Conversazioni: Poet Domenico Capilongo


As you know, this year’s Espresso Manifesto Salone di Cultura is taking place on the Festa della Reppublica, June 2, at the historic Columbus Centre. One of the artists being showcased this year is writer Domenico Capilongo .

Each of us, artist or not, thinks of their own life experiences through a unique lens. Part of the lead up to the Salone is a series of blog posts about the event, partners, and artists. We’re interviewing each of the artists to find out what’s on their minds about part, present, and the future of this experience of being Canadian of Italian heritage. Here’s what Domenico shared with us:




When you think about the Italian part of your background, what is it that comes to mind first or that has the most resonance?

My Italian part jumps out at me daily. It’s sometimes like a slap in the face. My hands moving on their own while I try and explain something. The sound of Italian words echoing in my head and springing from my mouth in fully-formed phrases. The memory of people, family members dead and still living. The memory of visits to Italy, little Italy, Italian movies, and also, unfortunately, there are the stereotypical media-enhanced Italian images that sometimes float by as well. The art. The opera. The music. The language. The food. All of this I feel part of and also so far away from. All of it comes, often daily, to me in waves like a broken espresso machine overflowing and spilling all over the floor.

How does your Italian background influence your work?

It’s hard to say really how any one part of my life influences my work. It’s like what Popeye said to Olive Oil, “I am what I am.” All my childhood, my memories, my travels, my youth, my falling in love, my parenthood, my work, my karate–all of it influences my work. Somewhere in there is something someone may call my Italianita` and I guess it lets me engage with language and life in a way that forces me to enjoy it and want to stand up and share it but I don’t know exactly know how.

How does your Canadian identity influence your work? Would you say part of your identity is distinctly Italian? How is it different? Is it in conflict with the Canadian world around you?

I would say that I’m like A caffe` macchiato. The coffee is my Canadian identity and the drop of milk is my Italian heritage. I let the milk slowing mix into the coffee until it lightens the whole thing and makes a new, smooth drink. There is no conflict or any part of me that feels distinctly Italian.

Is there a poem or any piece of writing you think exemplifies your ideas about the above?

I have a poem in my latest collection entitled, “al dente”. It refers to the perfect tenderness of well-cooked pasta. The poem talks about trying to find the al dente moment in your life. When you grow up with people deciding if the pasta is ready, and in my house my mother would call me to check, this idea of perfection really becomes part of you. So there is a philosophy here from my Italian background that can be brought into everybody’s whole life. Search for those al dente moments, create them, serve them and enjoy them.

In 2017, Canada will be 150 years old. What part of our community’s experience here would you want to see explored, discussed, shared, revealed?

I would love to see the arts community showcased. I feel that we have really acknowledged the sacrifices of the generation that came to Canada and struggled, worked hard, suffered and made something of themselves for their families. We have also acknowledged the many hardships such as discrimination, internment and financial difficulties. There has been so much art that has been produced from our community that is yet to be truly recognized and showcased–musicians, visual artists, writers, actors, dancers. These people are able to produce all this work because of the hardships suffered by their parents and grandparents. It is time to share all of this wonderful work with the world.

How do you see your heritage/cultural background influencing your children or the next generation, if at all?

I think that my generation has no memory or nostalgia for a lost Italy or childhood. We have been given this wonderful gift of being able to take the parts of our heritage that we want without sadness and make them our own. The danger, however, is doing it with a false sense of pride or arrogance. I hope that we can bring out the best parts of all our cultures and realize how similar we are instead of constantly focusing on who is eating cake and who will win the World Cup.



Domenico Capilongo lives in Toronto. He teaches creative writing and karate. He has had work published in many literary magazines including Descant and Filling Station. His first book of poetry, I thought elvis was Italian was short-listed for the 2010 Bressani Literary Prize.  His second book of jazz-inspired poetry, hold the note, published by Quattro Books, was long-listed for the 2010 ReLit Award. His first book of short stories, Subtitles, published by Guernica Editions was short listed for the 2013 ReLit Award. His new book of poems, send, is about the way we communicate and is forthcoming with Guernica Editions. Lately, he has been writing about jazz again and recently finished a manuscript of poetry all about the Dizzy Gillespie jazz classic song “Salt Peanuts”.



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