Antony Di Nardo Interview @ The Torontoist
My interview with globetrotting Canadian poet Antony Di Nardo is now up at The Torontoist Books Page. It’s been a few weeks since the last in the Critical Interview Series posted, so it’s good to get back on that horse. Di Nardo’s book, Alien, Correspondent (one of two he published this past Spring, strangely enough) has been one of the great surprises of my reading year. It’s a sort of long-lead travelogue derived from the poet’s many years spent living in Beirut. I don’t usually use this space to explicitly tell people what to read but, just this once: You should read this book. I really can’t think of a reader of Canadian poetry who wouldn’t find something to love here. It’s politically and culturally complex, but quite personal. The lines are beautifully assembled, despite the appearance of a certain rambling anecdotal casualness. You can read the interview here. It’s a long one, so settle in, kids. Here’s a snippet to convince you:
JMM: That paradox is an interesting one, of being a kind of assertive bystander. Is empathy a passive or aggressive action, to you? Alternatively, if it’s a passive action, is it corrupted by the somewhat aggressive (or, at least, public) act of publishing? You seem very aware of the politics involved in aestheticizing some of the things you take as subjects. Has that reverence ever steered you near the idea of just not sharing the results of your labour (as let down as that would leave me, as a fan of the book)?
AD: Empathy is an act of the imagination. We can only ever imagine how someone else feels or what a person feels, albeit usually founded, I would hope, on the powerful evidence of some shared human experience. It gives us moral compass, an ethical identity. As such, I believe that empathy itself is exercised in the active voice, an aggressive action as you put it, though aggressive for me carries with it connotations I would not normally associate with empathy. But I think I know what you’re suggesting: the implication that if one acts on feelings of empathy then it becomes an assertion, a public statement, and, unavoidably, is meant to be in your face, so to speak. In some cases, the poem is definitely such an assertion, though I wouldn’t go so far as calling its publication an aggressive act.
Like empathy, the poem, as we know, is an act of the imagination, and, by virtue of being public, a political reality. However, I think you’ll agree that my poems are not politically charged in the traditional sense. In fact, as much as possible, I make a conscious effort to avoid regional politics or taking sides in the conflicts that have shaped this corner of the world. But I am, after all, the “assertive bystander,” and so I cannot completely deny my presence in the poems and therefore the politicization of both my aesthetic and its subject matter. I bear the bias of my presence wherever I find myself—be it in Toronto, Beirut, or in a poem.