, a sweet little thing with a long needle beak and a voice that belies its size. It’s my second favourite. For now.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Noah. Sometimes Lord Byron.

What character in history do you most dislike?
The tyrants, but especially the ones who are still living.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
John Banville, Don DeLillo, Julian Barnes, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (I’m teaching him at present and I can’t say enough about him — so it goes).

Who are your favourite poets?
James Tate, Richard Brautigan, Tomaz Salamun, Mary Ruefle, Fernando Pessoa, Al Purdy — the list is long.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Hamlet, K., and Ka (the poet in Orhan Pamuk’s “Snow”)

Who are your heroes in real life?
Survivors.

Who is your favourite painter?
Caravaggio. (Sometimes it’s Lucian Freud and also Dianne Patychuk who lives on Curzon Street in Toronto.)

Who is your favourite musician?
A toss up between J. S. Bach and Bob Dylan. My brother Mike is up there, too.

What is your favourite food?
Pasta, as a canvas for so much else.

What is your favourite drink?
Any fine red, but preferably a burgundy from the Côtes de Nuits, but not with pasta.

What are your favourite names?
Callie, Isaac, Lucas.

What is it you most dislike?
Living on someone else’s timetable. Waiting.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
The ability to draw and paint. To disappear.

How do you want to die?
Fully aware.

What is your current state of mind?
Don’t ask — I have bronchitis. On the other hand, that too will pass and so I live in anticipation, as I often do.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
The last poem I wrote. Really. It’s always my latest and greatest accomplishment.

What is your motto?
“You don’t need the weather man to know which way the wind blows.”

Antony Di Nardo is a poet and teacher. He currently divides his time between Beirut, Lebanon — where he teaches English at International College — and central Canada. He is the author of two previous collections of poems: Alien, Correspondent (Brick Books, 2010) and Soul on Standby (Exile Editions, 2010).

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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