QWC and Riverbend Books have another Riverbend Poetry Series event coming up at Riverbend Bookshop, Brisbane, on Tuesday 28 April. Longreach poet, Helen Avery (Seduced by Sky) is joined by Rosanna Licari, Phillip Neilson (Without an Alibi) and Sophia Nugent-Siegal (Oracle).
Rosanna Licari is a Queensland Poet and Editor of Stylus Poetry Journal. Here is an interview Lisette did with Rosanna, over at The Empty Page:
TEP: Could you tell us about a poem which has touched you deeply and why?
RL: The collection that really opened me up to poetry was Robert Lowell’s Life Studies. I was in high school and had never read anything like that before. I knew nothing about literature, but I knew this was something special. One of the poems that particularly impressed was "Sailing Home from Rapallo." One of my maternal aunts had lived in Rapallo, so I made an initial connection with the title. The first stanza is stunning:
Your nurse could only speak Italian,
but after twenty minutes I could imagine your final week,
and tears ran down my cheeks….
Lowell is travelling with his mother’s coffin from the Gulf of Genoa, Italy back to America by ship:
The crazy yellow and azure sea-sleds
blasting like jack-hammers across
the spumante-bubbling wake of our liner,
recalled the clashing colors of my Ford.
Mother travelled first-class in the hold;
her Risorgimento black and gold casket
was like Napoleon’s at the Invalides….
His use of language, subject matter, and free verse was a revelation. This collection, I found out later, was a turning point in Lowell’s writing and for American Poetry in general. This confessional style influenced later poets and include Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.
TEP: Could you tell us about a poem which you have written, with an explanation of the inspiration/time/place/people/meaning behind it?
RL: An Absence of Saints is the title of my current unpublished collection. The poem I’ve chosen “Uncle Pepi the mechanic, Italy 1945” is from the collection and was published in Quadrant, March 2009. It is about an incident which my mother recounted to me that occurred just before the end of WWII. It is about one of her older brothers, Giuseppe, who was in the Italian Navy. In 1943, the Italian government surrendered to the Allied forces but Italy was occupied by the Germans. He fled by motorcycle to his mother’s house to avoid capture and hid in the cellar whenever it was unsafe.
Uncle Pepi the mechanic, Italy 1945
The sound of twigs breaking along the path out the back alerts him that there’s
something wrong. This time the trap door in his mother’s cellar doesn’t help him,
he’s at his aunt’s chopping firewood. A German soldier takes him by each arm. They
drive him to IÄiÄi to work for them. In gestures more than talk, he tries to explain
that he’s not an electrician but it’s no good and one of them points his gun muzzle at the
aerial searchlight that won’t work. Pepi understands that he has to do a good job.
He begins fidgeting with the button on his shirt as he looks at a cow that grazes daily
along the roadside. He’s worried and consoles himself with the thought that at
least his sister and girlfriend will bring him lunch. He figures out how the contraption
works and after two failed attempts at getting a spare part from Fiume and
Trieste, where they send him in a jeep filled with young soldiers and machine guns, the
Germans try Torino then finally Berlin. With the spare part in place, Pepi asks for
oil and when he goes to get the bucket, it’s empty. In a sweat, he looks round and sees
the cow nearby licking its lips. The oil is smeared on her snout and ears. He
rushes to the captain, says moo moo and mimes the cow lapping. Three of the soldiers
wrestle the cow down and the captain takes a knife from his belt, and slits the
animal’s belly. It jolts as if electrocuted, blood and oil ooze onto the grass. The smell of
guts makes Pepi gag. The captain smiles and nods, then orders another bucket of
oil. Pepi gets back to work muttering a quick prayer to the Virgin Mary. Drawing breath,
he flicks the switch and the light beam appears.