It is a great honor to be included in this very interesting book recently published in India by Signorina Publication, which includes interviews with 45 writers (the vast majority from India) and an introduction by Prof. Nandini Sahu. The book is available to be ordered online. Below I give a taste of the very extensive interview, hoping the curiosity of readers will be sparked to continue reading the interview in the book format and take a look at the extremely varied perspectives on what it is to write offered by all 44 writers.
Changing Paradigms: Pina Piccolo in a Literary Dialogue on Poetry Sagar Kumar Sharma (SKS): What is poetry to you?
Pina Piccolo (PP): Poetry has been different things to me, has held different functions, over the course of my life time, but an ‘anomalous’ constant has been that unlike many poets, I have never identified with the art in a ‘totalizing’ way, I am not eager to be consumed by it, or be affiliated to the club, either the past or the present. I see myself as a person who among the various things she does in the course of her day – works, cooks, does parenting, translates, spends time on social media, reads- also pays some attention to the poetic turn of phrase, or to a poetic situation, that takes you out of a prosaic, ordinary perception of reality towards a territory full of mystery or longing. It is a ‘sense’ or faculty that I have cultivated since childhood. I attribute my attraction for poetry to the fact that ‘language’ was never ‘natural’ for me, I have always been between languages, owing to my family’s history of migration. It is hardly a ‘passion’, I associate it primarily with the troubles of language, then with knowledge and maybe, in a very distant third place, with emotion (a ranking that goes against the tide, especially here in Italy where I currently live, and especially when uttered by a woman’s lips). Often, for me poetry has been something you find in the cracks of being ‘excluded’ from the world of the ‘autochthonous’. When I was a child and a young woman moving between the US and Italy, poetry, with a special permission to engage in creativity, its generation of knowledge and language that is not meant for daily communication but for its own sake, provided a form of solace that I needed in order to feel less isolated and vindicate my competence, in the face of scorn by the ‘natives’ (maybe you have a similar phenomenon in India for diasporic Indians who have returned home?). Shifting to a theoretical terrain, I could say that writing poetry allowed me to apply, from a lived experience perspective, what Viktor Shklovsky’s called ‘estrangement’ – a sort of ‘defamiliarization that came spontaneous to me as a foreigner, with the added bonus of experimenting with the slipping of language that makes poetry (here you can think of Jakobson and the linguists, their concepts of the metaphoric and metonymic axes, how they may be altered by a degree of foreignness).
SKS: You are a very celebrated poet. You are a member of the leading platforms of creative writing across the globe. How would you critique your own writings?
PP: Thank you so much for your high consideration, but I must immediately disavow it and take that description down a peg or two ;- Actually, many of my poems are published print and digital platforms and anthologies, both in English and Italian, but I have only one print collection in Italy, “I canti dell’Interregno”, (Lebeg 2018) that includes poems written in Italian over a 40 year span. I have an English language manuscript “Avatars on the Borderland” that awaits some interest by publishers, but sadly no offers so far. So, by the yardstick of publications and prizes I am hardly a celebrated poet, either in Italy or the US, both places where I have lived most of my life. In fact, the reasons why I was able to do a lot work developing international poetry networks and transnational journals are unrelated to my poetry career (or lack thereof;- ))) but rather are tied to my anomalous take on poetry (the primacy of language and knowledge over emotion) and the fact that a very large section of people can sense that we are on the verge of a paradigm shift and are looking to a less canonical and traditional manner to engage in poetry. That is also the reason why my work tends to resonate with people who are on the average thirty years younger than me. If truth be told, I was lucky to live in the right place at the right time (San Francisco Bay Area – Berkeley to be precise- from the 1970’s to early 2000), where I had access and participated in highly politicized and progressive environments and movements, and was close to Silicon Valley with its technological innovations (in reality, I had to be dragged into it by my scientist/engineer brother in law). These factors were determining in my having less of a ‘humanities’ style in approaching poetry compared to established poets. After leaving academia in the early 1990s (I have a Ph.D. in Italian literature from UC Berkeley and I have taught both language and literature at various colleges), I reinvented myself as a freelance translator (again languages are pivotal in my life), mostly in marketing and law, thus ending up in an industry that was heavily technological- we had computer assisted translation tools, Trados at that time, often worked in recording studios for people who needed translation and voice-over for video (in one projects I spent months transcribing and translating the contents of wire-recorded conversations for a Mafia trial). There was never a dull moment, something that I temperamentally embraced and that took me away from a humanities/canon steeped path I could have taken. When I relocated to Italy as a mature adult in 2003, in the Berlusconi era, after Bush’s invasion of Iraq, all of the above ‘qualities’ were at odds with the poetry situation I found there and again I fell into the status of ‘foreignness’, a lack of legitimacy that caused any suggestion, made on my part, that the US had gone beyond the Beats to be utterly disregarded. Just a few months before arriving in Italy, I had been involved in an online project set up by poet Sam Hamill’ in opposition to Bush’s 2003 war on Iraq, Poets against War, which collected over 12,000 poems to deliver to George W Bush from poets all over the country, many by established poets as well as newcomers. I chose 33 poems out of those thousand and translated them into Italian to be published in a book format, but I spent basically 3 years going North to South to various publishers who did not understand the scope of the project, were suspicious of the fact that the project was online and knew very little about contemporary US poetry, in fact not enough to identify them as the most prominent contemporary poets. Over the years I was lucky enough to find people who were more open to technological solutions for literature, for example through the various forums on Linkedin, and then in particular Brazilian writer Julio Monteiro Martins and his digital literary journal Sagarana, a long lived project that lasted from 2000 to 2014, the year he died. I contributed both as a writer, translator and editor from 2008 to 2014 gaining a lot of experience, meeting many writers and having at my disposal a platform that was willing to introduce in Italy poets that the gatekeepers had ignored up to then. In the meanwhile, I got involved in organizing poetry marathons in Bologna initially with 100 Thousand Poets for Change, then through many other projects I helped coordinate, most recently la Macchina Sognante, the italian language digital quarterly that has just launched its 20th issue, and the Dreaming Machine, with its 7 issue, which comes out every six months. So, it has been a challenge, but also very satisfying, as I am connecting with many young poets who find the concept of transnational literature and using digital tools natural as the air they breathe. (In both journals Google Analytics tells us that 60% of readers are younger than 35).