by VI KHI NAO
in conversation with GIOVAN COPPOLA
VI KHI NAO: Will you depict the landscape of Ischia. What is it like today?
GIOVAN COPPOLA: I’m looking out the bedroom window and I see a sliver of the sea between the trees. The sun is setting and the clouds are bathing. And the wind has started. Tomorrow it’s supposed to be windy. I wish I could tell you which wind it is, but I’m still learning their names.
VKN: The way you lovingly and lyrically depict this filled my heart with love for your Ischia. If you were to invent a name or two for that wind, what would you call it? Also, if you had an ideal poet life, what would that writing life look like?
GC: I remember you once told me that ‘eloigne’ was your favourite word. Wait, I don’t think that’s the right word. Do you remember it?
VKN: Eloign. Without the “e”, but I prefer your invention.
GC: I would name the wind Eloign.
VKN: I noticed that you were reading Rabbit by Sophie Robinson, which recently came out. How is it so far? Will you talk about the current landscape of the poetry world? You have read internationally from Brit lit and American. What do you think make a poet great in this Brexit, Trump era? What are some of the criteria or traits for such poets? In other words, what kind of linguistic or lyrical materials seduce your soul the most?
GC: I’ve loved Sophie Robinson’s poetry for a few years now. Her poems make me feel like it’s morning and I’ve just woken up and realised that something has happened to me during the night that has changed everything. Like during the night I was lassoed and pulled to a group of stars that have pumped their gumption into me and I will now become a better braver person in the waking world. Her poems have fish bone teeth and crime. They break open the pain and make something new.
Second question: I don’t know what makes a poet great in this Brexit - Trump era. A poet that keeps writing, keeps wanting to know, I guess. A poet that keeps loving. A poet that takes care of herself and the winds.
Third question: What materials seduce my soul? Poems that live where they want to live. Poems that make room. Poems that love things.
VKN: That is so gorgeously depicted “lassoed and pulled to a group of stars.” She is so lucky to have you as a reader ! If you were to interview her, what would be one question you would like to ask?
GC: Once your poems pull through the pain, where do they lay down their heads?
VKN: Can you talk about the poems or any translations you are working on? What is the process like for you? And, what direction do you foresee your own journey with your work? Would you like your process to be more accelerated? Where it infuses everything you touch and cook?
GC: Thank you for all of these questions, Vi. They inoculate me.
I recently came back from FILL, the Festival of Italian Literature in London, and I did a reading with a group of poets. We were all included in the anthology Wretched Strangers (Boiler House Press) as non-UK poets who contributed to the poetry world in the UK. The anthology was put together in response to Brexit and the current political upheaval making way for powerful responses from the far right against refugees and immigration. Four of the poets that read were non-native English speakers writing in English and also mixed in other languages into their English poems. And I thought how wonderful that was and wondered why I didn’t think I could do the same in Italian? It made me think about how the English language can be a symbol of progress. That you learn English, you move to an English speaking country, you transform yourself in a different language. What does that mean about me moving back to Italy where my parents have come from? Would me writing in Italian be seen as progress? Or is it pedalling counter-clockwise? Or is it turning into a seed?
I want to write in Italian or mix English and Italian. I think my poems, at least when I read them out loud, sound tough, like hard cheese rinds before you throw them in the soup. And my New York accent comes out. <dawg> I’d like to see what happens in Italian. I’d like to dissolve in Italian. I don’t think I’d have to dismantle anything, but I think it means when I go for walks I would have to push myself onto people. Linger and talk to them. Even to the Jehovah Witnesses, although I don’t want to talk about Jesus.
You know one thing I noticed that I really liked? When I was in London for the Italian Literature Festival, I sat next to a lady. She was an academic that studied post-war Neapolitan literature written by women. At one point she gave me a candy. A few days later, I took one of my cats to the vet and the vet offered me a gummy worm from a bag. I really love eating candy with Italian women.
VKN: I want to eat Starbursts with Italian women too !What are the poets you read with were like? Are they different from you or similar? Will you introduce us to a few great Italian poets that everyone must read or else their existence on earth would seem meaningless otherwise?
GC: The poets I read with at FILL were really diverse. I wish I could have talked to them more or asked more interesting questions during the Q&A, but I suspect like many people, I’m always shy after readings and there doesn’t seem to be enough time to calm down afterwards and talk. I wish after a reading there was always dinner. Food disarms people and makes people trust each other. You can’t take yourself seriously when you have food in your mouth. Like eating candy with people. The next poetry reading I’m going to bring candy.
But yes, some Italian poets I really love and that I’ve got to meet during poetry readings or have been recommended to me are Carla Mussi, Roberto Minardi, Alessandro Mistrorigo, Chandra Livia Candiani, Alessandro Burbank, Andrea Inglese, Giovanni Asmundo, Fabia Ghenzovich, I want to know so many more.
VKN: I am not familiar with these poets. Will you please give me a little introduction to one or two poets you mentioned? Are they contemporary? Old-fashioned? Dead? Alive but obscure? Alive and gregarious? Dreadfully enticing in their form, but wouldn't take a dog out for a walk?
GC: They are alive and contemporary, some I’ve met, some I’ve just read. Some are young and shy and delicate and others are robust in their sexuality. Some are travelers and some like to stay home. There are so many people to know about and read! I’m still learning about what’s out there and letting things carry me to where they want to go. Carla Mussi’s latest book of poetry is Sconto di Pena (Puntoacapo, 2016) roughly translated as ‘Reduced sentence’ and it’s about a murder trial of a woman who has killed her husband from the woman’s point of view. Each poem is like a holographic statement, phrases that cut, the woman is like a genius wild animal.
Then there are Roberto Minardi and Alessandro Mistrorigo. Roberto Minardi’s La citta’ che c’entra (ZONAcontemporanea, 2015) are about living in an urban landscape. There are people, birds and cats, public transportation, sandwiches and dinner in front of the television. The poems give you a perspective of solitude where many things happen. Roberto and I have translated a few poems for each other which was really fun. That was my first time translating poetry and he was lovely to work with, encouraging and patient. Alessandro Mistrorigo’s Stazioni (Ronzani Editore, 2018) were written in various places across Europe and Asia. Characters that all come from somewhere else, temporary people and places and it makes me think about how we become a place, how we can blend into the space around us. Reading the poems reminded me of the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell.
VKN: What was life in UK like for you before you moved back to Italy? Do you miss the poetry landscape there? And, if you were to create your own here in Italy, a poetry club, what kind of baking or culinary dishes would you make to seduce those who already love the sea to consistently come? Would you ever run or host a regular reading series?
GC: I loved London for many reasons and I loved the poetry landscape there. I met many poets and writers and there were many writers that would pass through to give readings. All kinds of readings to party style reading slam poetry jams to sit down quiet readings to poetry as performance art to elevated academic readings to rock concert style readings, so many kinds so you didn’t have to feel like every single one of them had to have a meaning. I mean you didn’t feel the pressure to have a great time or to even listen. It was okay to be bored because you were still going to get something out of it.
I miss that, but not enough to go back. I like it here and I want to hold dinner party poetry readings in the garden. I want poets to come over and eat and read poems. How do I invite people that don’t know me to come over and eat? A no-pressure environment. If they want to, they could use big words and talk about the PhD they’re working on. And they could also talk about how many times a week they wash their hair. I’d like to read poems where anything can happen and I want to read poems that change you. I want to eat things while reading poems.
VKN: The question you asked Sophie R earlier in our interview, if you were to answer that question on her behalf, how would you reply to it? I don’t know if she would mind, but let us pretend that she wouldn’t.
GC: I think her poems rest on her cat and they watch television together. Maybe her cat is a little wheezy and the poem who has done all the heavy breathing in the lines, can now show her cat how to slow down. They teach each other about the aftermath.
VKN: You are a cat lover. This is obvious on your Instagram posts. Do cats make great poets based on your observation of them? Or they make better ice cream, left too long in the sun and they would melt.
GC: I don’t think cats melt. They imitate their dry little turds in the sand. I think cats are spectacular poets. Have you read The History by Elsa Morante? There is a character Usepe, who is a little boy that suffers from epileptic seizures. He’s a little boy and he’s a poet and he doesn’t write them down, he just says them. Shouts them into the air. He talks to the trees and tells them a poem or tells the river a poem. He’s a lonely boy. I think cats are like Usepe. They say the poems, but it’s not necessary to preserve them. I think that’s why wherever they are it feels like home. That’s why they make home feel like home.
VKN: If you have a dish you made that looks like a walking example of poetry, will you share that pic with us?
GC: Good question. Let me check the files.
I have to find a picture of it, but maybe I didn’t take the picture of what I have in my mind. I made roasted tomatoes over the summer that I loved. I had bought an electric oven because my gas oven is shit. So the tomatoes were the first thing I made. I think I roasted them for two hours. I set up the oven in the garden so it wouldn’t heat up the house. I sliced the tomatoes, sprinkled fresh thyme on them, some salt and olive oil and then I put them in the oven. I sat in the kitchen while they roasted outside, keeping an eye on the cats in case they toppled over the oven. They were still kittens then and I anticipated constant trouble. I wore a green striped house dress and sweated my guts. The tomatoes were delicious. Carmelised. I put them on top of bread.
VKN: You take amazing photographs, Giovan! And, I just want the world to see through your eyes. Will you share one that you are able to access? So that we have some sense of your aesthetics?
GC: Let me look for one. What would you like to see?
VKN: Photos of Ischia? Or places you went for your morning, afternoon, or evening walk? Maybe some pictures of your cats, languishing like supermodels?
GC: See below