THE POET – Interview with LindaAnn LoSchiavo
An interview with LindaAnn LoSchiavo
HAPPY BIRTHDAY LindaAnn, hope you are having an amazing birthday week. Do you remember writing your first words of poetry?
Thank you and, yes, my first poems were written at 3 ½ years old. My parents, who were living in the basement of a building owned by my maternal grandparents, quarrelled often. Invariably I retreated to the peaceful second floor to be with my grandparents and my two unmarried aunts. My Aunt Fay was, like her father (i.e., my Grandpa Umberto), artistic and always sketching. My first poems were written to coordinate with her drawings: ballerinas, clowns, balloons, flowers, The Statue of Liberty, Coney Island’s ferris wheel, dogs, cats, swans, birds, or squirrels. My grandparents spoke no English. However, my aunts were bilingual so they’d read my short verses aloud during supper and translate. Often the feedback was, “This sounds better than a Hallmark card.” My four-line poems seemed to make my relatives laugh and I liked that. And the Hallmark cue made me pore over greeting cards that came in. I tried improving the printed verses and studying the illustrations, which fired up more ideas.
Did growing up in NY influence your early work?
Growing up in New York City definitely influenced my writing. I was taken to Broadway shows since I was four years old and wrote my first one act when I was nine. I produced my play at ten and it had a nice run. Today I’m a Lifetime Member of the Dramatists Guild of America and a theatre critic.
Weekends I was taken sightseeing, escorted around museums, the Planetarium, the Aquarium, the N.Y. Flower Show. When we weren’t at the theatre, we enjoyed concerts, ballets, ice shows, the circus, etc. Access to the performing arts and opera shaped the way I thought about narratives, emotional dialogue, stand-out moments.
My family also influenced my ideas about narrative. Instead of reading a book to me, Aunt Fay, employed in New York’s bustling garment district, invented tales about poor but honest factory workers. Characters in her stories were placed in moral dilemmas and always did the right thing.
My father, a shipman in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, created a protagonist Garbage Belly, who always pigged out and wound up with a bellyache. My Dad’s stories, which always involved risk-taking, featured folks from the waterfront – barflies, tramps trying to stay warm, tugboat captains, mobsters looking to dump a body, talking rats – and Garbage Belly, whose shameless quest for free food brought him in contact with both stray cats and stray bullets. My mother would often say, “She’s too young for such a crazy story!” In truth, the average kiddie book could not compete with the raconteurs in our family.
And does the city still influence your work?
Yes, this melting pot city influences my writing. Some of my stories and poems are situated here, perhaps in response to a New York event or entity.
How did your poetry develop from those first early words?
When I was in elementary school, I went to the public library each Wednesday, borrowed seven books, and then read a book a day, a ritual that continued through college. Not being dependent solely on the required books assigned for class, I was free to read more Chaucer, Thomas Malory, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Britain’s Romantic poets, Tennyson, along with delightful nonsensical rhymes by Lewis Carroll, etc.
Another seminal influence was that poetry was often recited in class and we were encouraged to memorize it and analyse the meter, recognizing the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables, and the effects created by dactyl feet [falling meter] versus iambs [rising meter]. Reading so much metrical verse as a young pupil helped me hone my craft. I am still a formalist, focused on received forms. My first graduate degree was in Medieval poetry. Reciting verses by Chaucer in Middle English or by Jean Froissart in Old French is quite entertaining.
Why do you think poetry is such an important form of expression and communication?
To quote Robert Browning, “Art may tell a truth / Obliquely. . . / So may you paint your picture, twice show truth, / Beyond mere imagery on the wall, ..” In other words, art and poetry function as a medium of interpretation rather than communication. Therefore, writing is about playing with viewpoints, a concept I found thrilling as a junior dramatist and budding poet. Realizing that truth can be shaded and filtered through various perspectives is one of the most liberating factors about expressing thoughts in a dramatic monologue and other types of poems.
There’s a big difference between those who love to write and those who’d rather not. Shortly after having a poem printed in a scholastic journal at age nine, I wrote my first play for a cast of five. Four years later, I was on the staff of my high school’s magazine and publishing short fiction. At 16, I won a gold medal for literary achievement. The die was cast: I was a wordsmith. Still poetry is the main ingredient in my pie.
Can you learn to be a poet?
With determination and practice, yes. But not everyone can learn how to be a great poet who has mastered the craft.
What are the most important things for a poet?
To read, widely. Discover your personal taste. Find out if you are drawn to sonnets, free verse, haiku, or concrete poetry. Then see what topics resonate most, for instance, eco-justice, erotica, religion, love, death, or science fiction. The next step is to push past hesitation and begin writing, revising, and submitting. If those first efforts do not arouse an editor’s enthusiasm, add a poetry class to your schedule. Get feedback. Writing is not unlike building a muscle; the more you write, the easier words flow. Maintain a journal to track progress. Celebrate successes by decorating your diary with special stickers.
Do you have a favourite genre?
Hands down, the Petrarchan (or Italian) sonnet.
In any sonnet, form, rhythm, and rhyme are pre-set. Writing within very specific parameters, guided by the concentrated focus of fourteen lines, will increase poetic discipline. The demands of the Elizabethan sonnet [quatrains and a volta in its final couplet] are quite different from the Petrarchan sonnet form which has two parts: a rhyming octave and a volta developed in a rhyming sestet. A sonneteer is forced to be more intentional with word choice.
Where do you write?
Years ago, a friend custom-built a white Parsons table to fit under my chandelier. It’s my writing spot, shared with my sealpoint Siamese cat next to me and my bluepoint sprawled across the tabletop. He occasionally nips my hand as the pen moves.
Can you give me examples of your work and tell me a little more about them and why you wrote them.
Duty at Mekong Delta
They’re white as rice that wasn’t thrown at us.
His stack of letters (nineteen-sixty-eight’s
Mail, barely legible) was saved, penned straight,
Not far from enemy lines. Infamous:
The Mekong Delta, toured by curious
Loved ones, prepared to demonstrate
Our grief, disarm now, do what liberates,
Surrendering to the incongruous.
His presence here seems reconstructed as
Those letters fold my world to paper wings.
Why do brave words demand laments? I meant
To re-read, gather them for warmth – whereas
I light a match, red breast flames releasing
Angels illegible in their ascent.
Duty at Mekong Delta a Petrarchan sonnet published in PIF Magazine. Protesting the war in Vietnam brought me in touch with many young widows. Though all the soldiers I was writing to returned home safely, Duty at Mekong Delta, set in country, is written from the viewpoint of a grieving fiancée. In the sestet, she has a poignant epiphany. I hope it brings comfort to anyone who lost a loved one in Nam.
Lady of the Dunes: A Cold Case
In 1974 on Cape Cod,
That harsh assaulting song of gulls masked screams.
Long red hair placed on a bandanna, jeans,
Nude body on a towel, looking odd,
Both hands removed, jaw open as if sawed
By killers who pulled teeth, destroyed the means
Of learning her identity and cleaned
The crime scene. Now she’s only known to God.
No missing person’s report. No one sought
To claim or bury her. There was no sign
Nor clues that someone witnessed her demise.
Her mutilated corpse lay in the morgue,
Anonymously sealed in its cold shrine.
Justice is those monks chanting for her rise.
Lady of the Dunes: A Cold Case a Petrarchan sonnet published in Portrait of New England. The unidentified homicide victim dubbed ‘Lady of the Dunes’ has gotten media attention lately because of Joe Hill, who thinks she appeared in Jaws, and who is pushing for reopening this cold case from 1974 and using familial DNA to identify her. Police artists have used new technology to sketch her. I felt she deserved a commemorative sonnet that described the murder and gave her a shot at redemption. While not shying away from how she was brutalized, the sonnet is dedicated to the cause of identifying her and also to restoring her dignity.
Women in Lingerie! Body Fascino!
Italian lingerie knows how to flow
Toward women naturally defying ‘firm’.
( – Are females being hardened for study?- )
Their intimate line’s not to be confused
With staunch American-made underwear
That fears the radiant center cut
Of genitals, scrubbed clean so anxiously.
Italians realize that clarity
Is never lingerie’s intent. Who needs
Materials’ mirror humbling curves each time?
Italian figures sing, remembering
Years diets didn’t grow to shame the girls,
Surrounding fuller figures with solitude.
As long as nude is lewd, demands we make
Of lingerie accumulate. It must:
Create distracting corners for the eyes
Alive to friction of soft thighs, and be
Aware of where your lover’s driven mad.
It’s sensuality that fights the shapelessness
Of flabby life with fresh hormonal fruit
Called opportunity that writes all scripts –
With half-dressed bodies as its landing strip.
Women in Lingerie! Body Fascino! a blank verse poem published in Not Very Quiet, an Italian magazine from 1994 featured a sexy lingerie ad captioned Body Fascino [body fascination], which inspired me to explore the differences between American and Italian underwear in my poem Women in Lingerie! Body Fascino! In the mid-1990s, before artificial implants had conquered Hollywood, padding skinny screen stars with double-D endowments, voluptuousness was still associated with naturally curvaceous, buxom Italian actresses: Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Anna Magnani, Silvana Mangano, Virna Lisi, Claudia Cardinale, Stefania Sandrelli, etc. [Note: As of 2010, breast enlargement using silicone implants rates as the second most popular form of cosmetic surgery worldwide.] I wrote Women in Lingerie! as an analysis of sex appeal, contrasting Italy and the prudish USA. This poem published in Australia also appears in my erotic chapbook Concupiscent Consumption.
And before you get back to your birthday celebrations, what are your writing and publishing plans for the future?
Three live events have been planned for my erotic poetry chapbook, Concupiscent Consumption, due to be released in February. I’m also plotting a #vbt and an out-reach for book reviews. Several other exciting projects are also in progress and due to be completed: Writing with an Italian Accent [L’IDEA Press, 2020]; this is a collection of my published essays and poems that comment on similar topics, e.g., opera, divided into four sections. The last segment is devoted to my ancestral home, the Eolian Islands, which always has been my lodestar. I’ve translated the oral tradition of Stromboli, poems composed in a difficult all-but-lost dialect. I am also focused on finishing my screenplay Nightfall at Shadow House; my novella The Djinni and the Pianist, a 45,000 word narrative based on my stage play; and though all the camerawork has been done for the documentary on Texas Guinan, my film partner and I have to finish the post-production and get it into festivals. And lastly my speculative poetry chapbook A Route Obscure and Lonely is making the rounds, and a full-length collection Women Who Were Warned.
Thank you LindaAnn, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY again!
LindaAnn is a dramatist, author, theatre critic, speaker and formalist, and is a Lifetime Member of The Dramatists Guild of America. Her plays have been staged in NYC, San Francisco and Melbourne, Australia. Recently, her poems won competitions judged by Inkwell Literary Magazine [May 2019], Brink Literacy Project / Dually Noted [March 2019] and Wax Poetry & Arts . Her formal verse has been seen in The Cape Rock, Chronogram, Duck Lake Books, The Healing Muse, Ink & Letters, Italian Americana, Measure, Mused, Not Very Quiet, Owen Wister Review, Panoplyzine, Peacock Journal, Peregrine, PIF, Portrait of New England, Reality Break Press, Red Wolf Journal, Remembered Arts Journal, Rue Scribe, St. Katherine Literary Review, The Good Men Project, White Wall Review, Windhover, World’s Best Poems, and elsewhere. Her short story On Cemetery Hill was translated into Russian for Night Picnic [February 2019]. Her SFF fiction has earned two Silver Honourable Mentions from Writers of the Future. Her two documentaries on Texas Guinan, along with her Mae West Blog and stage plays about Mae West, have brought her to the attention of PBS American Masters series, where she is a featured speaker in a biographical film that will be broadcast shortly. Her poetry chapbooks Conflicted Excitement [Red Wolf Editions, 2018] and Concupiscent Consumption [Red Ferret Press, 2020], along with her collaborative book on prejudice [Macmillan in the USA, Aracne Editions in Italy] are her latest titles.